Remote Career Development: Neil Khaund Of The National Society of Leadership and Success On How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely
An Interview With David Liu
Working individually with limited communication. One of the most powerful ways to bring people together and inspire communication is to organize events where people physically come together to collaborate in workshops or group projects. Maybe it’s an onsite all-staff for a couple of days or maybe smaller team get-togethers. But try to find opportunities to get people together in real-time.
Career development is the ongoing process of choosing, improving, developing, and advancing your career. This involves learning, making decisions, collaborating with others, and knowing yourself well enough to be able to continually assess your strengths and weaknesses. This can be challenging enough when you work in an office, but what if you work remotely? How does remote work affect your career development? How do you nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues? How can you help your employees do this? To address these questions, we started an interview series called “How To Advance and Enhance Your Career When You Are Working Remotely”.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Neil Khaund.
Neil Khaund is the President and CEO of The National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), the largest accredited leadership honor society in the United States. With more than a decade of private sector education and organizational growth experience, Khaund currently leads the organization through its new phase of international growth.
Throughout his career, Khaund has been passionate about democratizing education and improving the online learning experience. His work has encompassed SAT prep, corporate training programs, and everything in between.
As CEO of Livius Prep, one of the nation’s leading providers of college preparation programs, he transformed the company into a high-growth, online education services provider serving students and schools around the country. Later, Khaund launched and operated a number of high-growth businesses, including Kennedy International Education, an international online education firm that provides U.S. college certificate programs to B2B customers throughout Latin America.
A pioneer in creating new educational curricula, Khaund spearheads sector efforts that drive real educational results for students across demographics.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
I began my career in financial services. Because I graduated from the University of Michigan just as the dot-com bubble broke, I had to begin my career in commission-based financial sales. In retrospect, it was the best learning experience I could have had after graduating from college. It not only forced me to develop resiliency, but it also taught me people skills that have served me well throughout my career, whether I was in an internal strategy function or a CEO in the education industry. I constantly tell students to develop their selling skills as soon as possible. You’d be astonished at how valuable those abilities are regardless of your career path.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Yes, I’ll share a story I often tell that I’m not sure I’d call “interesting,” but it was a profound lesson I learned early in my management career. When I was starting out, I was the leader of a group of sales reps. One day I called them in for a strategy session, which I had been preparing for weeks. At that point, I had little management training, so I assumed my job was to be the sharpest person in the room.
I spent weeks crafting a sales strategy and thought it was terrific. I was sure my team would think I was like the “Strategy Whisperer” or something, and they’d think, “Wow, I am so blessed to be working with him!” However, on the contrary, when I finished presenting, I got worried stares, many questions, and doubts. As a rookie manager, I took it personally, and my reaction was less than stellar. During the session break, one of my reps asked, “Hey, Neil, are you OK?” I wasn’t.
After my rep and I talked it through, I realized my role as a leader is not to be the sharpest or most intelligent person in the room. Actually, the job is considerably easier and even more fulfilling. A leader’s role is to bring out the best in everyone. I should have been meeting with my team, gathering their insights and feedback, instead of spending weeks preparing what I hoped would be an impressive secret strategy.
The collaborative approach allows a leader to bring people together and focus more on how to successfully execute rather than unveil some strategy that no one understands.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve made a career out of making and learning from my mistakes so no shortage of stories here. As I mentioned before I worked for a financial services company out of college that really focused on training and developing of younger sales representatives. Every week we would have “classes” where we would read passages out of leadership books and watch sales-related video clips from popular movies like “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Boiler Room,” and even “Wall Street.” I found these classes to be so motivational and helpful early on in my development. When I eventually left that firm and took on a role as a first-time manager I was determined to provide a similar class format. I brought my reps together and wanted to teach a class on having a “sales mindset.” I proceeded to play a very expletive-filled clip of Alec Baldwin from the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross.” If you have seen the movie you have seen the infamous “ABC” clip. After the clip played I was expecting to see a more energized team and what I experienced was anything but. About 2 hours after that first training I was in a meeting with HR to discuss the three complaints I got from my reps. Point being, as a first time manager you may have the best intentions to motivate your team but you really need to be clear on what message you are trying to convey and ensure you are mindful of the audience to provide it in a way that resonates. Not everyone responds well to expletive-filled videos.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There’s a quote I found recently that has matched my approach to leadership so I have really leaned into it a bit. It comes from my favorite fictional character, Ted Lasso: “It’s not about wins or losses, it’s about helping people become the best version of themselves.”
I simply cannot stress how crucial this mindset is. The mark of any successful leader is one who knows that to truly lead you MUST serve others. Coaching your team to put them in a position to be the best version of themselves is the common denominator in any instance. It’s not an overnight process but if you keep this mindset as your north star you are putting the organization, your team, and yourself in the best position to win.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees thrive and avoid burnout?
I would say understanding your limits and your passions are two key attributes for thriving and avoiding burnout. The old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is more than just a cliche. You really can’t get everything done in one day, and you can’t do everything yourself. So learn to rely on others and communicate when you’re overloaded and stressed. Sometimes just voicing that can help ease your mind. There are times when the best thing we can do is close our computer and go for a walk, take a nap, or take a day or a couple of days off. We’re all people. We’re not robots. And it’s important to understand that we all have limits.
Identify what brings you joy in life and what triggers and relieves stress. Identifying these things helps you maintain and be more productive. For example, say you’ve previously worked on a project and the long hours caused you great stress. You might need to communicate with your boss, “Hey, you know the last time we did something like this, I worked 12-hour days and it was very stressful.”
The best advice is to understand your unique situation, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to best overcome those stressors while communicating with your team the entire time.
OK, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunities but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits and opportunities of working remotely?
One thing that stands out to me as a key benefit of remote working is there’s no commuting time. Many of us were commuting an hour or more each way to work. Remote work does away with that. Just think — that’s 10 hours a week of commuting. Working remotely gives us back that time, which means more time with our family and friends, for hobbies, or whatever is important to us.
The virtual work environment also allows the unique opportunity to work with others across the country and internationally, which expands each employee’s network. But also, the talent pool for the company grows as talent can be recruited from literally anywhere. If you’re only recruiting, for example, in the Boston area, then you’ve limited your number of possible candidates. Finally, allowing employees to work when it suits their strengths may be the most significant benefit of all. Of course you have to be available during business hours but, let’s say you’re more productive as a morning person, remote work allows you to get more done in the morning instead of wasting time commuting.
Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding working remotely and based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges?
1. Working individually with limited communication. One of the most powerful ways to bring people together and inspire communication is to organize events where people physically come together to collaborate in workshops or group projects. Maybe it’s an onsite all-staff for a couple of days or maybe smaller team get-togethers. But try to find opportunities to get people together in real-time.
2. It takes longer to build personal relationships. Scheduling various types of meetings over specific time intervals can provide fun and productive relationship-building opportunities. Maybe it’s a virtual lunch, coffee, or even a happy hour. Whatever the venue or activity, don’t talk about work or projects. Just be yourself, engage with your colleagues and make an effort to learn more about them in return.
3. Too many meetings. Most of the time, scheduling a meeting feels easier than talking things through on Slack or via email, but then everyone’s day can become bogged down with discussions. A winning strategy is to communicate the overall company goals as often as possible and then empower other executives and middle managers to share how each project fits those company goals. This effectively shows the current status of projects while empowering team members to work together and potentially reduce some meetings.
4. Context and communication. It may get tiresome to state company goals and missions repeatedly. Still, it’s crucial that everyone is on the same page and can articulate their unique contributions to helping achieve those goals.
5. Lastly, I think limited workspace might be among the most challenging components to working remotely. Obviously everyone has different spaces within their homes as well as different family dynamics. So what I recommend is to completely make your remote working space comfortable, personal and functional. There is no rule book on what constitutes a “remote workspace” so whether it’s a breakfast nook countertop, a desk in a spare room, or even a cluster of your favorite throw pillows arranged in a supportive way where you can sit and work on a laptop — make your remote space work for you.
Let’s talk about Career Development. Can you share a few ideas about how you can nurture and advance your career when you are working from home and away from other colleagues?
I think it’s essential to go out of your way to connect with colleagues on a personal level and a professional level. A personal connection can build a stronger bond than only discussing work and business. Additionally, we need to provide opportunities for learning and development. This might include conferences or courses, but it can also mean having calls over breakfast or lunch and talking about what someone’s next steps are in their career and what they need to learn to develop the necessary skills for that next stage.
Can you share some ideas about how employers or managers can help their team with career development?
I feel strongly that coaching teams and empowering them not to feel like they have to be perfect can make a difference in career development. It’s OK if things aren’t perfect. One of the greatest lessons I have embraced is that the journey is full of learning opportunities along the way. So we should strive more to gain knowledge and improve ourselves instead of obsessing over perfection. This mindset will allow you to flourish as you keep moving forward.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Candidly, the NSLS’ focus is specifically on bringing the most amount of goods to the most amount of people. It’s what our founder, Gary Tuerack, set out to do. Helping individuals become a leader is one of the most tangible ways to make a positive impact in the community and in the world. Being a leader is so much more than one’s own personal career goals. Being a leader is a lifelong skill set that allows individuals to develop the understanding and emotional intelligence to enact positive change. That said, most of today’s leadership programming stops after you complete a course or read a book. At the NSLS, our programs are uniquely set up to help individuals build the skills and habits to become a leader for life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can follow the NSLS on Twitter and Instagram at @TheNSLS, on Facebook at facebook.com/theNSLS. And of course, our website is www.NSLS.org.
Thank you for these great insights! We wish you continued success.