I was recently interviewed by a group of students from Georgetown University for a leadership course. Below is their write up about me and my leadership style, experience and their perspective….
James Sol Radina is the CEO and “chief visionary officer of Sol Marketing Solutions, an online marketing strategy company in California. We found James and Sol Marketing Solutions through Marina Paul, a member of the team who worked for Anthony Zolezzi, one of Mr. Radina’s mentors, this past summer. James embodies an entrepreneurial spirit paired with a resolute social activist and business leader focused on creating a better world. James is a serial entrepreneur with an evolving leadership style that represents the needs of the organization he is working with or creating. Mr. Radina is an appropriate, if less conventional, choice for the Young Leader Analysis as he is roughly ten years older than the class and is an authentic leader; he embodies his personal values in his professional life and his charismatic, highly personal, extremely adaptable leadership style is to be admired. This write-up is going to analyze James’ leadership development throughout his career including two of a half-dozen business ventures in as many years, starting with his first job and ending with his most recent venture.
James grew up in Pomona, Kansas, a town with a population of approximately 952 people, located in northwestern Franklin County. While attending West Franklin High School, he nurtured an early interest entrepreneurship through his involvement in the Future Business Leaders of America. He continued exploring this interest attending the University of Kansas on several academic scholarships and graduated from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1999.
Early Leadership Experience
While attending the University of Kansas, James found a mentor in his Entrepreneurship professor, and identifies him as the person whose connections encouraged him to take an internship with a local nightclub and also as the person who helped him gain an interest in entrepreneurship, a central tenant of his life. Another early influence, the General Manager of the club, taught James as much as how he didn’t want to behave as a leader as it taught him about how he did want to behave. The GM followed a more abrasive, dictatorial path towards leadership, and was also driven by more traditional profits than James’ passion around triple bottom lines. James describes him as “assertive, controlling, and manipulative” which made it difficult for him to see the value in the work he was doing as an intern which raged from sweeping floor to stocking bar.
This was a turning point for James, as he determined he would never lead the same way, and actively tried to lead in a way that was in direct opposition to that of his boss, as he worked his way up to General Manager (replacing previous GM), and eventually co-owner of the club. At the age of 21, James had over seventy people working for him, with about fifty of those people being older than him. His assumption of such a major leadership position within the club as such a young age was not met with positive reactions initially. The older staff members questioned his authority as he tried to establish a new corporate culture and change the business model. James, to his credit, established the personal values that became the core of his leadership style and the organizations culture, which helped everything about his new leadership role fall into place. He made it a point to listen and understand the concerns of all of his staff about the transition, and communicated his decisions in a deliberate and timely manner, slowly introducing new operation techniques to the business model. Members of his staff, who found those values appealing, believed in them and stayed on, those who did not were either fired or left of their own accord.
Sol Marketing Solutions focuses on product launch management for their business model. Similar to Apple, Product Launch Management allows Sol to build hype around a company’s new product. Sol may do this in the form of online sales or via a mobile app. Before the product can be sold, it undergoes these four steps. First, Sol focuses on Product Creation by compiling a company’s expertise to create a saleable product. This single product will serve as the identity of the launch. Next, Sol and their client build a list of prospective customers to target with the product. In order to do this, they ask: who needs this product and how will this product enhance their lives. Once you find customers who will truly benefit from this product, you can identify your target audience. After targeting a group of consumers, it becomes time to manage that relationship. This involves figuring out a way to transform a customer’s thinking from “I like it” to “I gotta have it”. Lastly, Sol uses what is called Launch Management to create a huge buzz around a product and mass market the product through different media platforms before it can be purchased. Ultimately, the process functions to create exposure and brand loyalty for the ideas of the companies they’re working with. Through Jamess significant prior experience with Brian Tracy and John Maxwell, he is able to leverage his network of subject-area experts using his core competence of connections and personal charisma to build a very successful team.
Values in Leaderships
As a leader, James focuses more on value based leadership than most. He says that the triple bottom line, where leaders place substantial weight on each profit, planet and people, is the only bottom line that he recognizes. Radina is in many ways a stereotypical SoCal surfer- he says things like “”Taking a break for myself is one of the greatest things I do for myself (I try and do it regularly!)“ and “A relaxed mind is a creative mind.” At the same time, he has been able to pursue, and successfully so, a wide range of ventures over the past decade.
He tries to instill this work-life balance with his employees and clients. His employees are given unlimited vacation and sick days and they are also able to create their own hours. We realize that this sort of schedule is not feasible in many workforces; however, it is possible with a small amount of employees and an immense amount of trust. James feels that if his employees know he trusts them to work in a way that is most suitable to their lifestyle, then he will in turn receive the optimal amount of productivity. His clients are also representative of his company’s culture. When selecting his clients, he asks himself, “how can I push my employees in a direction where they will succeed both personally and financially for their company?” Reciprocally, it is important that James take on clients who he can be himself with, otherwise, he will not find his sweet spot or “aha” moment.As James’ says, “do not put yourself or someone else in a position where they are designed to fail.”
James Sol Radina’s focus on his own goals has defined his leadership style. In the early days, it was evident throughout our talk that his unwavering focus on the triple bottom line, and other measures of combining “doing well while doing good” socially oriented business models, was a turn off for some team members. Some left, and others were soured on his leadership and were subsequently fired. As he’s gotten older, and more comfortable with his values, and perhaps as business models such as these have become more popular in the startup community, his persistence in pursuing values based leadership has made him a more attractive partner for everyone from clients to employees. In his words, his ability to balance a focus on economic and social value has allowed him to “built this organization to allow him to have a lifestyle that has an impact.”
Added Value and Client “Partnerships”
Additionally, James is able to sell himself in order to acquire clients. He has established a large network from working in entertainment, personal growth, real estate, and health industries, which serves as a core competence in gaining clients. What draws clients to James is his incredible energy and work ethic; he makes everyone around him a James-believer because his driven attitude is so infectious. James refers to these strategic alliances that he forms with clients is called “SMARTnerships”. SMARTnerships with subject matter experts in widespread fields allow James to leverage their knowledge with his core competence of making connections.
As he has grown older, there is much more of an emergence of a team building focused, democratic and coaching leadership style that brought his teams together far more than they scared team members off. Mr. Radina “stumbled through [his] early adventures,” but was able to find a voice- and confidence- as he grew older and had more experience leading teams. In his later teams, such as with Sol Marketing, even team members note his ability to make the team feel valued. In one such instance, colleague Josh Bare describes how the Sol Marketing team found themselves without a secretary one day. In no time, and with no pressure, James jumped behind the front desk and stayed there all day. In Josh’s words: “When you see this from the head honcho, you feel compelled to match that dedication. It’s infectious.” Furthermore, he’s much more self aware of his strengths and weaknesses as a leader; to that effect, he’s careful to balance out his comparative youth with older or more experienced employees and strategic partners when creating new teams. Today, while still a young leader, James is much better able to bring teams together and motivate, rather than dominate conversations and team dynamics.
The Importance of Mentors and of Mentoring
James Sol Radina truly believes in the power and importance of mentoring both personally and professionally. As he’s gotten older, Mr. Radina still actively seeks out mentors; however, he’s able to be a mentor to others. At any given moment, he can spout off the names of three or four mentors he’s been working with to improve on his leadership, subject area expertise, or personal network. In fact, our connection with Mr. Radina came from a current mentor, Anthony Zolezzi. In his professional life, he emphasizes being deliberate with the 5 people you spend the most time with; he believes that you become most like those five individuals, and therefore that it’s critical to “surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are.” His mentors play a large part in shaping who those five individuals are and most of his mentors have come through referrals from prior mentors. Furthermore, Mr. Radina prides himself on mentorship of others. In his words, “I am all about social responsibility. Leading by example. Giving back. Volunteering my time to charities. Being the change I wish to see in the world.” Recently, he’s focused on one on one mentorship of elementary aged students, which he says is one of the most rewarding experiences he’s had to date. Mentorship is one of the ways in which it’s especially evident that Mr. Radina is an authentic leader: he practices what he preaches, and his values in his professional life are closely aligned with those in his personal life.
A Democratic Coach
If we look at Goldman’s Six Leadership Styles as a guide to leadership in the real world, Radina’s style most closely aligns with the democratic and coaching styles. The democratic style is focused on building consensus through participation and communication, while the coaching style is focused more on developing team members’ strengths for the future. James’ hybrid approach is best summed up by Josh Bare, who explained how Radina delegates power, and responsibility by:
“When multiple projects are due/needed as is often the case in a start up environment, James will often ask the team which of the projects resonate with us as individuals, and/or matches up with our skill set. That team member is then assigned ownership of said project, and thus the responsibility of seeing it through to completion with support from the others. We are given the freedom to be creative, think outside the box, and make mistakes.”
James’ democratic style comes out in the ways that he asks for input- asking team members which projects matter to them, or seeking to build consensus around new procedures. His coaching style is more evident in the way he’s comfortable letting team members succeed, or fail, at their own pace, and in their own way, with support from the rest of the team. This hybrid model best encompasses his current leadership style, although it’s deeply rooted in his past experiences.
Mr. James Sol Radina’s leadership style has been heavily influenced by his mentors and his personal values. His emphasis on working with people who share his values, has provided a compelling direction for his leadership and created strong relationships with employees and clients alike. His desire to follow his passions and turn them into a business is admirable. We look forward to seeing more from him.