From Fishing To Visionary Leader: Following The Life Of Oleg Konovalov
Life is an exploration, and it is your duty to find solutions to support your life’s vision and execute it. However, admittedly, it can be difficult to do this all alone. Here to help you with that is Oleg Konovalov. Oleg is an author, global thought leader, and a trusted advisor who has been named the da Vinci of Visionary Leadership by many leading authorities. He helps companies execute their mission vision and makes great leaders out of the people he guides. He is the author of several books, including The Vision Code, Leaderology, and Hidden Russia. Join your host, Tony Martignetti, as he has a lovely conversation with Oleg about how he found his path to success and how he continues to help people find their true vision.
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From Fishing To Visionary Leader: Following The Life Of Oleg Konovalov
It is my honor to introduce you to my guest, Oleg Konovalov. He has been named the da Vinci of Visionary Leadership by many leading authorities of our time. Oleg is helping companies to create and execute their vision and achieve superior business performance. He is on the Thinkers50 Radar. He's a Global Gurus Top 30 in Leadership, has been recognized as #1 Global Thought Leader on Culture by Thinkers 360, and is #1 Global Leading Coach for Marshall Goldsmith's Thinkers50. Too many accolades over here, Oleg. He is the author of The Vision Code, which is a fantastic book. Everyone should get a copy. LEADEROLOGY is another book of his. Corporate Superpower, Organisational Anatomy, and Hidden Russia. I want to welcome you to the Virtual Campfire, Oleg.
Thank you, Tony. You can imagine when we're sitting around a campfire, we're not flashing titles. We're humans. Success is a short-term result of a long-term commitment. When you got a large fish, you've been fishing, and then you're sitting with your friends and talking about how you got that fish. It's about how cleverly you were prepared for this. It’s important. Biography is not the number of facts. It's the number of impressions, what I have learned. How far I've gone. That's about it.
There are so many people who think of accolades, and they're like, “This is what I'm striving for.” Sometimes, the people who get the accolades are the ones who go down this path of just showing up and continuing to make an impact by being who they are. You embody that by saying, “It's nice,” but what's most important is the preparation that got you there and the journey.
This is a moment or moments where you create value. You grow yourself. Why do we grow as leaders? Let’s say, for instance to become fatter or bigger, go on, get extra donuts, and you will be bigger, but if you want to be stronger, you will not help people to grow. If you have accolades, how will it impact people? What's the value for them? No, it’s some kind of a credential for you for them to listen to you for a few minutes. They then will go, “He’s another talking head.” It's about value for people.
I'm looking forward to digging into the story that brought you to what you're doing now on this journey and to understand what were the moments that ignited your gifts into the world. What we call the flashpoints. As you're telling your story, we’ll stop along the way and see what the themes are and things that are the key points that we want to make along the way. With that, I'm going to turn them to you, and let you tell us your story.
It's not a direct response and it's nothing like laying here and understanding where I have been and where I am now. If I would be turning back years ago, if I would be saying that I would be writing books and doing things what I do now, I would be laughing and saying, “Come on, guys. I am from the fishing industry. My messages are short. It's mainly French language,” because when you talk with a captain of a patrol across the seas, your language is specific. It's nothing to write a book about. Yet, for something to explore, years ago, I was always keen to explore and see how this thing's going.
I remember those few critical turning points. First of all, when I realized how little I am in this world and I'm still a part of this world, this is something for me to learn and contribute to. Not just being a cog in that machine, but understanding who you are. I lived almost half of my life in the Arctic part of Russia, on the North. A tough environment, but I love it. I got an interesting picture. I was driving, it was about minus 30. All of a sudden, I noticed a little lemming crossing the road. I was thinking about how this little creature survived such a tough environment. I was thinking about myself, “In this world, am I a victim or what could I do positive for that world?” I was then thinking, “What do I need to have to create something greater than me, greater than the size of my body, beyond myself?”
Another extreme point was when I was in a tough professional crisis. I lost almost everything. I was sitting and was like, “What could I do?” I then realized, “What is greater, my goals, my dreams, or my problems?” That was another problem, “I'm still following my dreams. It's nothing about keeping problems, growing or nurturing problems. No, it's about finding solutions that would allow me to reach my goals.” I had quite a few of those moments.
It's nothing about living in a pattern vault. We grow when we reinvent ourselves. These are critical moments. I was thinking, “What kind of people do I want to be associated with? What kind of people do I want to sit down around this campfire and talk?” I realized I want to be associated with people with great goals, not because I want to be rich, but with people who are prepared to challenge and reinvent themselves for the sake of those great goals. That is interesting.
Also, because when you realize who you are, who you want to be, you become stronger. You always learn from them. You appreciate what they share with you, and you will happily share what you have. This is exactly why we are sitting around a campfire. For instance, somebody brought sandwiches and somebody brought drinks, and we're sharing without even thinking, “You brought more. You brought less.” No, we drink it together. I always say, “If we cook together, we eat together.”
Being smart is two-dimensional. Being wise is multi-dimensional.
I love what you're bringing to the table here. This element of knowing that you're crafting a collective experience by not saying it's one person persevering, it’s taking the challenge and going forward. It's about bringing people together, and then having collectiveness. That's what the fire is about. It's bringing people together to have conversations, to go deeper. One of the things that I wanted to clue in on, which is something that is deep for you is not just saying, “Are you different for impact?” If you want to make an impact in the world, you have to have something deep in your heart that you want to make happen. You want to hang out with those people, associate with people who have big goals and big vision.
Yes. My passion and my specific area of expertise are vision and vision leadership. If I will say, “I want everyone on this planet to be a visionary,” it's impossible. It's not real. It's not meaningful. Some people don't need vision at all. They're working on the factory floor, living their own life, but they still need a vision for their families, for instance, how to live happy lives. Family is not a social exchange, it’s a vision of how we make each other happy. What kind of a legacy we could leave to our children, living a meaningful life is the greatest legacy we could pass to the next generation.
When we're talking about and define knowledge workers, they need vision. Not many people are prepared to go beyond themselves because many people are fairly egocentric. Can I change them? No. Therefore, I'm happy and I'm committing myself to help 1 million leaders to become visionaries for those who are thinking beyond themselves because the big ego has only one greatest enemy, ourselves. Not external forces, they're always around. It's always raining or storming. It doesn't matter.
The greatest enemy of vision is within us. The greatest killer of vision is ego. Can I change such people? No. Can I help them? No. They don't see the world. They don't see people. They see only themselves. Me, me, me. I can't do much about that but I will be happy to help, and I'm helping those people who see the world as a place where they could create something for others. That is a different story. This is where I could focus, this is where I could contribute. It makes such a difference.
This is powerful stuff because there's an element of knowing which people are best to be connected with in terms of who to work with to bring them forward. Seeing that vision without action is meaningless. You can have a vision, but you have to also know what it is that you need to connect with to actually make it possible. I want to rewind you back into your story, and I want to get back to how does one come from being in that space of, “I want to do something different with my life. I was in the fishing industry,” and you decided that you wanted to be with these people. How did you switch gears into this world? How did you become part of this world?
It's about decision. When you're sitting in a comfortable area, a comfort zone, you're thinking, “What choice do I have?” I could do this, I could do that, but it's all within your immediate reach. It's like opening a fridge and saying, “What would I have?” It's choices. You’re saying, “I'm going to be on healthy food.” Go on, get tap water. It wouldn't be different. It's already a decision. I was a first across the entire world of the fishing industry who went for a doctoral degree being at a high position in the fishing industry.
The fishing industry is traditional. Most of the people I have met, my colleagues and fellows from different countries went, “Are you a lunatic? You got enough money. Why do you do this?” I said, “I'm curious. I want to do something different.” “There’s something wrong with you. Would you drink with us?” “Yeah, go on, but not for a while. I still need to study.” That was different. This is about your decision.
When you have a decision, you're focused because this is a commitment. Decision is responsibility. It is everything. It doesn't have those elements, not as a commitment, not much responsibility, more often the skills. When you have that decision, you're focusing because you understand immediately, “I have a vision of something. I'm trying to envision something so important that I will fully commit myself.” You become focused on that thing. You become effective on it. You are getting signals. You're getting signs, which you ignored before.
You’re getting a lot into things and you become more productive and effective. You could simply say, “I need help.” I need certain information, advice, or some kind of resources. You're not hesitating to ask because you need it. You're asking people for help, and you're explaining, “Not because to make me richer or better.” It's like, “I'm working on such a project. Can you help me with it?” “Of course.” That is important. You're getting this support because you're focused, and you creating value for many people.
It's funny how you describe that. Oftentimes, you hear people get into a space and you say, “How did they get there?” You then think, “They embodied it.” You embodied the courage and the action required to take this idea, this vision you had of wanting to get into doing what you're doing now, and you simply stepped into it and said, “That's what I want. That's what I'm going to go after.” You put yourself on this path to become the person who's here now. It wasn't easy. There's an element of committing yourself to studying and being seen as the odd duck. People calling you crazy, which is kind of a compliment.
Life is not a place we live. It's a path we take. I've been lucky in this sense, to decide on the right path. That was about luck to decide.
You said luck to decide, would you say that luck to decide is more intuition?
Yeah, you must listen to your gut. The easiest way to find some information is to talk to people and listen. When people know a lot about something, you could find and dig something which wasn't said. If you're asking people and they can't answer your questions about people in that area, that means there is a clear gap that must be explored. That means people know so little about it, they even can't Google it. If they Google it, they're getting some dodgy answers. Their intuition says, “I feel that. It was chasing.” When I met my, in those days, future wife, I got an email from the university. “That's your girl.” No, it was my gut saying, “It’s that woman.”
There's something about that is interesting because people think about, “When you find your purpose, you find the thing that you're meant for.” It's like falling in love. It just happens. You know it when you feel it.
Your vibe is like a remote control reader which is touching the surface in front of you or saying, “That's the right path.”
Tell me about along the journey of becoming this thought leader, were there any stumbling blocks? It sounds like you're steadfast in this path, but were there any stumbling blocks along the way that people said, “This door is closed? You can't move through here?”
Success is a short-term result of a long-term commitment.
Yeah. I hear this all the time, not much these days, but still. In the beginning, people were saying, “Don't even try.” I'm many things. I'm Russian, I came from a Russian background. Russia is not the best environment because they’re saying, “No, you should do everything in the Russian language. You should follow that old communist stuff,” which would lead me nowhere. Eventually, you think, “Hold on, you're afraid to do those things. Keep your face to yourself. I'm keen to exploring something.” If I will be thinking about the rewards or accolades, this wouldn't be different. I wasn't setting myself for those accolades, I was setting myself to find solutions. As a positive side effect, I got those accolades.
It's this thing about chasing success doesn't get success. When you come from a place of wanting to make an impact and making a change in the world for the reasons that are right reasons, somehow the other things come, wouldn’t you agree?
It's about wearing a crown. When you have a crown, it's another killer of your vision, or it's another killer of you, as a creative person, as a person who enjoys life. When you have a crown, you’re like, “The coffee is not coffee.” “The rain is not so rainy.” “The sun is not so sunny.” You have too much crown, at the end, you have one long wrinkle around your head, that it looks like a scar. It's no good. Enjoy life. You have been through challenges. Cool. Fine. Thank you. I have learned. I achieved something. Great, phenomenal. Thanks. I can move further, but when you have a crown, you take everything for granted.
That’s powerful because it paints a great picture when you think about the crown and everything. It is an element of, you expect everything as opposed to appreciating everything that comes your way because of everything's a bonus. It's like coming from the gap versus the game. When you see everything as, “This is me making progress,” versus, “I have so much more to go.”
A great lesson that I learned about having a vision or about a meaningful life is be grateful for everything that you have. If you're not grateful for what you have been given, then you wouldn’t get much more. Life would restrict you because you are not appreciating people’s help. You're not appreciating what you have achieved. You would not appreciate the challenges that you have faced. If you’re wearing that crowd and taking everything for granted, then you’re getting tough lessons because people would turn away from you. No one would talk to you in a good human sense. You want to hear many truths, saying, “He successfully passed away on that sunny day at a certain date.” That's it, but I don't think that's the point of life where you want to say, “I've lived it.”
Even then, that's not living it. That's surviving it.
I’m presented on this planet for a certain number of days, and that's it. No good at all. Life is meaningless, and our duty is to make it meaningful. We’re responsible for it because no one could make our life meaningful, unless ourselves. Whether it's in business, personal life, or social life, it's us who are responsible for making it meaningful.
We are the author of our own book, of our own lives. I want to switch gears into talking about what got you into the path of when you started to think about doing thought leadership. How were you thinking? Were you speaking? What was the vehicle for you to get your thoughts or messages into the world? You did a lot of writing, but was that the first thing?
For me, it was a method to put what I've studied and researched on a paper and share it with the world. I started speaking only after my third book. I wasn't keen because I was thinking, “Speaking will take a lot of my time where I need to focus on finding solutions.” I then realized, “Okay, I will speak,” to some extent, to share the message. Only after my fourth book, I became a more prominent speaker. I spoke at different events in different countries, different occasions while still focusing on it. The real vehicle is a craving to explore more because speaking is a tool to share it. You're sharing a solution, but you can't have the same solution again and for 10, 20, or 30 years. It's a great product that you're capitalizing on again and again, but is it the meaning of my life? No. The meaning of my life is to explore and bring as many solutions as I can. I then could share it. Therefore, it's led me to think, “How many speaking arrangements would I have? How many coaching clients would I have? How many consulting clients would have to give me space to keep my research shows going?”
There's an element of this, and I want to pause to say, “When you're doing the work that you're doing, you have to stay inspired by it.” You have to make sure that you're engaged with creating more and know that there's always more to be discovered and to be figured out. I'm sure that has a part of getting on this path. You're always discovering more to be figured out. That next book is always coming from that, “I realized this from my latest experiences that I have more to say.”
Even if you wouldn't have tried this last book, but you already have ideas for it and source for it, it will keep you going. It will keep you strong because if you believe that you could rest on the old ideas that are not relevant, it's like sending to the same friend the same Christmas card with the same words again and again. No one would be excited. Even Santa Claus will get fed up.
The latest book that you put together, I want to hear a bit more about what is it that you feel is the biggest message from your latest book.
The Vision Code. We are all visionary. Don't believe that vision is for a selected few. No. We’re all visionaries. We all have visionary traits. It's a matter of how to think and how to act. My aim was to bring vision as a practical business tool to demystify and decode it, and I did it in this book. I'm grateful to nineteen brilliant visionaries who contributed to the book their wisdom, their lessons, they shared it with me. It was simple yet challenging to make it accessible to all, and I did it. Everyone can open the book and believe. Tony, you can open the book, and you could see, “I could do it,” because we always associate vision with inspiration, but inspiration is a signal of, “You can do it.” That's an inspiration. That is where you say, “I need an algorithm.” Here’s the algorithm of the book. How does it work? That's the full explanation. I came from a practical industry, the fishing industry, “Show me the fish.” What is real? That is real. It's not about what kind of vision you would have. It's about how your vision will impact you.
When you describe it that way, I often think about how the message that comes from different people. Your background and how you’d be able to bring this to life make all the difference. You had people who you were able to interview and to bring into the book, but it's you as the vehicle to bring this story is what makes it powerful. Each person, when they read a book, it’s like you're a vehicle to bring that particular message at that moment into the world.
I have a group of my clients and my course participants, and we have a simple approach. We're here to reveal the greatness of each other. Who’s the best? No one is the best, but we're all great. We're here to help each other. Therefore, I'm grateful for all the contributors to the book. Marshall Goldsmith, David Carr, Garry Ridge, Sania Ansari, Noel Ferguson, you name them. Brilliant people and they openly shared their experience. I learned a ton from every one of them. In this sense, they help me to articulate something in the right way. Therefore, it's not only being grateful but saying they allowed me to make that book.
You're associated with a lot of different organizations where there's a lot of great people with who you collaborate with. You have seen the value of having collectives, having people around you who you give to and they give to you. Seeing the value and being part of something. I've seen that from a lot of the guests who have come on the show too, but I'd love to hear your take on the value of community.
When we're talking about campfire, is it any sole owner of that campfire?
Living a meaningful life is the greatest legacy you could pass to the next generation.
When we sit together, we are all the co-owners of that campfire. The same is a vision. My aim, if I have a vision, is to make others the co-owners of that vision. How do they become corners? They could see the benefits for themselves. If we're talking about community, local and global, it's about seeing everyone as the co-owners of it. Regardless of industry, background, if people are involved in it, what kind of benefits are they getting for themselves?
That's what I'm hearing from your message, but also feeling like that's how great things happen. It’s by people feeling this element of, “We are co-creating this fire. We are co-creating this as a part of this vision that is not just one person's vision.” One person starts the idea, but then at some point, it becomes a vision that is co-created.
We are raising our kids not for ourselves. You're creating your vision not for yourself, but for other people to benefit from it.
There's something about that I love. You're putting this real strong connection between vision and legacy. If your vision is not set up for that connection to something bigger than yourself, then it's a failed vision.
It's wouldn’t be just the bottom-line report and say, “We’ve done it,” and what?
I'm assuming this is a big part of the work that you've done. You've worked with people and you felt like they've got some work to do around creating a better way of framing their vision.
I will give you two instances. In one instance, I walked into the company and say, “They can do tremendously well.” I also had experienced when I walked in, I walked out in fifteen minutes time. “Sorry, wrong call. Forget about the pay. I can't do much.” “How come?" "No, sorry." “We'll pay for a ticket.” “No, thank you. I'm alright. I was just passing. I’ll pay it myself.” I don't want to be associated with them, even with all those flashy statements. Vision is the greatest asset that a company could have. It's the greatest asset that people could share between them, but if they're thinking of it as some an easy buy, that they will write it on a statement and will forget about it, or they will speculate about it in the media for a day or two, I'm not about it. I'm putting my quality mark on it, and I don't want to be associated with dodgy things. No way.
Once you get to this place where you're feeling like, “I'm doing this work, and I want to make sure that they feel it, that everyone feels it.” This is not a thing on the wall or something that, “We checked that box, we're done.” It has to be something people are feeling on a day-to-day basis.
It's a good clear sign that these people want to have some kind of a vision as trendy stuff that would please their personal ambitions, but their personal ambitions will drive people off a cliff. They will use it against people.
We haven't dug deep enough into your backstory. I'd love to ask this question that maybe you can help us to give us a sense of what are the things you've learned about yourself along this journey from your old life being in the fishing industry to being where you are? An author of multiple books, thought leader, helping companies and people to transform themselves with the tools that you're bringing to the table. What are the things you've learned about yourself that you want to share with people?
Tony, I have something that scares me. I know so little about my potentials. It's something to dig deeper to make myself better. It's about growing stronger in terms of being wiser. That is about it. It’s not like, “I have done this.” No, it only shows that you could do more. When you’re named the da Vinci of Vision Leadership, is it the status or is it the responsibility? It's the responsibility. If you think of it as a crown, cool, you're done. If you think, “That's an obligation to deliver even more,” then you think, “What kind of potential do I really have? How can I explore it? Would I be scared to walk in as an extra mile?” In my brain, another fifteen extra miles. That is different. Therefore, you keep exploring yourself. When you have a vision, you have a huge inner world. You're not thinking about traveling across the continents because you could travel your inner world and you will be more excited. This is something you need to explore. Every day, you realize, “I only scratched the surface.”
I love that. I'm going to pause for a moment to say this idea is scary, daunting, and exciting at the same time. It's like the iceberg. Everyone only sees the tip of the iceberg, yet there's so much below the surface. I remember being with Simon Sinek once and he said something like, “People hear the why, and they think that's all I have under the tank. The reality is, there's so much below the surface that I don't even know yet.” That's exciting.
I’m not only the strange guy, thank you. It's interesting, we’re taught that we should be smart, but being smart is two-dimensional. Being wise is multi-dimensional. When you understand that you want to be wiser, this is where real depths come in. You're thinking, “How deep could I go?” In a good sense, of course.
This insight lands so well. Thank you for sharing that because that's not something that we hear often. It's nice to hear. Is there anything else that you wanted to share, some insights about your journey that you'd love to share before we get to the closing time?
I have not much to share, except what I'm always saying. Don't allow anyone to silence your vision. Don't be afraid to go beyond yourself. The world is much more interesting outside of you. Keep your eyes open, and don’t be afraid to explore new terrains because they're beautiful. They're interesting. You could make those new terrains flourish for others, and people will appreciate it.
I love that because that's where the responsibility is too. If you don't explore, if you don't allow that to happen, then you may be leaving something on the table that needs to come out. Your responsibility is to put your brilliance out there. We have one last question for you. What it's one book or two that has had an impact on you and why?
The greatest enemy of vision is within one’s self.
I love all the books by Paulo Coelho because people assume that I should be naming some kind of brilliant business books. No, business is a part of our life. When you read Paulo Coelho, you learn about life. You become wiser. You become better as a person, or as a personality. I wish to have a cup of coffee with him one day because of the books which I was prepared to read again and again. I love the books by Jack London. They're about exploring things, going through all those challenges and make that difference. That is different. It's a matter of era in which those books were written. It's about how to be human in all cases, in all situations, and how to grow and go further.
I love that you brought up the Jack London books because, in fiction books, someone had an adventure and had a story behind it that made them think. Jack was thinking, “This is something I want to put out there.”
Not just philosophical books. It's about acting.
Regardless of terrain, there's no tougher terrain out there to challenge yourself than in the Arctic.
This has been an amazing conversation. I'm grateful for you sharing your insights and your stories. It's been beautiful. Thank you so much for coming on.
Life is meaningless, and it is your duty to make it meaningful.
Tony, I appreciate your invitation. I’m grateful. Thank you.
Of course. I want to let people know where they can find you. What's the best place where they can find out more about you?
My website, OlegKonovalov.com. It has a contact form. I'm happy to respond to emails. I'm happy to connect on LinkedIn and respond to messages. I do share my content, solutions, articles, and everything I could do. Happy to connect.
Thank you. Of course, everyone should run out and get the latest book. Also, I'm sure there are the other books, which I haven't read yet. I'm going to have to go pick up some copies of the older books. Thank you so much. Thanks, readers, for coming on the journey. I know you're leaving with some great insights. That's a wrap.
- Oleg Konovalov
- The Vision Code
- Corporate Superpower
- Organisational Anatomy
- Hidden Russia
- LinkedIn - Dr. Oleg Konovalov
About Oleg Konovalov
Dr. Oleg Konovalov is a thought leader, author, business educator, consultant, and coach with over 25 years of experience operating businesses and consulting Fortune 500 companies both in the UK and internationally.
Oleg is on the Thinkers50 Radar, Global Gurus Top 30, has been recognized as #1 Global Thought Leader on Culture by Thinkers 360, is #1 Global Leading Coach (Marshall Goldsmith Thinkers50) and has been named as one of the Top 10 Most Inspiring Global Thought Leaders by The Excelligent.
Having been named as ‘the da Vinci of Visionary Leadership’ by many leading authorities of our time, Oleg Konovalov is helping companies to create and execute their vision, diagnose and treat organizational diseases, maintain a strong productive corporate culture and achieve superior business performance.
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