Perception isn’t always reality with Aman Brar

After two successful exits, Aman Brar, board member and previous CEO of Jobvite, joins Tiffany to discuss the evolution of his identity.

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“I believe the research phase I'm in will make me more comfortable writing my music versus getting the megaphone just because I’m the CEO.” —Aman Brar

After two successful exits, Aman Brar, board member and previous CEO of Jobvite, joins Tiffany to discuss the evolution of his identity. From being a contrarian in high school, to balancing playfulness as the founder of two companies, Aman reveals how he leaned into those characteristics throughout his life.

During this next transition, exiting from his company, learn how Aman will try something different - pressing pause.

Perception isn’t always reality with Aman Brar

I want to do the next thing for impact and not so much cause of anxiety. And I've been such an anxiety driven performer, a need for significance need to feel like I've, I can do something valuable in this world. I'm your host, Tiffany Souder. And this is scared. Confident I wanted almond Brar as a guest on scared.

Because I, he presents himself so confidently, the maximum confidence is the way that I've experienced him. And so I think I had this curiosity about what does the scared or fear part look for? Like, what does it look like for him? And is it something he still wrestles with today? Like his present self or if not, what has been his journey with fear?

And I think what I'm beginning to learn in this overall, like macro journey with scare confident is that everybody has voices of fear. And so I wondered what we're almond

CEO, high growth. Corporate strategist. Deal-maker chief strategy, officer innovator, board member, a rare blend of strategy and performance. When you go look online at almond bar, these are words that you find, but I found that oftentimes our own perception of our selves is not what others see. So when I say those words to you about yourself, what does it evoke for you?

Like somebody else. I accept those parts about me, but to some degree, those feel like clothes that I put on momentarily. I've honestly always struggled with the CEO identity part and every man, every woman aspect of me that I think actually held me back as a leader for awhile, because I needed to embrace the notion that leading is your calling, but like the words that come to mind for me, Jokester kindergartner in the chair, tinkerer, builder, like those kinds of things.

It's like a different set of words that I, that when I'm just thinking about myself that tend to resonate. Have you been intentional about not losing your playfulness? Cause I think I would characterize you. There is a playfulness to you. Like when you say kindergartener and tinker. Yeah, I like being playful.

It's interesting because one of the things like, even if I'm running a company, there are, there is this like, whoa. I only knew almond from the hallways where like he's cracking a joke and then you have a meeting with them and it's who was that person? And the reality they're both me. I just have, I do mode shift a little bit.

I think we all experienced that to some degree, but yeah, I want the things that I'm doing to feel playful, even if it's like pie stakes, because at the end of the day, like that's how I get some joy out of it. Helping keep things light also can help get the best ideas out on the table. And I think a lot of my ideas have been generated through just trying to keep it really open-minded really playful mind game.

This was like an output of just playfulness. What if we just texted people for interviews? That would be weird. And then like, it was like a playful kind of part of my brain that like that as weird as it was. So other examples of, we were the first HR tech platform to integrate with Bitmoji, with Snapchat.

And that sounds it's again, just the by playful nature. It's like, that'd be really cool. There's no real reason for that, but it was interesting. It helped recruiters and candidates express personality, and it like drove inbound leads because it was like just this weird playful thing. So I like to think about like the playful corners of like serious discussion.

It's interesting for you to say that because in my work as a brand strategist, what I basically feel like my job is to do is to decode a CEO and to help them understand what parts of you is getting good out of the organization and what parts of you need to be complemented, or it's like the, the organization's mirroring it back negatively.

So my brand strategist mind is wondering as you talk about this, like natural playfulness, did you have to learn how to be. From and clear sometimes. What did you have to rehearse that part of you to be like no. Now is the time where the grumpy bear shows up. For sure. I had to learn to be from unclear is something that I'm always working on.

It's a great example of that. And I think consequently, the other thing I had to work on as the stakes started getting higher. When I looked back at my career, I probably hid too much of my playfulness. And felt like, well, I'm going to step away and let others create and empower others and be more of a manager.

And sometimes I think that was too like a detriment. Like I should have flexed into my creator builder playful mode in this moment. And so there's this fine balance. I find that I've pulled away too far, sometimes, and other times where I've had it grow as a leader and become firm and clear and make sure that it's not all just fun and games.

Cause it's. Did you ever have a time where like investors or I don't know, an ownership group or someone who was looking at you as a leader, felt like you didn't take it seriously enough. Like they wanted you to be more. No. I actually think that I'm playful, but I'm also like weirdly direct. And I think that in some ways you can say something that like, when I think about what you just said, it was like almost mean, but no one in the room felt like you were saying something mean, and it wasn't me.

Maybe it was a really direct point or some feedback or we got to do better. And so I think that what I'm really careful about is while I'm certainly lighthearted and playful, I'm not afraid to be really direct about a situation. And in some ways I think that the marriage of those two things. One of the things that's holding me up, or I get noticed because I'm just willing to speak my mind in a way that also can be approachable and maybe not filled with fear.

So I think if I was as goofy as I am, and I also wasn't direct that I think could be problematic, but I think my directness helps get it. So I, I'm curious to know your adult self today. If I would have been able to talk to your 12 year old self and say, what do you dream of for your life? And what does it feel like?

And what does it look like? And these like lists of nouns and accomplishments that I just said, what likely did your 12 year old self, what did you dream of? The tutors and technology were front and center, even when I was 12. I didn't really, I probably understood like computing more than I understood the notion of technology.

And. I also feel like really liked business and world events. And I was like pretty plugged in as a 12 year old. I felt like I was going to be out there somewhere, doing something, try to make a difference. And then as I mature, I think that difference is going to be in the arena of business. But I'm going to stay true to this thing I've always dreamed about, which is trying to really get into technology and employ technology.

But I really did have that like vision of myself in tech, like at a really young age. And I remember as I would get older and was in high school and college. And when people ask, what are you going to do? I'm like, I don't know I'm going to go to Silicon valley. I just didn't know. I just was like, I just, that was like my beacon and the reason I ended up going to Denver for my first gig in the technology space.

Headquartered out of Silicon valley, but I got a job in their Denver office, but I was like, oh, I'm halfway there. Now. It was like that simple. There wasn't a lot of calculus since technology. That's halfway to where I think I need to be, because at that point in time technology hadn't been so democratized, it was really centered someplace.

So that's what kind of, it was like my lighthouse. I was like, I gotta get out there. So I think that part of my 12 year old self was always there. And I think I was lucky to figure out really early that. I remember being in college and taking computer science, because that was like maybe, okay, that's what I got to go do.

And I remember feeling, oh man, that person to my left is like way better than I am at this. And I had the wherewithal to know that I don't think I'm truly a great one when it comes to like actual coding. So I gotta figure some other play out. And I really have a lot of self-awareness about that. Cause it felt like if I was going to accelerate through my career path, That I needed to find the thing that I was really potentially best in class.

And so I'm actually really glad that I got exposed to coding, but then also had the wherewithal to know that I was not going to be the best in the world at that part of that. What mechanism your life gave you exposure to all that stuff at 12 years old? Was it a natural curiosity and environmental? I don't know how you call it.

So I grew up really meager means, I didn't know I was poor until I went to college. You know, I was like, oh wow, I'm poor. I had no idea, but interestingly I'm completely unhandy. I don't do any projects at home. No home improvement. It's bad hug. I outsource everything, but I still, as a kid was like taking apart VCRs.

Like I didn't really have a computer, but we had a VCR and if it was broken, I was fearless. Taking it apart and putting them back together. Like a lot of times those folks end up being mechanical and engineering. Like interestingly enough, I wasn't, I was curious and I could tinker and I was like dangerous enough to fix something.

And then if you ask me what I did, I probably couldn't even tell you, I don't know. I took it apart and like fiddle with some himself and put it back together. So it wasn't that process we're in with it. And then I really wanted it like a common number one, the Commodore 64 so badly. And we ended up getting a Tandy, TRS 80 from radio shack, and I have the book out and I was like plugging in basic code when I was like super young.

I literally remember my first hello world. Basic thing. I think honestly, I think just, I was, I gravitated towards technology. I'm fortunate for my parents, that they took our few resources and then allocated them to things that really made any. Difference in my life. And I think the irony is like that. I just figured out that I'm not really not that good at it like that realize that, but that doesn't mean I have to give up on my dream of technology or even my dream of creating things in technology and trying to pull together the rest of myself to build teams and find the people that can help me bring things that I can imagine to life.

Even though I may not be the person that should actually put the pieces to. One of the things I would append to you in sitting on boards with you and watching you navigate and environment, is that you generally has a different perspective than the room, or you're good at finding a contrarian perspective or a different perspective.

Has it always been that way that you've seen it from different perspective? And have you always been so comfortable? I was not a comfortable, confident person in what I'd call as a young person in middle school and high school. I had a lot of thoughts in my mind and contrarian points of view. And that contrary nature started coming out in middle school and high school, and they got regarding ideas and it got slapped down like really hard.

And so I was like the prototypical, like disengaged. Like smart disengaged kid. One of my earliest examples of rebellion and contrarian thinking was I remember being in literature class in high school and we were reading the Scarlet letter and I liked reading. So I was like an engaged student. I raised my hand.

Rather the teacher telling me know that, that point's not, that's not right. I'm like what is right or wrong. I'm like literally having a debate with her about like how you're supposed to teach literature, just to be clear. I'm sure she knew a hundred times more than I did about how to teach literature.

But I was really disappointed that my point was just, no, that can't be right. I'm like, how could you say that? Can't be right. It's like a point I made and I've said, look, I'm just done reading this thing and. We go the next two weeks and then we take our test and the teacher goes on and thanks so much for coming around.

I knew you would, and you'd have to give the test back out in the order of highest, lowest. And I had the highest grade on the test and I literally said it's really easy to perform. Well, when all you do is teach from the cliff notes and I just pulled the cliff notes out of my bag and I dropped it on the two.

And she starts crying. I actually felt like a miserable human being. And then I get sent to the principal's office. This would happen all the time. I get sent to principal's office and they'd be like, what happened? I'm like, I got a really high score on the test. Okay. And she sent you away. I'm like, yeah. I just told her, she taught from the cliff notes.

And so I just decided I'd read the cliff notes instead of reading the book. They're like, so I don't understand what I'm in trouble for. And they'd be like, we don't understand what you're in trouble for either. Then they'd send me back to class. And then it was like, that was like my early rebellion. One would it, when it of saying I did not thrive in high school, kind of in that way, it was like, I was like a misfit thinker and then the converse is true.

Then I went to college and I'm like, oh my gosh, this is amazing. Like our ideas can be shared and a different point of view is embraced and it's wrestled with, and you could be wrong, but it's not just thrown away. And so then in college, I really started finding my confidence. I had no confidence as a high school student and very much felt disengaged and something must be wrong with me.

I literally would walk around thinking. Weird thoughts. Okay. I think I'm smart. I told him smart, but I'm so ineffective. Like in this setting that there must be something really incredibly wrong with me. And I walked around with that, like all the time. And then in college, it just flipped on its head. I did find my footing and found my confidence and understood that like you could actually share your ideas and not be punished for it.

As I heard almond talk about his journey, I think that it gives me. Even more permission to step into the humanity of who I am as a leader. I really think that's a strong theme as I heard and listened to what Aman said. And as a young leader, when I was 25, when. Had the role, you know, like the title of president at element three, which is way too young.

And I think as a result, part of the way that I have learned leadership or maybe uncovered the kind of leader that I want to be is by watching other people. I know people who become CEOs or entrepreneurs or whatever, like I will say later in life where they've worked for some people they're really directed by, you know, the bosses that I hated.

I know those are the things I don't want to be the bosses that I loved. I know that those are the things I want to emulate into my own leadership style. Like that's more a natural path of things. And because I really haven't had. Bosses. So to speak the way I have learned the kind of leader I want to become is by studying people and watching, like, why am I attracted to that type of leadership style?

Or why am I, why am I feeling myself like repel away from, and while I've not worked. Any of these people, they have really, in a lot of ways become mentors for me. And so, as I've watched Aman, as I've watched him have such significant impact on the city and the people that he has led. And the humanity at which he meets people.

And I think he sees himself, it just gives me renewed permission to be a human and to be really unique. And my personality as a leader, if there's a woman listening to this conversation, the takeaway is to be you. If you've always had male leaders, that doesn't mean that you need to lead that like those male leaders did.

If you've always worked in a male dominated environment, that doesn't mean that you need to lead like your male counterparts. What I heard from Aman and his background and his leadership journey and his confidence and stepping into all of who he is and the peculiarity that comes with that is ultimately what makes him such an interesting leader.

And whether we're male or female, there are things about us that are peculiar and it can be easy to try to make those things not seen because they stand out. And that is uncomfortable for us when we are the person with the peculiar trait. But it is our peculiar that makes. Uh, special. And it is our peculiar that I believe makes us more approachable because all of us see our own peculiar.

And when you see somebody else who really steps into theirs, I believe it gives us more confidence to own completely all that. We are the things that are both normal quote unquote, and the things that are peculiar. I get so excited to. Find overlooked talent. And I think it's something I just care a lot about.

And one of the debates I have with the local, even business community is that when we say there's not enough talent, it's actually, you're the problem. You're not open-minded enough about the form and flavor of talent. And so I think for me, it's about, I mean, honestly, talent people everywhere, and we're just generally unwilling to give them a chance there's like this, just roadblocks to uncovering these incredible people.

So I think that part really sticks with me and I would say. Being okay. With debate and argument. And I think it's something that I really value because I always think about myself in those situations. Who wants to work in some culture of suppressed ideas? I think we just really overlooked less experienced young people.

I think the reality is, and of every company I've had a hand in, that's actually been the part that's allowed us to deliver the game plan. I've had a lot of success with is we ask questions, like, what was your first job? Do you understand work? That's a bigger and bigger signal these days. Folks with street-smarts folks with.

Folks with learning agility, but I'd say at a lot of companies it's super high achieving hardworking B students. We get really fascinated with straight a students, which I think is amazing if you are. I really do. I think it's like an amazing gift. If you can be a straight a student, but to me, the interesting folks are like worked at the Delphi plant who grew up on the farm.

I'm a B plus student taking a really hard curriculum, like there's magic in those folks. And I think that. Been able to unlock just hundreds of these types of candidates over the years. And then what happens is you surround them with a great captain of that team, whatever squad they're on and like really awesome stuff happens.

And there's such accountability built into some books that they're just not going to let your customer down. They're not going to let their teammate down. So yeah. A lot more scientific than just saying, Hey, we're going to hire droves of young people. I think it's, there's a lot that can, those folks will close the gap really fast.

I think those are the kinds of questions that we ask. I, I don't want to list the university cause they're a good university. So I don't want to, it's not about calling them out, but we had a great hire. The GPA didn't make any sense. And this person is just oozing intellectual. Like what is going on? Like you have a 2.9 GPA don't understand.

I don't know if I've met somebody smarter than you in the last year. And I'm like, Hey, your presence and your ability to navigate these really complex conversations and your GPA. Aren't making sense to me. Can you talk to me about what's going on in their life? So I'm also a music major. I'm like, oh, okay, cool.

Tell me about that. I played 12 instruments. I'm like, oh, like which ones you get at? Oh, no. I'm like professional level at 12, 12 different instruments. Oh, so what happened? So Chris services told me not to put that on my resume, but it's like clear. This could be like the fastest learner I've ever met in my life.

And they're like having to hide this like amazing talent that they have. It's super relevant to all the work that we do. I just think there's just loads and loads of stories out there. We just find them all the time. It's just these incredible people that have really interesting stories, fight through real interesting challenges, have incredible hustle and, and kind of street smarts and accountability.

And so I think that to me is the recipe and it doesn't mean that if you're a straight up. That maybe doesn't have all those challenges. You're not going to be incredible contribute to a company. My point is that if we only focus on those people, we're just missing out on the majority of where I think the talent is, is sitting right now.

What is the mindset thing you find yourself most coaching and young? I would say it's like very mad. I answered your question, which is how to take coaching. So that's, I was at a big theme, like just the whole concept of coaching. I talk about this ad nauseum. Really? We try to use a lot of analogy around it.

We say, do you, have you ever signed up to take a lesson in your life? We'll go pay for a music lesson or a golf lesson. And you're literally paying somebody to tell you that your elbow is off three degrees. And you're like, yeah. Awesome. Thanks. I feel so valuable that I paid for this. And then you go to your prevention and someone says, Hey, your elbow is just three degrees off and you like lose your, you just lose it.

And it's really step back and think about it. Are you a professional or are you an amateur? And the difference is, do you practice, do you prepare, can you take coaching and feedback? And I think that's a real gap that we are always working on. And it's fun when you see an unlock for people. And I like to use a lot of analogy because it takes us out of ourselves.

And one of the, I just was having a talk at another company the other day, and we're talking about feedback and I said, raise your hand, if you want the surgeon that got an incredible amount of feedback in there. Or the one that didn't get any, like which one do you, every single person wants to surgeon.

And then I go look. So are you saying that like their jobs is more important than yours? You don't deserve to get like 1% better? I can't live in that world. And so we have to make feedback less militant. So like the term I've stolen from somebody, who's just, it's a teachable moment, right? Like it's just all about teaching and coaching.

And we have to put the emphasis back in that if you really want to be the world-class surgeon in your field, it's impossible to do it without it. And if you were honest with yourself, you'd prefer the teammate that has gotten a lot of coaching. I find this to be a real challenge and something that I'm really committed to trying to unlock and not give up that, that we all deserve to get better.

So for people who don't know, amen, you're the place in your career where you've had a couple successful exits, you were just a CEO of a great big company and you have the luxury of a pause, right? And you have time and resources, which I, I think ultimately is like the goal of the race. What does success look like?

It's like it's to have options and to have choice with those two things. And so from an outsider, one would say, you've made it like, this is the Mecca, this is Nirvana. And so. And my question is, what does fear say to you now will a lot, one of the hardest things about transitioning away from work is like how much your identity is wrapped up in being the CEO of something.

And as not-for-profits like, Hey, we need your title, my, uh, almond bar, you know, it's like, it's like, you just were watching your power diminished. There's like fear around that. Like, I'm just a person. Now, the other fear is this internal and external pressures. But I think I manufacturing my mind about how to pull another rabbit out of the hat.

And so those are all things that I'm really working. Like I'm actually taking the time right now to make sure that I do the next thing in my mind. I want to do the next thing for impact and not so much cause of anxiety. And I've been such an anxiety driven performer, a need for significance need to feel like I've, I can do something valuable in this world.

And more so in the future, like accepting that I can do something, not even this world and how do I kind of 10 X the impact of doing that and take care of my family and my family's family and all the things that I want to do. So I like to believe that this research phase I'm in right now will lead me to be more comfortable writing my own music, even if there's not a lot of, there's not a lot of audience for it versus just having the megaphone that you get by being.

UCO to larger company. There's a, just a pragmatic level of influence and importance that you could achieve just through titles alone. And then when you shed that, it ended up, okay, now I'm lying naked here on the field. Who am I? What am I going to go do? How do I go make an impact? Do you have a fear of being forgotten?

Oh, for sure. I remember when we exited apparatus and I felt like I had five minutes to think of something great. And I, and to be Frank, what I don't want to do again. I was like the cartoon brain with steam coming out of the years. Like I was just sitting there like relentlessly thinking of ideas, just notebooks and notebooks of, I got to think of an idea.

We sold this company onto the next and I was just, it was bananas and canvas was, I don't know, asynchronous text-based interviewing. And this time actually taking, like, I'm just not going to do that to myself. I give myself the gift of time and I will capture my ideas. But they're just happening randomly versus locking myself in the room until I come out with 50 ideas.

So I'm really trying to take a different approach and just be okay with being forgotten for awhile. And it's so cliche, but I'm not going to be forgotten by my friends and my family and the people that I really care about. And it's like getting comfortable. Like just getting comfortable with being forgotten.

Like I'm not afraid of being forgotten. Like I hope some of that happens that I just can hang out for a little while.

I believe I asked him this question, are you okay? Being forgotten? Impart, because I wonder myself. If I will be okay with being forgotten when you commit yourself to something and the work that it takes to lead people, the work that it takes to build a thing, the work that it takes to just get comfortable with the risk, just all of the things that it takes.

It takes a lot of you. It takes a lot from you and it gives a lot to you. But in that. I know that part of my personality is still motivated from the fact that people know it, that I'm doing it, that they know me, that they know I'm doing it, and they want to become totally uncoupled from that. I want to become independent of anybody else knowing, or giving me significance, because then I think I'll know for sure I'm doing it for all the right reasons.

And this has been a journey for me. I feel much healthier in this, my own relationship with the effort that I'm giving the things that I love and the reasons why I'm doing it, that really there for my own reasons and not to satisfy other people's expectations of me, but knowing how Outfront ominous, I mean, if you're in a room of 200 people, you will just like, you'll find his energy.

He's just big and he's just magnetic in that way. And so. Now that he's at a place where he doesn't really have to do anything. And he's probably been there for a while, but now that he's stepped down from this most recent role, it doesn't really have to do anything. And so knowing that the world just keeps moving on and that if he stays on the sideline for a long time, you know, to some degree, that spot will be filled with somebody else.

And so is he comfortable with. Being forgotten. I think that question had nothing to do with him and it really had everything to do with an awareness of my own journey. And I think we all need to get to a place where we're doing things, not because of other people's expectations, not because. We feel like we have a point to prove, but because it's really what we know is inside of us.

So what else is on your mind? Text me 3 1 7 3 5 0 8 9 2 1 3 1 7 3 5 0 8 9 2 1. And be sure to follow along on your favorite podcast app. Thanks for listening today.

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