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Level Up Ep. 2: MBAR Leadership Model

Whether you create your own or use one that someone else created that resonates with you, having a leadership model to follow can be useful to anchor and organize your leadership thinking.  In this episode, James Lee shares the MBAR leadership model that he has developed and uses in his leadership roles. This is a great episode to watch on YouTube for the visual aid.

James:
Hey, everybody. Welcome to Level Up leadership podcast. That was the first time I’ve ever had to intro a podcast episode with Josh on it. So it’s just really fun and cool being on the reverse side of that. Here for episode two, I’ve got my main man, Josh Crisp. Thank you for joining me today to walk through, I guess officially you’re my first official guest of this podcast.
Josh:
And what an honor, like out of all the people you could have picked, I am flattered honored and so happy for you. And I’m even more happy for the people that get to listen to you, man. So this is really exciting.
James:
Yeah, man,I’m glad you’re glad that you’re able to kind of walk through this with me. And it was really cool. We’re recording this after the first episode has already aired, which is really cool and getting some good feedback on it. That first episode, I really explored why I’m doing this podcast in the first place. So, the reason I asked Josh to join me today was to kind of talk through that a little bit more of the podcast format, you know, Josh and Lucas of course have kind of, they’re the OGs of senior living podcasting. So, this is a great kind of the first episode to dig into that. We haven’t really planned out the entire discussion here, so we’ll just let it be a little bit organic and free-flowing.
Josh:
Well, I love this, so I love the conversational style. It’s actually how me and Lucas on the Bridge The Gap show on Mondays got started. And I am so glad to be able to ask you some questions today that you and I actually haven’t had time to talk too much about because so much has been going on in your life. I met you at Argentum San Antonio several years ago at a conference, at one of our mastermind events. Lucas knew you a little bit better than I did, and he introduced us. You actually were on the Bridge The Gap show at that floor of that expo center, which was huge. It was beautiful. It was a great event that Argentum put on. And I don’t know, like we just kinda hit it off and, you know, as Bridge The Gap became more than just a single Josh and Lucas show, it became a network.
Josh:
You were one of the first people that we went to and said, we want to grow this. You’re producing such amazing content on LinkedIn and your personal social channels, and we were hearing about the great work that you were doing in your profession. We just wanted you to be on there. And thankfully you did. Fast forward, you’ve launched out of the corporate world doing your own thing with Bear Wise Consulting. Now there’s this level of podcasts. And I just have to ask, you know, like what is the why behind these big transitions and these big launches that have gotten us to this show today? Talking about this, can you fill, fill your listeners in a little bit?
James:
Yeah, for sure. The last 12, almost 13 years, that I’ve been in senior living, I’ve had just some amazing jobs. Honestly, and worked for some great companies. Big ones to small ones and progressively as I’ve grown as a person and as a professional, I think there was always a goal driving my behavior that I want to stand on my own two feet. I want to create influence. I want to do work that I have more control over. And I learned so much through these companies and I thought, you know, it’s funny, I’ve had this thought that I’m too busy working in the business to help work on the business. And so I think a lot of us feel that sometimes. We’re wrapped up in the day-to-day that you don’t have a lot of time to pull back, do some big picture thinking, and work on the business.
James:
And so, especially in the aftermath of this pandemic world that we’ve been living in, I’ve thought why not make a go at making the side hustle, your entire hustle? And so launching Bear Wise Consulting was my kind of effort to do this thing in my own vision and help the companies I want to work with. There’s so many cool companies out there and I thought, well, how the hell am I going to like work with every single one of them? And what role am I going to be in? And, and I thought, what a shame that I would have to bounce around in different companies as a W2 employee. And I thought there’s too many amazing people in this industry and I to work with as many of them as I can.
Josh:
That’s awesome, man. And what you will realize too, is that’s a great service to the industry because, you know, personally, I was jealous that I didn’t get to work with you and now I get to work with you. So I can appreciate that. But I want to, in a couple of minutes, I want to unpack a little bit for, myself selfishly, but also for your listeners, your kind of leadership model. But before that, you talked a little bit about Bear Wise, for those that have not seen the visual of the Level Up podcast, yet, it’s a cool looking brand and it’s a cool name, but maybe people don’t really understand, like the why behind the name. Can you kind of like, you obviously put a lot of thought into that. You put a lot of thought into everything you do. So why Level Up? Why that brand name?
James:
Level Up for me, when I was thinking about the podcast, in truth, you and Lucas and I have talked about this kind of spinoff podcasts for probably over a year, right? It was just an idea that you guys had, and then over time, it just kind of matured into this, which is really cool. And I had a lot of different iterations of what I thought the podcast would be. But, you know, as I sat down, the honest answer is when I realized I was going to have to, put some money towards this, like everything costs something, right? We don’t do anything for free. And so when I was thinking about the cost of it, I really asked myself, ‘well, why am I doing it?’
James:
What’s the real value that I expect in return for spending my time and my money to do this? And when I really asked those questions of myself I had a lot of clarity in realizing, this is for me, this is for me to kind of continue my learning journey, and I love the idea that I get to share that with people. And there’s a lot of learning, in business and in senior living that I’ve had to almost secretly source. You know what I mean? Like, you don’t ask your boss, you don’t go up the chain. Although that would be great, the reality is, and the truth is that most people when they kind of learn about the business, you almost kind of have to do it yourself, or in secret, because you don’t want to let your boss know, ‘Hey, I don’t know as much about that topic that you hired me for.’
James:
So being an avid kind of learner of things I thought Level Up. It’s a common phrase that people use, like level up your skills, level up your mindset. And I thought that’s really what I want to do here. I want to serve the learning process and let people join in on that. One of my friends yesterday, he sent me a text. He doesn’t know me from the senior living world. I’ve been friends with him since we were kids. And he was like, ‘Hey, I like the setup of how you’re structuring the episodes. It’s almost like Friends, the one where Rachel gets married, or the one where Ross does this.’ And he was like, ‘that’s a cool way to set up your episodes that people can just kind of tell what it’s about and listen in’.
Josh:
Oh man. So I love that, that tells a beautiful story. That explains it very, very well. So bouncing into a little bit of your content to kind of ease your listeners into, because you can’t get all of James at one time, it’s just too much to handle. But I can remember a theme that you challenged me with. I think it shows a lot about your leadership style that we’ll talk about, but I remember we talked a lot about like this idea of not just work-life balance, but work-life harmony. And then one theme that I hear a lot from you is kind of this, this head and heart alignment, or I don’t think balance maybe is not the right word. And you can, you’ll tell the listeners more about it, but aligning that together very well. And so with that said, you’ve got some kind of fundamental ways that you kind of align the way you approach leadership and it goes through your content and your lessons. Can you kind of unpack that a little bit for us?
James:
Yeah, for sure. This would be a really great opportunity if you’re listening to this episode, through one of the audio channels, this might be a cool portion to look at on YouTube. I realized a couple of years ago that I actually do have a leadership model that I follow and like anything good, like any creative work of art, it comes from somewhere. So every idea we have is derivative of something that inspired us. So, you know, my leadership model is no different from that. But what I’ve been able to do is kind of codify, or just put into a simple diagram, like how I think and how I behave. So I’m going to share it on the screen here. So again, if you’re watching this on YouTube, this would be a really great point to do that.
James:
But I’ll try to explain it too, in case you’re just listening to it through audio. I call this the MBAR leadership model. It’s an acronym, MBAR, and at the bottom, you’ll see kind of that sliding gradient between emotional intelligence and business intelligence as like your head and your heart. But MBAR, so if you’re picturing this listening through audio, imagine, it’s almost like a bullseye. It’s like a target almost, right? You’ve got four circles, concentric circles. You’ve got the center core circle, which is the letter M, and then you’ve got a larger circle around that, which is B, and then one larger circle around that, A, and then the last circle around an R. So it’s like a target with MBAR. And a lot of people think about just how do I get better results?
James:
And that’s the R in MBAR, that’s the results. That’s the stuff that we typically talk about. It’s the stuff we measure. It’s the KPIs, it’s the quantitative stuff in a business environment that we all kind of anchor to. What I’ve realized though, is that you can’t get more results just by, you can’t do more results. You know what I mean? You have to do the things that get to the results. And so the way that this model works is like, you go further and further inside to look at what are the things that impact results? So one level down from R results, that’s A four activities. What are the daily actions that you do? You know what do you do every day that leads to those results? And to me, this is almost like a way to like, check yourself.
James:
Like, if you want to improve something on the outer circle, you got to go at least one level deeper. So if you want to fix results, you’ve got to go one level deeper into A, which is activities. If your activities, your daily actions are off, then you need to go a level deeper into B, which is behaviors. Your behaviors are your habits. These are like the things that you repeatedly do. And then at the core of all of that is M which is motivations. What are the things that really drive you? What are your motivators for all of your habits in the first place? And I’ve followed this for such a long time. And then I used to actually coach to this. I shared it with my management team. It became something that we just kind of came back to over and over again. So, that’s kind of in a nutshell, the MBAR leadership model.
Josh:
Well, again, I would say if you’re not, I’m a very visual person, James, so I really appreciate the visual model. But let me tell you what I see when I look at this. I see it like an onion, right? I’ve seen that it’s like layers of an onion that you got to peel back. And I’m thinking for me as a leader, maybe you can coach me some here, because if I’m looking at this and I’m thinking, wow, like we’ve got to drive results. Like whatever that measure, whatever that KPI is in your organization, or somebody that you’re coaching, you’re trying to get results, results, results. Well, it’s easy to talk about the results, right? It’s like, here’s what we’re going to measure and why, and you can preach about that. It’s easy, but it feels like to me, and I think, and you correct me if I’m wrong, but as we start to peel back some layers of this MBAR, the onion, that outside layers is the results.
Josh:
Well, that’s easy to, that’s easy to peel back. That’s easy to just say rattle off. When we start trying to think about activities, like trying to maybe impact or influence ourselves or someone else’s activities, that’s a little bit more difficult, right? And now it feels like, Whoa, now we’re going to go deeper in the onion behaviors. Like we’re trying to change some behaviors or understand behaviors. Then you get to motivations. Like we’re getting deep by this point of the onion, I’m crying, I’m already crying. So like, am I reading that right? Or am I off basis here?
James:
You’re totally reading it right. And what’s really cool about this is that it’s as simple enough visual that you can make it your own. If you visualize it as layers of the onion, you’ll probably remember MBAR forever now because it’s a simple acronym, but also you’ve internalized it into your own kind of way of thinking, which is really cool. So just to kind of keep using that metaphor of the onion, man, you’re absolutely right. Like if you think about the MBAR this way, think about when do we typically ask people the deepest, like motivation type questions? Like how often do we do that with employees?
Josh:
Not very, I don’t think we ask them those kinds of questions very often. I feel like we kind of got to get to know him a little bit first, right?
James:
Right. So, the first time you might ask these questions might be the interview. Right. And it may be like, tell me why you’re in senior living just as an example. And then probably the only other time you go to that is the annual performance review. So if you’re only examining with your team, the core motivators, the core drivers of people’s behavior once a year, and then at the interview process, you’re really missing out on what drives the person at all. And if you think about like behaviors, again, most leaders, most managers are looking at behaviors once a year in their annual performance review. Like here’s the categorization of all of the things that you’ve done this year. You know, let’s revisit this a year from now and hope we have better results. Right? So to me, if you’re using it from a coaching lens, Josh, this is a way to present the tool to somebody else so that they direct the conversation.
James:
Right? So if I were coaching you, and you say, Hey man, you know, I’ve got this business result. That is just kind of a thorn in my side. And I want to change it. I’m going to give you this model and I’m going to ask you, all right, let’s peel it back. Tell me about your daily activities. What are your organization’s daily activities right now? And that gets you starting to think about, ‘Oh, you know, we do a sales call at the start of every day. We do emails as communication, and then I’m going to appeal further back and I’m gonna say, well, all right, let’s categorize some of those actions. How does your team communicate with one another? Are they casual? Are they ever documented? So when you categorize all of those communication activities, then I can tell you, here are Solinity’s habits, here’s your organizational habits. And then you go further down if you need to fix habits. So this is kind of a self-assessment tool, honestly, that people can look at themselves.
Josh:
So I’m curious while you’re talking about this, because, you know, I’m reliving, first of all, I’m feeling convicted because I’m like, yeah, I’m guilty of this. I’m very guilty of this. So the second thing is, I’m also thinking back through as probably a lot of your listeners are like, Oh, well, that makes sense. Here’s what I’m doing, not doing, right? Maybe also starting to brainstorm, well, how do you do this? Cause I know, first of all, for me, when I start thinking about peeling back, I’m almost like thinking of like relationships, right? I’m an executive director in a community and this is one of my team members I’ve I feel like there almost has to be a little bit of a relationship developed to really be effective at driving down in these, because I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some not so good experiences when I’m talking results and then go straight in deep to the motivation, without maybe peeling back some of those layers and like easing into the conversation. Do you have any guidance or advice around that?
James:
That’s totally on track here, Josh. This to me, you might as well call it a trust model rather than a leadership model, right? Because you don’t have the right to have the conversations around motivations and behaviors if I don’t trust you. So, think about it like this. Like if I was on a blind date and I put this on the table and I say, Hey, you know, during our first date, I’m going to talk through your motivations and your activities. The other person’s going to say, no, thanks check, please. So if there’s no trust in that relationship, yeah, this is not going to work, but that’s also, I think the magic of something like this is that you have to build trust through this process. And so, I’ll tell you when I meet somebody new or when I’m leading somebody for the very first time, I’m not going to be at the core of the onion, no way, not even close.
James:
I may have a shot at kind of understanding their activities. You know, what are the activities that you normally do to get to your great results? But what I typically do is I’ll provide this as a model somewhere in like the first 90 days of somebody’s work with me. And I’ll say, Hey, you know, this is kind of a model I’ll follow as we develop our working relationship together. And I’ll tell you that people who’ve worked with me for multiple years have a different relationship with this leadership model than people who are brand new to me. So you’re absolutely right. Trust is like the key to unlock all of these layers.
Josh:
So is there any significance about the straight line of emotional intelligence and business intelligence versus the circular model of the MBAR?
James:
Yeah. Totally. So if you’re looking at this through YouTube, you’ll see it on the screen, but if you’re listening to audio, right below those circles, those concentric circles, you’ll see like a scale or like a line, a bar at the bottom, and the color gradients. So it goes dark on the left side to lighter on the outside. And it’s the same way that color scheme is, followed through on the MBAR circles. So dark at the center lighter as you get to the outside on the dark side of the or the darker tone here, that’s meant to represent emotional intelligence. How good are you at your emotional intelligence skillsets, understanding your own motivations? What drives your relationship building? And then on the lighter side of that spectrum is business intelligence, like your business acumen. Do you know the industry? Do you know the role? So that sliding scale is just kind of a visual to represent that the further you go into the center of that MBAR model, the more emotional intelligence skill sets you need to have. So that’s kind of where that fits in.

Josh:
Man. This is, it visually appears very easy, but this is pretty complex stuff. Like when you really start diving into it and like actionable things of like how you do this. So, I know we don’t have the most time for your listeners today. I’m really grateful, I think James, you’re doing this two times a month, is that correct? Twice a month. So your listeners are going to be able to get double trouble, twice a month. And you’re going to be able to unpack some of these fairly complex leadership discussions. So I’m really excited for them. I’m excited for you. And I’m excited for me that I get to listen and learn on a regular basis, man. So congratulations on the launch and just being cool.
James:
Well, I appreciate the kudos on the launch, still working on a cool, convincing my friends and my wife that some people think I’m cool. But you know, beyond that, as we kind of wrap up our conversation today in this episode, what I really want to share with listeners and potential listeners is that I think when we have honest conversations about our motivators, when you think about what’s driving you to be in this industry in senior living healthcare, or if you’re not in either of those industries, and you’re just listening to level up your own skills, this is all applicable. Learning is, is not a linear thing. So, you know, you can come back to ideas, you can rethink ideas that you thought were solid. I do that all the time.
James:
And so for me, I hope that I get to record this library of things that I learned. Like I’m going to be able to look back on these episodes and realize, Oh man, I’ve really grown since episode four, and for the listeners, it’s the same journey. You know, you can just listen to whatever resonates with you, but I’m so grateful I get to do this. And the parting message I’ll give here is, there’s nothing special about me launching consulting or doing a podcast, anybody can do it, I’m doing it. You know, you guys did it. Like it’s not to disparage any of our efforts. There’s a lot of hard work behind it. But what I mean to say is like, you don’t need to ask permission to go do amazing work, just create the work you want to do, and just change the world in your own vision of things. So I hope this will be helpful for people. I really appreciate you being on here with me. It’s so weird to have role reversal here and open and close the episodes. I appreciate you being on and having this conversation with me. Any parting words here from you?
Josh:
No, man, I would just say, thank you. Congratulations. Excited for your listeners. They’ve got to go make sure they’re even watching the episode. This was a really good one to watch and hopefully, this won’t be the last time I get invited. Hopefully, I didn’t mess up too much, so I hope to be on Level Up again soon.
James:
Yeah, definitely will. So appreciate you being on and our buddy Lucas, who’s not on the call here with us. Guess what, the listeners get to hear his outro one more time. So thanks everybody for joining this episode of Level Up. I hope you make it a great day. Talk to you again soon.

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Level Up Ep. 2: MBAR Leadership Model