Maxim Behar: "The leader creates more leaders"


Maxim Behar was a guest of Diana Radeva in the morning TV show "Europe in the morning" on TV Europe. He shared his expert opinion on the new world we live in and gave advices on how to change, adapt and become better in order to develop our business and lifestyle – topics, which his new book "The Morning After" is focused on.

- What stands behind the name of your new book "The Morning After" - "COVID-19 brought "new normal" and business leaders must adjust their behavior. Read how it can be done.” ?
This is the new world we all live in - no matter what is your business, what you do, whether you are unemployed or studying. The world changed completely. In my opinion, people start rethinking their values and their lifestyle. In terms of business, these are extremely important changes, as entire sectors vanish - hospitality, airlines, especially tourism sector, which includes another 300-400 occupations. Moreover, businesses and industries that require the presence of their employees will now be shut down again, without knowing when or how they will be relaunched. Such changes should be considered by any businessmen in order to adapt and develop his business.

Back in June during the first stage of this chaos, which continues even now, I decided that it would be useful to share both my business practices and thoughts - what I see and read, in a book. My publisher Faber - an excellent publishing house in Veliko Tarnovo - reacted quickly. I wrote the book The Morning After in two weeks, and they published it in a week. I believe the book is perfect for the Bulgarian market at a time when everyone is interested in how to manage his business in order to survive.

- The book has two circulations and both are sold out at the moment, right?
Both circulations were sold out within three weeks. The third is currently being printed and will be distributed not only in bookstores, but also at gas stations, supermarkets and many other places.

- Now the world has definitely changed. Hardly anyone expected that their business and their lifestyle would be so different. Are there still people who think there will be a way back and will be able to wait without changing?
There are different people. I even think the majority thinks that now a second, even a third wave will pass and we will remain the same, and live as before again. It seems to me that apart from the economic changes, the big changes are also purely psychological, and without realizing it, even the skeptics who think that this will pass and go аway, we change while rearranging our priorities.
The business with luxury goods has also changed. I was in Switzerland last week, and most of the jewelry and watch shops there are either closed or providing discounts between 50% and 80% because such expensive products cannot be sold. Nowadays we think differently, and when we have to buy something expensive, we say, "Wait a minute, why should I pay that much on something?" We have other, more important things to consider right now.

- You have been to Switzerland recently, and these days You are probably the only one who has used a plane in a long time.
It was my first time since New Year’s Eve. In fact, the reason for my trip was to sign some documents, which required my personal presence, and I had to go there, sign the documents, and return immediately. It was a different experience because none of us had seen such empty airports, closed shops, extremely high security measures and restrictions. It is not only luxury market that changes, but also our lifestyle, in which we have to take much more care of our health, our family, and our business, if we have one. We should treat our clients, our employers, and our colleagues carefully. We should work more on the positive side of the crisis’ consequences – there is definitely a positive side.

- How to find the positive side and how to readjust to be successful in this new world, which continues to be an issue for many?
Let's simplify things and ask ourselves what the three most important things in our lives are, because in the last twenty years we have been flooded by a huge wave of information from social media. Go on Facebook or Instagram and you will find out a lot of people who are confused. Most of them do not know what is important, what reaction should they express, what should they write about, not to mention most of them write illiterately. In addition, hatred still has a huge impact on people on social media. We need to realize that we need to focus on the most important things, solve them one by one, keep and develop our businesses, because all that is possible. The book The Morning After contains 100 rules for modern leaders, some of which have been followed for many years.

- Could you mention some of them? Which are the most valuable to You and which of them do you follow?
I follow one rule for 12 years, since I wrote a book called 111 Rules’ How to Make It, which was first written on Facebook and then came out in a print copy. The first rule was, "The worst decision is better than no decision at all," and since I wrote it, I've been following its accuracy becoming more and more valid. We have to make decisions, we have to react super-fast, but that also requires knowledge and very good preparation and planning, in order to react quickly to a situation, without making a tragically wrong decision. However, these days business requires quick decisions, managed very efficiently, and make regular diagnostics of the outcome.

While writing my latest book, I actually discovered the very simple difference between a manager and a leader, which we have been trying to define all these years without making a difference between both definitions. We have always confused the two concepts, because we assume that a person who manages 20 or 1000 people is a leader. However, the difference is only in one elementary prefix in Bulgarian language - the manager’s job is to set rules you have to follow without asking, while the leader gives directions that helps you to make the right decisions. There is a big difference in these definitions. The leader must be a visionary, and he must anticipate as much as he can – something you cannot do nowadays. In my business I have always tried to think five years ahead and I was successful doing so, but now thinking five months ahead is a great achievement.

In my book The Morning After you can also find another definition for leaders - the leader creates leaders. If you are a leader, but there are people around you who just worship you, yet at the same time they are not and cannot become leaders, it means that you are simply not a leader, but just playing this role. It is very important to distinguish these two categories, or definitions - I would not say either. The leader must know how to manage and develop his/her team in order to achieve results, whether managing a grocery store or a large IT company with several thousand employees.

- Where does one learn how to be a good leader?
I share the thesis that leaders are not born to learn - they learn, but they also should have it naturally, and what I often say - they should, as a rule or as a requirement, they should have sparkle in their eyes. When I do interviews and hire people in my company, which happens all the time, even now, I am looking just for one thing: firstly, I have never asked the candidates about their education or current location. Taking the risk of offending people who are teachers and professors, I teach students myself, but it is a global trend that practice stands much higher compared to theory. If theory is moving at 20 kilometres per hour, the practice is moving at 100 kilometres per hour, creating a gap in between that grows every day. Therefore, I always look my colleagues in the eyes, and wish to see their sparkle. From there, everything is settled. In my book I also wrote that I can transform an amateur to a professional, for example in 6-8 months and this has happened many times. However, I cannot make the lazy - hardworking, or the intriguer - a good team member. Therefore, the emphasis should be on people’s personal qualities. They can become very good leaders, even without graduating from Cambridge or Harvard, or any other prestigious university. Even without solid knowledge, they must have inner senses and a desire to upgrade themselves without compromising anyone's dignity, but just the opposite - to try uniting the team and make it better. Of course, there is already a contradiction here - you have to be precise about the quality of your work, which can result in offending someone from the team on a professional basis, which often turns into a personal one. This is a leaders’ skill - being able to explain to your colleagues that they have to be the best in their job.

- Can you see leaders in politics - in Bulgaria and globally, and leadership crisis in recent years, especially now during the coronavirus pandemic?
The leadership crisis is obvious. These days you can see modern leaders with completely different criteria, at a completely different time, believing they are leaders. In my opinion, they make a major mistake by using one-way communication. By the way, this is the main difference between leadership these days and in the past. Imagine President Trump, or any other leader we follow, participating in a TV show, where he is being asked difficult questions by journalists or TV hosts. It's easy with Trump - when asked a difficult question, he says it's fake news, or “I don't love you”, he gets up and leaves. However, the next day we see him uploading 10 posts on Twitter - this is one-way communication, and this is extremely harmful to modern politicians. The same happened in Bulgaria - one-way communication, which is very easy, and shows the unprofessional abilities that so-called leaders, or politicians, can provide. This is logical, because twenty years ago, in order to become a good politician, you had to present more qualities, except the fact that you also need the media to become famous. Nowadays, you have social media and you can become more famous than any politician, by expressing your thoughts - you have media in your hands. The big mistake of modern politics is that politicians think that once they can use social media by themselves, they can be the editors-in-chief. They are just ordinary users who can show stupidity, if they are not well prepared. Media do not always project the bright side of politicians.

- If we are talking specifically about Trump and his whole history of the coronavirus case – his scepticism about coronavirus at first, and then his infection and quick three day recovering afterwards, and his conflicts with Obama and his claims that Trump is a complete failure as President – is that a winning strategy in terms of the upcoming elections, in your opinion?
All the research shows that he will not win the elections this year. However, he earned positive points based on that unprofessional play, also called “overcoming obstacles”. He suddenly says he has a coronavirus, but he can beat it, and millions or hundreds of thousands of people have the image of him as a man of the people who has the power to beat the virus. He tried to represent himself as a person who can beat anything, even the worst that is happening in the world right now.

We all understand that this is a new type of politics, perhaps managed, dictated and dominated by social media. We will find out if there is a future for such actions. In any case, what we currently live in, and for some reason still call democracy, no longer works. This way of governing by organising elections every four years, spend hundreds of millions on elections, run ballots without knowing whether it was bought or not - it's awful. On top of that, whoever wins this election has a mandate of four years, when he can make mistakes, take loans, give money to anyone, which has never been punished so far, just because he won the election.

- Please comment on last week events on the Bulgarian stage, more specifically President Rumen Radev, the meeting in Estonia. We just recently found out that the Polish president got covid-19, and meanwhile we can see him together with the prime-minister and three other ministers alongside Deputy Minister Nankov… How are things developing from a PR point of view?
I cannot comment on this topic broadly, but what I know is that, if President Radev had been informed on Sunday and knew that he had been in contact with someone infected, of course he should have stayed in Bulgaria and not attended any meetings at all, no matter how important they were, because health is more important, and the international response based on that case cannot be considered positive.

- If You were currently the head of the press of this government or of the institutions responsible for complying with the measures to protect ourselves from the coronavirus, what actions would you take?
There are various comments on this topic at the moment. People do not want to wear masks, do not believe the politicians and argue whether the virus exists at all. On one hand, I think that there should be very strict rules with fines for society’s behaviour, on wearing masks and disinfection. On the other hand, there must be an extremely precise and clear government policy.

You should remember the feeling of excitement and fear we had in the beginning, while we were watching the headquarters informing us about the pandemic. However, in the last month, this feeling has diminished and at the same time different opinions have emerged, which to some extent have begun to dominate, because many people who are not prepared can speak on any issues, and there are people who deal with immunology, special sciences, people from BAS, and other serious institutions that I have not heard speaking argumentatively or give clear explanation to the masses. There has to be great transparency in everything that is happening, especially in the government, and this must be a law for every government - to act transparently with taxpayers' money, how they spend it, what actions have been taken and why.  Most importantly, now there must be very strict measures. Yesterday I walked on Vitoshka boulevard and I saw most people not wearing masks, because they simply do not care.

-The “new tomorrow”, which will come five minutes by tomorrow - what will it be, Mr. Behar?
Being pragmatic. This is the most valuable word that exists in my life and in my business. Being pragmatic is about focusing and really thinking about how to get things better in these difficult times. Not only how to survive, but also how to develop, how to become better, how to use the definition of being pragmatic for your sake, to have other values and completely different goals in order to achieve what you work for as quickly as possible. Of course, we have the power to beat the virus, but we need to change in order to be better.

Watch the interview here.

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