Leadership Style with Robyn Stratton-Berkessel and Arek Sokol

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives. TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace. Today’s guests are Robyn Stratton-Berkessel, Positivity Strategist and Author and Arek Sokol, CEO and Founder of Peercisely. To hear the entire show, click here. On the show today, two leaders share valuable lessons on leadership and what works and what doesn’t.

Robyn Stratton-Berkesselleadership

Robyn Stratton-Berkessel likes to describe herself as a “designer and facilitator of positive change.” According to her, she shares what works and she facilitates processes to enable other people to identify what works for them in their life. She is also a published author, has her own podcast and teaches at universities. She sums up saying she is a “human developer.”

Positive Strategist

Stratton-Berkessel jokes saying she made up the title of a positive strategist because she didn’t want to be identified as a coach or organizational behavior practitioner. She believes that inherently people have a negativity bias. It is in our nature to look for things that may go wrong to keep ourselves safe. Evolution has made us rely on this instinct more and more and that keeps us fearful and narrows our thinking all the time. This process releases a lot of chemicals within us that don’t do any good in the long run. “The good news is that we can learn to get ourselves out of that default mode. Positivity can be learned,” she explains. “It’s about making a conscious effort to focus on what we can do. That leads to identifying what our strengths are, what gives us great joy, who are the people who allow us to grow and when are we most energized. There is so much that is a part of the ecosystem of positivity.” Thus, it’s not just about positive thinking but about identifying what works, it’s about quiet positive emotions such as gratitude, compassion, generosity – what does it do to the relationships that we have and the cultures that we are a part of and our creative processes. She helps people around the world assess their greater abilities and how it can make a difference in their lives.

Leadership Development Through Positivity

She says that positivity in leadership is all about the kind of leader you are. For example, if you’re a participatory leader, you see value in the multiple perspectives that people bring to the organization. It means being open to possibilities, allowing people to self-express and grow their mindset. If you want people to have a voice and feel like a valued contributor, you’re far more likely to have an energized team around you. When a leader can create that kind of a culture or ethos, he or she will have a group of people who will always stand behind them and will be able to achieve far more.

Improving One’s Abilities as a Leader

Stratton-Berkessel says that leaders should try to be positive even during the most intense situations. Even if something has gone wrong and the team hasn’t delivered up to the mark, she advises leaders to focus on the positives first. That will boost the morale of the team members and they’ll feel good about the things that went well. After that, they are ready to take on the criticism. It will create an environment where people are far more receptive to the negative and are ready to deal with it. But if you start off with the negatives, the team gets emotionally drained and the morale of the team goes down. Positivity, on the other hand, opens us up and charges everyone up.

Participatory Leadership

“We are social beings. We want to belong, we want to have relationships, we want to feel valued… If you create that experience for people, they are more likely to participate,” explains Stratton-Berkessel. She believes that a participatory leader is the opposite of an authoritarian one. Thus, if you’re a participatory leader, you’ll have far more people willing to follow you. A participatory leader also looks for leadership qualities in others.

What Are You Reading?

Robyn is currently reading An Invitation to Social Constructionwritten by her colleague Kenneth Gergen where he describes what social construction is in very simple layman terms. She highly recommends this book to anyone who is interested in understanding that language, communication and all the constructs in the world come from our social interactions. She is also reading Appreciative Inquiries of the 3.0 Kindby Cees Hoogendijk which talks about how the world view of appreciative inquiry helps us collaborate, connect and become whole human beings.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Robyn via her website www.positivitystrategist.com. If you’re interested in a course she offers called “Be an Agent for Positive Change,” visit www.positivitystrategist.com/course.

Arek Sokol leadership

Arek Sokol has been an engineer most of his career with an expertise in Mac systems. He considers himself lucky for having worked with some great managers at some really good companies including Salesforce, Code42, Roche, and others. Having worked extensively on the Mac platform throughout his career, Sokol co-founded macbrained.org, a Mac and iOS-focused community of developers, administrators and engineers. Due to his long-time career in the field and this community he founded, Arek had built a lot of personal connections which led him to come up with the idea of leveraging his connections and venturing into HR by making hiring personal again. This idea is the foundation of his current company Peercisely which he founded last year.

From Engineering to HR

During his career as an engineer, Sokol had recruited people and had been recruited multiple times. The hiring process really bothered him. Specifically in his area, it is very difficult to find Mac engineers and infrastructure experts. The kind of profiles that came his way while hiring was really frustrating. To help change this situation and founded Peercisely.


Sokol describes his entrepreneurial experience as a fast track MBA. “You’re learning everything on the fly. Not just management but financial, legal, marketing, sales – everything! And you have to get things done at the same time and hope that you don’t make too many mistakes,” he says. Mistakes are a part of the learning and he says he’s had his share of them. But the key is to learn from them and make sure they don’t happen again. That’s the best way to improve, according to him.


Peercisely is a platform driven by peers to help each other find the right opportunity. Colleagues, friends and former co-workers, people you’ve worked with, understand a lot of the intangible skills that you have that a resume would never be able to capture. Thus, the platform connects hiring managers to candidates through referrals by peers who think they know someone who would be a great fit for the role. They’ve incentivized the platform by giving people the opportunity to help their friends, earn money for charities they believe in as well as make some cash through bonuses. This has been a very effective way of recruiting ideal candidates who stick around long term and are really good at the job compared to candidates that come through the traditional recruiting processes. Historically, trust has always been an important factor in the hiring process. When someone comes through a trusted source, they’re more likely to be considered for a position. People put their reputation on the line when they recommend someone. This does make an impact.

Employee Engagement

Sokol was always an individual contributor and believed in doing his work the best way he could. But when he created his startup he had to learn to work in a team. He realized that it’s impossible to do everything yourself. “You have to learn to trust your employees and coach them where they can improve,” he says. He also strongly believes in giving employees the freedom to take risks and letting them make mistakes because that helps build their confidence.


“Culture is what keeps people going even during the toughest of times, especially in the early times of a startup,” says Sokol on the importance of company culture. “Do well, do good” is the company motto and looking out for each other is also really important. The company mixes things like charity, fitness, team building and so on with biking, running fundraisers and other activities that can bring everyone together and help them work towards a cause. Sokol says that these activities have helped increase motivation among his employees.

Life Philosophy

Sokol and his family came to the U.S. as Polish immigrants. Hard work was always a part of his core values growing up and there were many lessons he learned along the way. Never settling is one of those lessons that he has imbibed in his life. Another philosophy is to always do the right thing. He says it’s always convenient to take the easy way but it’s not something he would do. He also strives to be someone his community looks up to.

What Are You Reading?

Sokol highly recommends Startup Life – Surviving and Thriving in a Relationship with an Entrepreneurby Brad Feld and Amy Batchelor.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Arek via LinkedIn, or check out his company’s website at http://peercisely.com/.