Lee Bennett

Senior Recruitment Leader

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

As a child I was happiest having fun and making up games at home with my brothers (2) and sisters (3) or at the caravan in Skegness where we’d go every year and had the same daily routine: my Dad would throw bread crumbs on the caravan roof to attract all the seagulls who would make so much noise on the roof giving us an abrupt awakening, we’d then have a big late full English breakfast before heading to the beach to play in the waves, play tennis when the tide goes out and find crabs in the rock pools until late afternoon. We’d head back to the caravan to get changed into our evening clothes and walk along the promenade to play mini golf which often ended in me and my older brother accusing each other of cheating followed by my Dad buying us fresh doughnuts to calm the situation. Then we’d head to the arcade where I’d spend all my spending money on The Simpsons Arcade Game or the 2p coin pusher and we’d finish the day with chips and mushy peas followed by card games. This was the same routine every day for the week and we loved it.

My siblings were a huge part of my childhood and are a huge part of my life still. We are all super close and I can honestly say they are my best friends and when we are together, we never stop laughing. Nobody makes me laugh more than them and I’m talking eye watering, side splitting, and belly hurting laughter.

2. What seemed like an inconsequential decision at the time, but in hindsight turned out to fundamentally reshape your life?

There are so many butterfly effect or sliding door moments that have shaped my whole life but one that really stands out was in 2015 when I was working for O2 Telefonica. It was Tuesday 14th April and my manager called me opening with “Lee, I need to add the Head of Recruitment to the call so let me put you on hold” I began to panic slightly but when he joined he explained that there was a situation with a subsidiary of Telefonica in San Francisco called Tokbox and asked if I’d fly out there for a week to steady the ship until a new recruiter was hired. At the time, this was huge for me as I’d never been to the US nor had I been on a business trip outside the UK. I ask when it’d be and they said this Thursday and 2 days later I was in San Francisco.

That 1 week turned into 6 weeks and during that time my girlfriend who I had just started dating came to spend 2 weeks with me (1 of which I took as PTO and we travelled through 4 states). That decision to say YES reshaped my career giving me the ownership and exposure to facing off with CEOs, CTOs and FCOs which eventually led my careers into leadership but experiencing that with my girlfriend brought us closer together and she is now my wife and we have 2 beautiful children. We often reflect back on that as the catalyst of our relationship.

3. What habit or behaviour or belief have you recently acquired? Why is it now in your life?

Last year my then 5 year old daughter was excitedly sharing a story about her teddy tea party while we were on a family walk. She said, “daddy, whenever I tell you a story you always respond with ‘oh wow’, ‘yeah’, or ‘that’s amazing’ and I know you do that because you aren’t really listening. So daddy, from now on you are banned from saying those words okay?”

She was right, busy schedules and a lack of mental space often get in the way of how we interact authentically. Since then, I made a conscious effort to avoid my ‘go to’ phrases and instead I listen and respond to the stories with engaging follow up questions. Doing this has lead to much richer conversations, enhancing our relationship because my responses are meaningful, authentic and add value.

As an exercise, I now identify and make note of my common responses both professionally and personally, and take steps to avoid them by substituting them with probing and engaging questions.

4. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

Two of my recommendations are autobiographies – I love autobiographies and it was very hard to choose two. I was considering David Attenborough or Arnold Schwarzenegger but being true to myself I settled on Peter Kay: The Sound of Laughter, and Michael Pennington: Becoming Johnny Vegas. Interestingly, both come from a similar background and religious upbringing and even reference one another in their books but whereas Peter Kays will have you falling off of your seat with laughter Michael Penningtons is a very dark introspection and self-reflection of someone who struggles with identity, self-worth, crippling anxiety, mental health and addiction. My third book is The Chimp Paradox by Steve Peters which is an amazing book that helps you understand the human psyche and your own behaviours. Interestingly, I heard about this book while reading Ronnie O’Sullivans autobiography.

5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

That I am a confident extrovert. I am naturally quite shy and as a child I would go bright red every time anyone would talk to me, but as I grew up I learnt that the best way to avoid people seeing my shy side was to appear confident and outgoing. Over time I got really good at this and actively put myself in situations and jobs that required me to talk publically or to large audiences. I have to constantly work hard at this and I know there will be people reading this, even people close to me, who will be thinking “Lee, shy, no way” but this is what I love about this series.

6. What is the number one thing you would recommend every person in the world to practice from now on in order to increase their happiness and wellbeing?

I don’t think that any one thing can do this but I would say be present in the moment and actively listen in every interaction you have.

7. When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

I often feel like an outsider and imposter syndrome is a constant battle. The first time I moved to London from Sheffield and entered the corporate world, I instantly found myself surrounded by university educated peers. I never went to University and in all honesty the difference was clear (at least in my head), I knew it took me longer to absorb information by the reaction of others so I learnt early on that I needed to work that bit harder, focus, reflect and find a safe space to validate my understanding.

8. What do you think is acceptable today but will become taboo tomorrow?

I love books, but I absorb information better by listening rather than reading, so I primarily listen to audiobooks. When I tell people this, it’s often met with raised eyebrows. However, as we continue to gain a better appreciation of different learning styles; Visual, Auditory, Read/Write, and Kinaesthetic, I believe audiobooks will become the norm. The bias toward traditional reading, will in the future shift more towards auditory learning. The shift will make the stigma around audiobooks a taboo, as society recognizes that different methods of consuming information are equally valid and valuable

9. What is the best purchase you’ve made recently? Why?

That’s easy, Kamado Joe Classic III.

I barbeque A LOT and given the chance will talk to anyone who wants to listen. They aren’t cheap but they are worth every penny and change the barbequing experience completely. Add my MEATER Probe to the equation and there’s no stopping me.

10. What’s your favourite meal? Can you say why?

For me it has to be something Italian like a Bolognese or an authentic Carbonara (no cream or bacon please) but my favourite meal has to be Margarita or ‘nduja Pizza. Not just any pizza though, it has to be a true Italian Pizza with a base so thin that when you hold it up close you doubt there’s a base at all, and a fluffy tasty crust. A Pizza like this should never ever be consumed with beer and for me it has to be red wine, something like a Monepulciano. Now…if the above takes place in Italy, I’m in heaven.

11. If you were to own a bar, and you could design it how you wanted, what would it look like?

This is easy, I would design it the same as I’d design the basement of my dream cellar. The bar wouldn’t be a busy bar, wouldn’t have loud music and wouldn’t allow smoking. It would have Chesterfield Sofas and Armchairs, a pool table, a smart dartboard, a shuffleboard, and massive projector for sports (any sports) and movie nights if there’s no sports available. The drinks would be stocked with Gins, Whiskeys, Wines and Guest Craft Beers. I love a cocktail but always feel it has to be one or the other because cocktails are an experience and when combined with other beverages create insane queues and a bad customer experience. Finally, on the walls and podiums around the bar there would be Lego builds in Perspex displays. I love Lego and have been known to make my own creations known by enthusiasts as MOCs.

12. Which fictional villain do you find yourself sympathising with most? Why?

Darth Vader!

Anakin Skywalker was good but was manipulated by bad people who saw his vulnerability through fear having been raised as a slave and losing everyone he loved. As a War Lord he sought to bring order to a war stricken universe but due to bad leadership (The Emperor) his application was lacking. The good was always in there but the Jedi failed him and you can see that throughout with his constant conflict and remorse. He just needed a better coach but ultimately it’s his love for his son Luke Skywalker that leads him to do the right thing and sacrifices himself to save his son. I actually thing this redemption story is what makes him so intriguing.

13. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve ever received? Who gave it and when?

I was delivering an MBR (monthly business review) and my approach was to review the data and identify areas that might be challenged before it’s challenged. Like Eminem in 8-mile where in a lyrical battle he berates himself so when it gets to the other contestant they have no material left. On this occasion I gathered my data, built my deck and was ready to go. I pointed out all of the good data and achievements and areas where goals had been missed and justifications providing counter-data to demonstrate wider issues.

Following the meeting my VP gave me positive feedback on how I gather, analyse and present data but questioned the impact on the customer saying “by providing all of the issues and justifying them you are robbing the customer of their voice”. She went on to suggest that I change my approach and after providing our data, ask them questions to open a progressive dialog like: “this feels low, does that feel low to you?” “are you experiencing this in your own teams? how are you overcoming it? Maybe we can learn together.”

In doing so the tone of the MBR completely changed and created a much better collaboration and insightful MBR.

14. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

I actually cheated here and I asked 3 of them. “Humility and being grounded”, “insane positive attitude” and “establishing structure and prioritisation mechanisms”

15. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

Unbridled honesty!

I think this quality is often suppressed in a professional environment and seen as a bad thing. It is true that how this is delivered is key but as a leader and peer I love it when people give me their warts and all, and tell me exactly where their head is at. When they do this, we can work together to fix, find a solution or put acceptance steps in place to help them move on. Otherwise, it festers.

16. What role do you find yourself playing when you join a newly formed team? Can you explain why this happens?

When I join a newly formed team, I often find myself playing the role of creating unity and vision while being a culture advocate. It’s important for me to create an environment where everyone feels valued, heard, and motivated. I believe that my natural empathy and curiosity to understand what drives people, not just in their careers but their behaviours helps me to connect and foster open communication. At AWS, I had to build 16 person recruitment teams on two occasions and had a large peer group so if they’re reading this, I hope they agree and recognize me in the above.

17. When it comes to our work and industry: what scares you most?

The obvious one is cyclical redundancies due to bad planning and forecasting but for me it’s AI. It’s not that I fear AI, I actually embrace it and believe it has the potential to have a huge positive impacts around attraction, automation, candidate experience, efficiency, information consumption etc but my fear is that many businesses won’t invest in AI within Talent Acquisition.

18. What’s one industry challenge you don’t actually think will ever get solved?

Sadly, it’s bias in hiring. Although we have made huge strides with awareness around diversity and inclusion, and many companies have deployed processes that minimises bias, both conscious and unconscious bias will continue to influence recruitment decisions.

Firstly, it’s a battle against human nature which naturally holds certain biases (The Chimp Paradox also talks to this). Secondly, every organisation has and talks about the company culture which is subjective at best and shapes the criteria and methods used in recruitment.

I do think AI could play a huge part in continuing to help remove certain biases but AI is trained and is based on the data inputted into it so that could actually continue the bias if we aren’t careful.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

What did you want to be when you were growing up and how did that evolve into what you do now?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Mike Clements, over the years he has been a great manager of mine and mentor. The way his mind, thinking and logic works is unique and I’d love to read his answers.

Thank you to Lee Bennett for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow Lee on LinkedIn

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