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Rob Lion: Revolutionizing Leadership Consulting by Optimizing People



Rob Lion, along with his wife Angie Lion, are the founders of Black River Performance Management, a corporate leadership and culture consulting practice that helps optimize organizations by enhancing the experience of the people.

He’s also an Associate Professor of Human Resource Development at Idaho State University, where he oversees a master’s program in human resource development and an undergraduate degree program in workplace training and leadership. Drawing upon his research expertise at ISU, he utilizes research-backed solutions to address not only his students’ experiences but the experiences and needs of corporations.

In this exclusive interview, Rob reveals how he has been able to use his research and teaching experience in higher education to instigate change and challenge organizations to become more human-centric with Black River Performance Management. 

How did you get your start?

I’ve been in higher education for my entire career, but I was not an academic for the whole time. I actually lead a large business and auxiliary services, team. We ran a $12 million operation with over 150 employees that had a rather significant development budget and agenda; however, what occurred to me is that our heavy emphasis on training was not resolving or addressing all the issues that were occurring within the organization. So, I started to seek out ways to find better options to address these issues and instill them within the leadership roles of my staff.

What Do You Do For Your Clients?

Our business focuses on the people aspects of organizations. We look exclusively at how people factor into the success as well as the challenges of the organization. Black River focuses on addressing those aspects by using evidence-based techniques. As a faculty member and researcher, I (and my clients) benefit from the utilization of the most current and promising research in organizational psychology and human behavior. As the body of research continues to emerge we get to work building systems, models, and programs that demystify the concept of leading others.

We use attainable and intuitive concepts that are accessible and easy to use. Take motivation, as an example. Most people’s understanding of motivation is that it is either an internal (intrinsic) or an external (extrinsic) phenomenon. However, this is an incomplete and oversimplified view of what all factors into human motivation, and without having a better understanding of what motivation truly is, most people violate many of the tenets of the science of motivation. What we’ve done is take the prevailing research on motivation and re-package it into more palatable and impactful frameworks so that our clients can better understand it, then integrate it into practice by building systems and models to reflect that, then from there, we work to upskill our clients in specific areas ensuring that they have tools, knowledge, and skills to more effectively impact their teams and organization. 

What Issues Do The Companies You Work With Have

We need to acknowledge that in many instances, people are promoted or put into leadership roles because of their success in non-leadership roles. So, often times we watch skilled individuals moving into leadership roles without any or limited leadership or management expertise. Far too many leaders “hit-the-ground-running” and are cut loose to fix or address problems they inherited. As a result, too often organizations come up short in preparing these people to be competent as leaders, despite having the best intentions for these new leaders.

The same goes for individual contributors. A frequent obstacle I observe with many people is a tendency to view their self-development, in terms of resources (time and money) as a workplace obligation, as opposed to a lifelong self-development journey. What we often find is people don’t invest in leadership development or self-development, even though there are so many options available, ranging from free podcasts to executive-level coaching. We hope to help people realize that they’re in control of what they want to accomplish and that they can own that experience. We are happy to partner with or support them in these endeavors.

What’s Your Advice To Anyone That’s Looking To Change Their Leadership Style? 

Something I’ve learned along the way is that many people are much more capable than they give themselves credit for. And because of this, they stunt their development because of self-limiting and self-imposed beliefs. In many cases, people already have what it takes pre-wired within them to overcome those limitations; however, this requires a shift in how they lead themselves, and what they truly believe is capable for themselves. So whether those are self-limiting beliefs or a scarcity mindset, we have the ability to be courageous and overcome such obstacles. 

I would go as far as saying that everyone would benefit from having a coach, whether that is a formal coach-client relationship or a supervisor that really hones coaching behaviors. While we provide coaching services, we also aspire to transform managers and leaders into high-impact individuals that approach their leadership roles as a coach might, being curious, open-minded, approachable, and supportive. Moreso than ever in today’s workplace employees need leaders that garner trust, cultivate culture, and build individual and team capacity. After all, our motto at Black River Performance Management is “work should fuel the human spirit, not drain it.”

Learn From & Connect With Rob

To keep up to date with Rob Lion and Black River Performance Management reach out to them on Linkedin.

Carson Spitzke is a Canadian entrepreneur and the founder of Spitz Solutions, a PR and authority firms for companies that need to scale their brands and online presence. His primary expertise is in helping six to nine-figure businesses scale through disruptive strategies that encompasses digital media, branding and sales. If you know someone who deserves to highlighted reach out to