CEO Leadership Series:
Trefor Munn-Venn

5 minutes, 57 seconds reading time

Whether it’s transforming the performance of your organization, expanding your capabilities as a leader or honing your public speaking skills, the team at Rhapsody Strategies has you covered.

Trefor Munn-Venn is the Co-Founder and Co-Leader of Rhapsody Strategies along with his business partner Eric Deschamps. Trefor is one of those people that you meet and instantly want to have in your corner. He is warm and friendly and has a wealth of experience at his fingertips – he’s also really funny. Spend a few minutes with Trefor and he will start to share some of the great stories that he has picked up through his own journey as a leader and entrepreneur or from the books that he has read (he never stops reading).

We were lucky enough to carve out some time recently to connect at his funky office located in Ottawa’s Byward Market.

Top 20 Questions

Your best/worst subject in school?

  • Best: My best mark ever was in Typing. There was a girl I was keen on who signed up for the class so I did too. Things didn’t work out with the girl, but it turns out I can really type.
  • Worst:Geography

What was your first job?
Paper Route

Best advice you ever took?
When I was considering buying my first business, I was fretting about the risk. A mentor helped me see how little risk there was to make a leap like that early in my career – that even if the worst case scenario played out, I had a life time of opportunities ahead of me.

Tip you would share with this years graduating class?
I would encourage them to find their own path. There is no single route to where they want to go. If they try to follow someone else’s path to where they want to go, they will always be at a disadvantage and will struggle. You have to be you.

What book are you reading?

  • “Hero of a Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell
  • “An Everyone Culture” by Kegan & Lahey
  • “Reframing” by Bandler & Grinder

Favorite quote?
“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” Yates

One thing that surprises you about business?
I never cease to be amazed by how much business reveals about people’s character. It brings out the best and the worst. The intensity, opportunity, stress, and excitement requires an emotional depth that most people simply don’t anticipate.

What motivates you?
Growth and Contribution are my motivators.

When was the last time you worked a 40 hour work week?
I have no memory of working 40 hours or less in a week. But it’s seldom in that simple 9, 10, 12-hour day model. My work and my life weave together over the course of the day and the week so I’m playing with my kids, spending real time with my wife, and taking time for myself.

What is the best (most recent) feedback you received from one of your employees?
An employee recently thanked us for creating an organization that was full of opportunity, meaningful work, and kindness. That meant the world.

When are you most productive?
Early morning. Really early.

Best thing about being a CEO?
Being able to create a context where people can unleash the best they have in them.

Most challenging thing about being a CEO?
Pace and timing. Ideas are generally not a problem but getting the exact pace, timing, and sequencing of execution right is much more challenging.

You have ____ in your office?
An awful lot of books

An experience that has influenced you the most as a leader?
I worked for a time in an organization that was quite toxic. I could see not only how much it limited people from using their talent, but how literally every function of the organization started to fail. To this day, we do everything we can to nurture an organization that is vibrant, compassionate, and authentic.

A CEO that inspires you?
The late Milton Wong continues to inspire me. His passion, the scale of his thinking, his generosity, and his leadership are nothing less than moving.

If you weren’t a CEO you would be a _____

An organization that you always make time for?

Favorite app?

How did you meet your business partner and how did the idea for Rhapsody Strategies come together?

Eric Deschamps and I lead Rhapsody together. We used to be one another’s clients and we became very close friends. Rhapsody started when I sent Eric a meeting invite titled “Dangerous Conversation”. That conversation led us to combine our two businesses and create Rhapsody. Dangerous Conversations continue to be a core value for us. They’re never dangerous to the person, only to the status quo.

When you are hiring for your team what are the top three qualities that are absolute must haves?

  • They must be a seasoned leader. Sometimes we describe them as “leaders who limp” – they’ve been tested over time and have grown as a result and they will have the respect of our clients as they work together.
  • They must be emotionally mature. Certainly this is linked to being a seasoned leader, but it goes further. They need to really know themselves and be able to work with very diverse leaders and organizations.
  • They must be on the same journey of growth and transformation as our clients.

When were you last “wowed” (in a good way) by one of your clients?

I met with the leadership team of a very successful organization recently. They have been given an extremely challenging target to reach – something that’s never been done before in the organization’s history. We talked about what needed to happen in order to accomplish that goal and I asked them what needed to change first, they looked at one another and said, “We do.” They blew me away with that response. Their level of honesty and commitment is too rare. I have no doubt that they will succeed.

How do you personally stay motivated so that you can help motivate others?

In the work that we do, motivation is a byproduct. True motivation—the really good stuff—comes from the inside and is a result of realizing what’s possible or that there are more options available than a leader might think. My motivation comes from helping others see what’s possible—in themselves, their lives, their organizations—and then helping them turn that possibility into reality.

What is the best piece of advice that you have ever taken / or shared?

Perhaps the best advice I’ve learned to take has come from every flight I’ve ever taken: “Put your own air mask on first.” There’s an entire generation of leaders who’ve been sacrificing themselves for their businesses or their families. Each one of them burns out. We can’t expect to deliver the best version of ourselves to the world if we’re exhausted, worn out, in poor health, and disconnected. If we’re serious about leading others, then we need to start with ourselves.