Leadership Rants

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership RantsMost of you that have been reading this blog for any length of time know that I have strong feelings on the topic of leadership. While many of you have read my prepared material on the subject, my guess is that very few of you have had the opportunity to read any of my commentary on other authors perceptions of leadership. So today I’m going to step out from behind the protective veil of my prepared and edited daily posts, and share with you a sampling of the comments that I have made on leadership articles authored by others…

Because of my work in the area of leadership, I am a member of various think tanks, forums, advisory boards and counsels on the topic at hand. The reality is that nary a week passes without something or someone prompting me to author yet another rant on what constitutes true leadership. In many of these venues information, opinions and commentary tend to be a bit more free-flowing, which in turn obviates the ability for me to refine my thoughts prior to their expression resulting in some of the excerpts highlighted below. For the sake of brevity I have summarized the other authors positions on the subject of leadership. Off we go…

Other Author’s Perspective: Strong leadership is good leadership…Start strong and soften as needed or necessary… 

Myatt’s Rant: I have nothing against strong leadership when and where appropriate. However, it has been my experience that the best leaders use situational context and environment to determine the appropriate leadership tactics, which may not always call for flexing of the muscles. No single style of leadership will be universally applicable, and you’ll find attempts at such to be akin to pounding a square peg into a round hole. Rather it takes experience and a bit of savvy to understand which leadership style will be best aligned with the situation at hand. There are certainly times to be tough, but being heavy handed in certain situations will likely have the opposite effect of what you are seeking. Fluidity and flexibility are traits possessed by great leaders.

Other Author’s Perspective: The most important leadership characteristic is charisma…

Myatt’s Rant: Charisma ia a good trait to possess, but real leadership is about character and integrity. It is always interesting to read people’s thoughts on leadership as I find them to typically be as varied as the colors of a rainbow. I also believe there are distinct differences between those professionals who play leader and those who are in fact real leaders. Moreover, any person in a leadership capacity void of character and integrity will eventually stumble regardless of the other leadership traits possessed. Virtually anyone can achieve short term success, but to achieve sustainable success as a leader requires sound decisioning, being able to create a bond of trust among all stakeholders and the ability to do the right thing regardless of dissenting opinion, all of which require character and integrity.

Other Author’s Perspective: Great leaders always demonstrate compassion as it is their compassion that makes them great to begin with…

Myatt’s Rant: Being compassionate is a choice. While a laudable trait, it is not universally a good thing, and perhaps more to the point, it is not always the right choice for a leader. While people can become jaded and lose their sense of compassion, I believe this is the exception and not the rule. Rather many people just don’t apply the use of compassion properly. Some over apply compassion, and others are afraid to show compassion at all for fear of being considered weak. As a leader it is not important that you’re always liked, but it is important that you make good decisions. Good decisions sometimes require being guided by compassion, and other times they should show restraint of compassion. In a perfect world I would like to think that the choice to exercise compassion is intrinsically motivated. However I’m not so naive as to think that there are not significant external influencing factors that people must deal with.

Other Author’s Perspective: A leader needs to demonstrate the ability to be politically correct… 

Myatt’s RantPolitically Correct Leader? OXYMORON…Great leaders are not politically correct, but they are politically savvy. Putting political agendas and peer pressure aside (as great leaders do), leaders should not make their choices based upon public opinion. Rather they should benchmark their decisions against the question of “is it the right thing to do?”

Other Author’s Perspective: I see nothing wrong with leaders who make emotional decisions…

Myatt’s Rant: Surely you jest…True leaders are not ruled by emotion. However those playing leader often do make the all too common mistake of letting their emotions drive decisions. I have seen countless examples of people who jeopardize their future to indulge their emotions, when what they should have done was protect their future by exhibiting control over their emotions. I have witnessed otherwise savvy executives place the need for emotional superiority ahead of achieving their mission (not that they always understood this at the time). Thanks for your comments and I hope you don’t take tone of this message as displaying a lack of compassion. However, I agree with Dr. Toro that “…emotions are not intelligent!” In fact, I would go so far as to say they are the true enemy and not other people.

How often have we all witnessed a man get upset with his boss and quit (protecting his emotions) only to realize that he now has no means to support his family (not protecting his future). Mature, stable people don’t make knee-jerk decisions rather they solve the problems at hand, or planfully engineer an alternative that doesn’t place them at risk…they don’t just up and quit. As humans we all deal with emotions on a daily basis…Some of us just deal with them better than others. At the end of the day I believe it is mostly about passion, purpose and focus. Passion gives you purpose and purpose allows you to focus. If you have the ability to maintain your focus on the important things in life your priorities will remain aligned and your focus on protecting your future will override the desire commit self-sabotage.

Other Author’s Perspective: I have seen dictatorial leaders actually drive their employee’s to suicide…

Myatt’s Rant: I’m certainly not condoning cruel or abusive leadership, but blaming one person’s emotional choice on the part of another is flawed logic. As tragic as the loss of any human life is, suicide is a choice based on either easing emotional pain for one’s self, or creating emotional pain for others. I often hear the term “suicide victim” relating to the deceased, and in my opinion nothing could be farther than the truth. The victims are the people left behind to sort through all the “what ifs” and “but fors” surrounding the unexplained and forever unresolved death of a friend and loved one. The people who “choose” suicide as a way of dealing with emotional pain, as opposed to resolving the issues at hand in an “intelligent” fashion, are ultimately very selfish people. They regrettably chose to indulge their emotions as opposed to protecting their future by controlling their emotions. Work situations do not cause suicides…peoples inability to control their emotions cause suicides.

Other Author’s Perspective: I believe good leaders create equality in team building and in the workplace in general… 

Myatt’s Rant: While I think I understand what you’re trying to communicate, you make a dangerous assumption that developing talent and good leadership are synonymous with striving to create equality. They are not, nor should they strive to be. Equality in teams is a false paradigm, and one that is counter productive. Again you will be hard pressed to point to any team that is highly functioning that would even begin to adopt equality as a key principle of success. “Developing, encouraging, and mentoring other team members” is good leadership, but has nothing to do with equality…There are so many things that sound great in theory, but simply don’t work in practice. I would suggest that the teams you led were productive because of your leadership abilities, your desire for open and clear communication, and your efforts at developing talent at all levels. I would also suggest that your teams were successful because each member was in fact not equal. While they may have been encouraged to have equality in voice, there were in fact roles, responsibilities, alignment of expectations, focus, and chain of command principles that were strictly adhered to. 

I don’t agree that equality empowers teams. I believe a more accurate statement would be that in most cases equality neutralizes teams. You referred to this discussion being held in a classroom environment which doesn’t shock me at all. I have been a guest lecturer at many of the country’s leading business schools. I find that often the theoretical discussions that take place in halls of academia while spirited, fun and enlightening, have little to do with the realities that exist in the world of business. You must also keep in mind that the classroom is one of the few remaining bastions of true equality.

It has been my experience that whenever a common aspect of business turns into a “practice area” and the politically correct use said area as a platform to be evangelized, the necessity of common sense and the reality of what actually works often times gets thrown out the window. One of the threads that you and I agree on is the need for candor. I have always encouraged feedback and input at every level of an organization. However this doesn’t mean that everyone has an equal say, because they don’t…Moreover those that hold less vested interest, that don’t have as much as risk, that don’t have the experience or that may be looking-out for self interest more than the greater corporate good should not be considered equal with those that do. I have been highly regarded throughout my career for building extremely effective teams and what I can share with you is that team building is not about equality at all. Rather team building is about getting team members to understand exactly what their roles are, and to perform said duties with exacting precision.

Team building, group dynamics, talent management, leadership development and any number of other functional areas are much more about aligning expectations and defining roles than creating equality. If you examine the most effective teams in the real world you’ll find numerous examples which support the thoughts being espoused in this text. Whether you look at athletic teams, military teams, executive teams, management teams, technical teams, design teams, functional teams or any other team you find that the best of the best have structure, a hierarchy of leadership, a clear understanding of roles, responsibilities and expectations, clear and open lines of communication, well established decisioning protocol and many other key principals, but nowhere is equality found as a key success metric for teams.

While I concur that there is no “I” in team and with many other statements to that effect, such statements are not meant as endorsements for management by consensus. They are simply meant to foster a spirit of cooperation. Understanding how to lead and motivate groups and teams should not be considered one in the same with creating false perceptions of equality that don’t exist. Show me any team created of equals and I’ll show you a team that will never reach its potential…

Other Author’s Perspective: Conflict is something to be avoided at all costs…

Myatt’s Rant: I couldn’t disagree more…I actually very aggressively seek out conflict in order to find it before it finds me…Don’t get me wrong, I’m not looking to create conflict, but rather engage it upon my terms and conditions before it becomes a bigger issue than it needs to be. Conflict is something we all have to deal with and learning to address it effectively and efficiently will mitigate the amount of pain and suffering one will need to endure. I addressed this topic in great detail in a previous post entitled “Conflict Resolution” which I believe might be of interest to those who have participated in this discussion. And for record I don’t view myself as either or fighter or a runner, but rather someone who chooses how (tactics) and when (strategy) to engage based upon the need/importance of the issue at hand…
Other Author’s Perspective: It is not necessary to have experience in order to be a good leader or mentor…

Myatt’s Rant: While there are certainly exceptions to every rule, rarely will you find it in a lack of experience. Bottom line…if you can’t walk the walk, then you shouldn’t talk the talk…I have strong feelings on this subject, so if my words cut like a knife to anyone reading this comment I apologize in advance. I believe that many so called “expert advisors” are unqualified and do far more harm than good.

Much of my personal practice is focused on the mentoring of CEOs and entrepreneurs and I couldn’t think of doing what I do unless I had walked in their shoes, and had real life experience in knowing how to be successful. Peoples lives and careers are not a practice field for people who think they want to be mentors and advisors because it sounds fun and they desire to create a lifestyle business for themselves…

While certainly no advisor is perfect as everyone has their faults, there is a certain standard that clients have a right to expect from their professional advisors. I will rarely ask a client to do something that I have not had personal experience with and routinely apply in my life. Those people who think they can read a book, take a few online courses, add water and become an advisor are sorely mistaken.

Conclusion: I have hundreds of these types of dialogues that I’ve recorded over the years (don’t worry, I’m not going to share anymore today) and thought it might be fun to let you see the unedited version of the advice and commentary I provide to colleagues and associates. I hope you have found this of use…

Social Networking for Business

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

So what’s with all the buzz about social networking? What’s the difference between old school networking and social networking? As a CEO or entrepreneur why should you care? With so much being written about the impact of social networking on business and the numerous examples of companies that are capitalizing on its many benefits, I’m amazed at how few companies still just don’t get it. Not only has social networking arrived but it is clearly here to stay All you have to do is look at the tremendously successful companies that have been built upon the platform of social networking (MySpace, YouTube, Ryze, Linked-In, Flickr, Facebook etc.) or the unprecedented growth of the Blogosphere and you will quickly recognize that social networking is a powerful medium. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts about why you can’t afford not to jump on the social networking bandwagon.

Let’s start with a bit of background The term “Social Networking” in its most classic sense is best defined as the study of how people interact with one another. It studies the dynamics between nodes (people) and links (their relationships). Since the term was coined in 1954 by J.A. Barnes its significance has leapt from the halls of academia to gain visibility in the boardrooms of global corporations. It has evolved from the study of human relations in sociological, anthropological and psychological settings to the study of professional relationships and organizational theory in business environments.

The difference between “old school” networking and the current form of social networking is the introduction of technology based community and user driven content on the internet. The proper use of blogs, podcasts, video, webinars, and other social media gives greater voice and brand extension to a broader base of constituencies than could have ever been addressed before. When all the buzzwords and techno-jargon are removed, social networking is about aligning interests and motivations to build relationships, establish a sense of extended community and create influence.

There are intelligent and well established business people with virtually non-existent networks and little true influence, and there are what would on the surface appear to be obscure individuals with huge networks who wield tremendous amounts of influence.  Social networking analysis has shown that the greatest amounts of power and influence inside the corporation don’t necessarily reside at the top of the org chart as one might think. Studies have concluded that the individuals who possess the most influence in a company are the most trusted people with the broadest base of connections, and not necessarily the person that has the highest rank or biggest title. Likewise, the same holds true for external networks It is about the quality (are the people in your network significant?), character (do the people in your network trust you and do you trust them?) and relevance (are the people in your network capable of wielding influence that is aligned with your needs?) of the people in your network that matter. 

While social networking is clearly allowing major corporations to be more productive by extending their brand and having better communication throughout the entire value chain, it is its impact on small business that is perhaps most impressive. The ability of social networking to level the playing field for the individual practitioner and the small or medium enterprise is truly awesome. It was the Internet that established the global economy, but it is social networking that is making it a reality. Businesses who ignore social networking will regret it, those that venture in with a lack of understand will be eaten alive by it and those that properly leverage social networking will create tremendous competitive separation.  

As a CEO or entrepreneur if you are not leveraging social networking your wrong .Forget the excuses, the rationalizations and the justifications as you don’t have time not to embrace social media. If you are doing your job you will agressively move to leverage both your personal and corporate brand through social networking. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t blog wake-up and start Social networking will allow you to gain mind-share with your constituencies like never before while improving customer loyalty and increasing both personal and corporate brand equity. Social networking will allow you better manage your reputation in the best of times and when the inevitable corporate faux-pas occurs it will allow you to stop the bleeding much faster. If you don’t understand social media and social networking hire someone who does.  

The old axioms “you’ll reap what you sew” or “give and you shall receive” have never been more accurate than when applied to social networking. If you are truly motivated to provide value and benefit to those in your network then you will receive value in return. However if you are a user and abuser of your network, only taking from others and giving nothing in return, you will bleed your network dry only to watch it crumble before your eyes. With proper motivation, careful construction and active management of your network there is no reason to assume that it won’t be a success. Focus on leveraging the most important spheres of influence for the mutual benefit of those in your network. If you adopt the suggestions contained in this post and embrace social networking your personal network will grow with geometric progression while spanning industries, geographies and cultures. Moreover you’ll extend your corporate brand, increase customer loyalty and create a broader sense of community both inside and outside the enterprise.

Leadership Development and the CEO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

A CEO by definition must have some level of leadership ability. Regrettably many CEOs will never develop their leadership skills to their full potential. Put bluntly, those CEOs who fail to become great leaders will inevitably fail to become great CEOs. Part of being a true leader is having a commitment to developing not only your own skills but the skills of those around you. One of the fastest routes to leadership greatness for a CEO is to understand the value of creating great leaders from within the ranks. Great leaders teach, train, mentor, coach and inspire those around them to become the best that they can be. In today’s post I’ll make the case for CEOs as champions of leadership…

If a CEO’s success is directly associated with their ability to attract and develop leaders then why is it that most CEOs absolutely fail to understand the critical importance of leadership development?  In my experience working with CEOs many of them simply believe that they don’t have the time to deal with it and so by delegating leadership development it has been properly addressed. Nothing could be farther from the truth…

The CEOs who become widely regarded as great CEOs are willing to assume direct responsibility for the development of other leaders. They play an active role in leadership development by investing a lot of time imparting principles, techniques, ideas, values, and emotional energy to others. They share their wisdom and experience and shorten the learning curve for younger executives which creates a stronger and more dynamic business. 

CEOs committed to leadership development will not only attract great talent, but they will also retain it due to creating a culture that embraces knowledge and learning which in turn translates into better corporate performance. Contrast this with CEOs who abdicate responsibility in this area who pay the performance penalty associated with having an unmotivated, mediocre leadership team.

I’ll make my case by giving you a few examples of CEOs who accomplished great things by actively focusing on leadership development. Roger Enrico the former CEO of PepsiCo Inc. is one of the best examples of this. Enrico was known to spend nearly one-third of his time running a personal ”war college” for Pepsi’s top executives and managers. In sessions that ran from early morning until late into the night, Enrico would lead nine execs at a time through five days of dialogues and exercises at his house in the Cayman Islands or his ranch in Montana. He described his experiences, got them to reflect on their own operating styles, and shared his opinions on how to construct, expand, and change a business. Each participant was asked to take on a project that would have a major dollar impact. Then, months later, each would return for a three-day session with Enrico to review the project’s progress. During Enrico’s tenure PepsiCo showed unprecedented growth in revenue and brand equity. His hands-on approach allowed him to assess the company’s next generation of leadership and to coax from them many ideas that enhanced PepsiCo profits and productivity.

While few CEOs can devote as much time to leadership development as Enrico did, there are many other examples of CEOs who share their knowledge just as effectively. Qwest Communications CEO Richard Notebaert (formerly Chairman and CEO of Ameritech) leads a two-hour, no-holds-barred dialogue with as many as 100 managers at regularly scheduled development programs. Former AlliedSignal CEO Larry Bossidy who was credited with transforming a once beleaguered entity in the 1990s into one of the world’s most admired companies religiously held ”skip-level meetings”–or sessions that circumvented hierarchy–at breakfasts with 10 managers held at least once a week. This venue afforded him the ability to listen, learn and teach staffers he would otherwise rarely meet.  

Great current and former CEOs like Jack Welch (GE), Steve Ballmer (Microsoft), Warren Buffet (Bershire Hathaway), Dick Kovacevich (Wells Fargo), John Mackey (Whole Foods), Art Levinson (Genentech), Dick Fuld (Lehman Brothers) and many others are widely known for their hands-on approach to talent management. These CEOs understand that talent begets talent…They also understand that great leadership creates great brands, great companies and sustainable shareholder value that will exist long after they leave the organization.

Bottom line…Pass the buck on leadership development and you’ll become yet another in a long line of unmemorable and short lived CEOs.

How To Become A Great CEO

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

What does it take to become a great CEO? Much more than it did even 5 years ago to be sure. The rapidly changing global landscape and the evolving complexity of business makes the job of CEO something that is only well suited for a rare few. For these reasons sustainable success at the C-suite level is an elusive thing in today’s business world. With the average tenure of a CEO being less than 5 years it is critical for executives to understand what it takes to beat the odds. In today’s blog post I’ll examine the characteristics that a CEO must posses in order to maintain his or her position and remain in control for as long as they choose…

The job of CEO is all about managing expectations. Put simply a CEO’s shelf life will be equal to their ability to align vision with execution. A CEO must be able to focus on deploying the necessary resources at the right time to achieve to desired results. By exhibiting strong leadership skills a good CEO will manage talent, performance, change, innovation, influence, rapport, and messaging to consistently drive an enterprise forward regardless of circumstances. If you want to insure longevity as a CEO work towards a mastery of the following characteristics: 

  1. Integrity: Always do the right thing regardless of sentiment and never compromise your core values. If you cannot build trust and engender confidence with your stakeholders you cannot succeed. No amount of talent can overcome illegal, immoral or otherwise ill-advised actions. A leader void of integrity will not survive over the long-haul.

  2. Excellent Decision Making Skills: As a CEO you will live or die by the quality of the decisions you make. When you’re the CEO good decisioning is expected, poor decisioning won’t be tolerated and great decisioning will set you apart from the masses.

  3. Ability to Focus: If you cannot focus you cannot perform at the level necessary to remain in the C-suite for very long. The ability to do nothing more than understand and lock-onto priorities will place you in the top 10% of all executives.

  4. Leveraging Experience: Inexperience, a lack of maturity, needing to be the center of attention, not recognizing limitations, a lack of judgment, an inferior knowledge base or any number of other common mistakes made by rookie CEOs can cause your house of cards to fall. If you don’t have the experience personally, hire it, contract it, but by all means acquire it. Great CEOs surround themselves with tier-one talent and the best advisors money can buy. They don’t make uniformed or ill-advised decisions in a vacuum.

  5. Command Presence: Great CEOs possess a strong presence and bearing. They are unflappable individuals that never let you see them sweat (unless of course it serves a purpose). Everything from how they carry themselves to how they speak and dress messages that they are in charge.

  6. Embracing Change: Great CEOs have a strong bias to action. They don’t rest upon past accomplishments and are always seeking to improve through change and innovation. In today’s fast paced and competitive environment those CEOs who don’t openly embrace change will often be shown the door prior to the expiration of their initial employment contract.

  7. Brand Champions: Great CEOs understand branding at every level. They seek to build not only a dominant corporate brand, but also a strong personal brand. CEOs that are not well branded on a personal basis or who let their corporate brand fall into decline will not survive.  

  8. Boundless Energy: Great CEOs have a boundless amount of energy. They are positive in their outlook and their attitude is contagious. A low energy CEO is not motivating, convincing or credible.

  9. Business Acumen: Great CEOs have a deep understanding of the business and a strong orientation toward profit. Great CEOs possess what often appears to be a sixth sense or an almost instinctive feel for what the company needs to do to make money and remain competitive.

  10. People Acumen: Great CEOs have a nose for talent…They understand how to recruit, develop and deploy talent focusing on applying the best talent to the best opportunities. They also know when it’s time to make changes and cut losses as needed. 

  11. Organizational Acumen: Great CEOs know how to engendering trust, when and how to share information and are expert listeners. They develop strong and positive corporate cultures driven to performance by aligned motivations. They can quickly diagnose whether the organization is performing at full potential, delivering on commitments and whether the company is changing and growing versus just operating.

  12. Curiosity: Great CEOs possess a powerful motivation to increase their knowledge base and to convert their learning into actionable initiatives. They question, challenge, confront and are never accepting of the status quo.

  13. Intellectual Capacity: Great CEOs are also great thinkers both at the strategic and tactical levels. They are quick on their feet and know how to get to the root of an issue faster than anyone else. I’ve never met a great CEO who wasn’t extremely discerning.

  14. Global Mindset: Regardless of the geographical boundaries of the current business model great CEOs think globally. Limited thinking results in limited results. Whether global thinking is applied to capital formation, supply-chain issues, business development, strategic partnering, distribution or any number of other areas those CEOs who don’t grasp the importance of thinking globally will not endure. Great CEOs are externally oriented, hungry for knowledge of the world and adept at connecting developments and spotting patterns. 

  15. Never Quit: Great CEOs refuse to lose…They have an insatiable appetite for accomplishment and results and while they may reengineer or change direction they will never lose sight of the end game.

Assessing Brand Value

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Assessing a brand’s value is not rocket science, nor does it constitute ethereal hocus-pocus. Good brands have real value and understanding this is central to measuring whether or not your brand equity is increasing or whether you have a brand in decline. Whether you are a brand asset manager at a Fortune 500 company responsible for the brand of a product line, a professional concerned about his/her personal brand or the CEO or entrepreneur measuring the brand value of the enterprise you must value your brand in order to understand and manage your brand. In today’s post I’ll give my perspective on not only why a brand should be valued, but also how it should be valued…

Think about this…If you can’t place a value on a brand how do you determine how much to invest in it, how do you measure its success and how do you raise capital for it? If you look at your balance sheet and you don’t see a tangible value associated with your brand it is time to have a conversation with your CFO. By the time a finance officer has reached the C-suite he or she needs to have a solid understanding of how to apply and leverage finance and accounting principles to the benefit of all business units aggregating value for the benefit of the entire enterprise. Not understanding the value of a brand, much less how to value it is absolutely unconscionable for a CFO. 

Understanding the key to measuring brand equity is central to maximizing valuation. In fact, brand equity can actually represent a large component of total valuation.  This is specifically backed-up by research from Zyman Institute of Brand Science which notes that brand equity can actually account for more than 60% of total valuation when using Tobin’s Q ratio. This ratio is a valuation methodology devised by John Tobin of Yale University, Noble laureate in economics. Even if you don’t believe Tobin’s academic hypothesis, all you have to do is look at the absolute value placed on real-world brands…Google’s brand is valued in excess of $60 billion dollars and there are easily in excess of a few hundred brands that sport economic value of more than $1 billion dollars including BMW, McDonalds, Goldman Sachs and the like.  Even smaller privately held companies with valuations of $10 million or less can experience brand equity that accounts for a considerable portion of their worth. 

The four standard brand valuation methodologies which are accepted by both the Financial and Accounting Standards Board and the International Accounting Standards Board are income-based, market-based, cost-based and hybrid valuations. While there can be reasons to use one methodology vs. another it has been my experience that using the hybrid model to capture the best benefits of each of the other three methodologies often results in the highest overall valuation.

Let’s examine the value of personal brands as well…Do you think Trump or Oprah value their brands? You bet they do…If you’re a highly regarded CEO who has developed a strong personal brand it is likely that not only has your personal brand influenced the value of the corporate brand, but it is also likely it has had a positive impact on everything from your compensation to your marketability to your ability to recruit and retain teir-one talent. If you happen to be a consultant or professional advisor the manner in which you’ve built your personal brand and managed your reputation will have a direct tie to how loyal your clients are, the speaking engagements and interviews you receive and to the overall success of your practice. Personal branding is the most overlooked brand genre, but in my opinion is without doubt the most important and meaningful brand genre.

Regardless of whether you are talking about personal brands, corporate brands, product brands, etc. the fact of the matter is that real brands have real value and produce real returns. I want to encourage readers not to conduct a brand valuation just for the purposes of retroactive scorekeeping, but rather to understand how brand equity is driving overall financial performance so that you can make better business decisions. Good luck and good branding…

Collaborate, Innovate and Dominate!

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Those of you who know me or have followed this Blog for any length of time know how strongly I feel about innovation (see my Return on Innovation Blog Post) as a key driver in business. You also know how heavily I value partnering, venturing and collaboration as key leverage points. Independently these two concepts are powerful, but couple them together and they create a catalyzing effect of unequalled proportion. In this blog post we’ll examine what these disciplines can mean to your business.

The “me too” era of business is gone…Following the crowd with a “herd mentality” will only run your business into the ground. From my perspective adopting the so-called “best practices” utilized by your competitors will do little more than insure mediocrity. I just finished re-reading the 64 page “IBM Global CEO Study 2006” in which 750 CEO’s of leading companies from around the world were interviewed. The result of the survey simply confirmed what I have been evangelizing for years…Collaborate, Innovate and Dominate (my quote not IBM’s). At N2growth we help our clients create market dominant brands and a big part of our success formula is showing our clients the value using collaboration to drive innovation…The bottom line is that nothing will be more meaningful to your business in the months and years ahead than your ability to excel in these two areas.

Collaboration starts internally, but as the IBM report emphasizes it is essential to “defy collaboration limits” and look for collaborative opportunities outside your company, spanning verticals, across geographic boarders and across competitive boundaries. The reality is that great ideas are rarely incubated in a vacuum. New ideas, different perspectives and creative approaches can be used to refine organic initiatives in ways that you might not ever realize if left to your own thinking. 

The IBM report clearly showed that CEOs around the globe have embraced collaboration and innovation. They understand that their success will lie in their ability to continue to add value in new ways, in new markets and with new products and services. CEO’s in today’s business world need to step-up and realize that they need to lead by example and drive a cultural and philosophical innovation revolution within their companies. Senior executives not capable of collaborating and innovating will have a very limited shelf life moving forward. I think Kluas Kleinfeld, President and CEO of Siemens AG put it best when he said: “You can only win the war with ideas, not with spending cuts.”

The moral of this story is don’t find yourself caught in the innovation gap or cut off from collaborative advancements. Remember…Collaborate, Innovate and Dominate!

Interview with Ken Fisher

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Interview - Ken FisherKen Fisher is perhaps one of the most fascinating men of our time. He possesses both incredible intellect and genuine humility. He is a true renaissance man…A family man who has been married for 36 years, a best selling author (his current book The Only Three Questions That Count is ranked #14 on the NY Times Hardcover Bestseller list), The CEO of Fisher Investments, one of the most successful investment firms in the world, his monthly “Portfolio Strategy” column in Forbes magazine makes him the fifth-longest running columnist in the magazine’s 89 year history and a man with a sense of character and responsibility. Oh, I neglected to mention he also happens to be ranked #297 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans (estimated to be worth more than $1.3 billion dollars). In today’s post you’ll read my interview with Ken Fisher one of the real “good guys” in business. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did…

Mike Myatt: Ken, you’re widely regarded as one of the most successful and savvy investors in modern history; to what do you attribute your success?

Ken Fisher: While I may be thought of by some that way because of the success of my firm and my visibility, I don’t see myself that way. Regardless, getting to wherever I am is because I was born lucky. Among other things my father, who was a big name investor and free thinker in his early years, taught me to be a very free thinker who was free to go where others typically restrict themselves from. I also possess a strong work ethic. I bathe and floss almost daily and question the hell out of everything that is otherwise regarded as conventional wisdom since so much of it is nonsense. I’m hell on questions and questioning.  

Mike Myatt: It was your theoretical work that led to the development of the Price/Sales Ratio. At what point did you realize this ratio was meaningful?

Ken Fisher: In the 1975-76 period on the aftermath of the bear market and recession, stocks would go through the roof in volume with no earnings. I’d see that over and over again and it got me thinking and questioning what caused that. Then to testing! By 1978 I had fashioned the concept as a metric and was regularly using it and in that period it was a market beater as a simple filter rule. By the early 1980s I’d done a lot of stat work to demonstrate efficacy and that kept on evolving until and through my first book which first popularized the concept.

Mike Myatt: In addition to your obvious affinity for the stock market you also have amassed a considerable real estate portfolio. How did you get started in real estate and what advice would you give to our readers?

Ken Fisher: Really, I have no passion at all for real estate–just have to use the stuff. 35 years ago I owned a home I lived in while at college as a fixer-upper (and did a lot of construction type activities while working through college). And later I owned homes here on the mountain where I reside. But today, effectively my only property is that on which my firm operates (Except in Britain and Vancouver, Washington – we rent there). But, yes, from that I own 285,000 square feet of Class A office space in the Bay Area where most of our employees are and where we have expansion space-and then our smaller 22,000 headquarters building on Kings Mountain, above the Bay Area which is also where I live in a small, 2500 foot apartment above the operating facility. But it is those buildings you’re referencing. So, there is no passion for real estate. But if you’re operating a business you have much more control with ownership than as a tenant and inside our firm we do have a passion for control at every step of the process.

Mike Myatt: With more than $30 billion dollars under management for institutional and private clients you are much more than a money manager, you are also the CEO of a very successful business. What would you say is your greatest “business” talent?

Ken Fisher: More than $36 billion but who is counting? As a CEO my greatest strengths are 1) being the visionary that envisions our firm’s future down the road, 2) creating a culture that gets great young people to be over-the-top loyal and energetic toward the firm, 3) delegating and except in some areas that most directly effect me not being a micro-manager. We have a very different corporate culture than almost all firms in our industry and we push agendas others don’t. We almost exclusively hire and promote from within. We by-pass the MBA world trying to hire kids right out of college before MBA world and then motivate them to never leave-like firms did 40 years ago in a world that has now, other than here, vanished. We can’t compete with the big firms for MBAs but can get hold of the kids before they go to MBA school and hang on to them and compete that way. We have the industry’s only formally designated Chief Innovation Officer, one of the few in the world in any industry. We are the biggest direct marketer in our industry by a wide margin-something our competitors still see as not working. We just created the industry’s first 30 minute infomercial with Hal Holbrook as our corporate spokesperson. We are always trying to do what no one else has done yet-either ever or in our industry. We ban concepts like “best practices” (which are great if a lousy firm wants to become a B-firm) in favor of what we call “Never-done-yet-practices” by which we mean to define what will become future trend changers others will have to follow. We like doing the new and never done.

Side-bar: I agree completely with Ken’s comments on best practices and would suggest that readers interested in this line of thinking read “The Downside of Best Practices” which is a post I previously authored on this subject…Great minds think alike…Okay, back to the interview…

Mike Myatt: What do you consider to be your highest and best use activity during the business day? What are you doing when you’re “in the zone?”

Ken Fisher: Spending time with my wife of 36 years. No comments on the zone thing! Also she works for the firm and has almost forever.

Mike Myatt: As a published author of 4 books and a columnist of 22 years for Forbes magazine you are obviously a talented writer. But my question is what do you enjoy reading and who are your favorite authors?

Ken Fisher: My all time favorite author is Stewart Holbrook, hands down, now long deceased. I’m a big lumbering history fan and over the years have read and collected an awful lot on lumbering history in all it forms with a particular emphasis on redwood lumbering history. Most of the fiction I’ve read in my life has been old lumbering history novels from an era when lumbering was big in America, 1880-1960. A classic example would be Peter Kyne’s “Valley of the Giants” from 1913. You can find a number of copies of it on ABEbooks.com, which oh, by the way, as detailed at some length in my new book, “The Only Three Questions That Count” is by far and away the best and cheapest major used book search engine and if any of your readers haven’t tried it they owe themselves a treat. In non-fiction, I get a steady bombardment of requests, often from clients, to read business and investing books most of which are truly dreadful. But I plow through or skim a lot of them over time. The world creates few great books in any year and a lot of lousy ones. Right now, I’ve been enjoying “Galileo’s Daughter”, which is a very nice and thought provoking book. I’ve just finished a galley version of Richard Preston’s “The Wild Trees” which is coming out soon and is a chronicling of the exploits of my friend Steve Sillett and other and should make a great book and movie.

Mike Myatt: With your business endeavors being as vast as they are how have you kept a work/life balance? What tips can you give our readers about maintaining perspective on what’s really important in life?

Ken Fisher: Don’t know much about that! I’ve no ability to monitor or measure myself in those ways-certainly no expert in that. While I’ve stayed married 36 years and that is an accomplishment, how do you measure the rest? Maybe the best way is just simply how you feel about what you’re doing and if you would prefer to be doing something else. Or would you do something else if you mother was watching? Or how much of your last 15 years would you re-do if you could? And how much of this year would you re-do if you could? As implied by the title of my new book, I think most of life in some ways comes down to continuing to ask the right questions over and over again.

Mike Myatt: Who do you respect most in the world of business?

Ken Fisher: Bill Gates. He changed the world and didn’t change himself.

Mike Myatt: If you could give one piece of advice to our readers what would that be?

Ken Fisher: Keep challenging conventional wisdom by asking unending questions. Most of our conventional wisdom is simply that and often wrong hand-me-downs from the past.

Mike Myatt: What’s next for Ken Fisher?

Ken Fisher: More questions! 

Mike Myatt: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

Ken Fisher: More questions but I haven’t thought them up yet. So far I’ve already given the best three I have. 

Thanks to Ken Fisher for the giving of his valuable time for this interview. Buy his new book and if you have discretionary investment funds my suggestion would be to go with the innovator and stay away from the herd mentality of the masses.

Super Bowl Disaster!

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Okay, I’m a huge fan of “Da Bears” but their loss to the Colts is not the disaster I’m referring to. Actually even I can’t be too upset about solid leaders like Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy getting the win, but I digress…The disaster I’m referring to is that of Super Bowl advertising.  I appreciate a good branding play as much as the next guy…I aslo enjoy excellent creative and actually possess a true love for genuine marketing and advertising genius. That being said, I’m here to tell you that Super Bowl advertising makes no business sense whatsoever in that it cannot be economically justified by any sane method of analysis. In reality Super Bowl ads are far from genius and in fact more closely resemble irresponsible and frivolous action by advertisers. In today’s post I’ll point out the flawed business logic in purchasing Super Bowl advertising and even provide a few suggestions to advertisers for better alternatives…

Okay, let’s do some basic math…A 30-second Super Bowl spot sold for more than $2.6 million dollars (that’s more than $86,000 per second) this year and that’s just for the air time. If you factor in the costs for talent and production it is likely that the total costs for one 30 second commercial could cost between $4 and $5 million dollars. Is this smart business? I think not, but read on and draw your own conclusions…

This years Super Bowl advertisers included Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Izod, Emerald Nuts, Doritos, CareerBuilder.com, Garmin, General Motors, ETrade, Honda, GoDaddy.com, HP, Pepsi, Nationwide Insurance, Kind Pharmaceuticals and Salesgenie.com among others. Anheuser-Busch purchased five different spots purportedly spending more than $25 million dollars in airtime alone.

I don’t know about you but none of the ads I viewed while watching the Super Bowl will positively influence my personal buying decisions. I want you to take a few minutes and ponder the following questions:

1. How would you feel if you were a shareholder of any of the companies that advertised on the Super Bowl? Would you feel that this was a responsible use of funds?

2. How many bottles of Coke, cans of nuts, lists of sales leads, domain names etc. have to be purchased to even come close to breaking even on these type of ad spends?

3. Will you spend your money any differently as a result of these ads? The only thing I’m sure of is that I won’t purchase certain products from some of the advertisers who aired commercials that I thought were ridiculous or offensive. Even if the creative was good I still find it an abuse of shareholder trust to spend corporate funds this foolishly.

For those who would say that Super Bowl ads are not about increasing short-term sales, but are intended to increase brand awareness and mind share I would dispute this thinking as well. There are any number of other venues and mediums that would generate better buzz than a Super Bowl ad…Even if you wanted to buy TV spots, just think of all the targeted cable TV spots that could be purchased with that type of budget…In many markets you can buy a 30 second prime-time cable TV spot for under $200 dollars which means you could run more than 35 ads per day for 365 straight days for the cost of a single Super Bowl ad.  

If these corporations really want to generate some positive brand play why not distribute these funds to shareholders or donate the money spent on Super Bowl ads to charity? The reality is that Super Bowl ads are pure ego buys and have nothing to do with rational business investments. If you are a shareholder of any of this year’s advertisers I would encourage you to voice your opinions and hold them accountable for their poor judgment.  

Ad Agencies Just Don’t Get It…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Ad Agencies Don't Get ItThere was a point in our not too distant past where branding and advertising were virtually synonymous, however that point in time has long since past. While advertising has become a much smaller component of branding, advertising agencies have not continued to develop their approach or methodology to keep pace with the rapidly changing, and increasingly sophisticated markets. In fact, I would go so far as to say that many advertising agencies are almost obsolete in their approach such that they add very little value to their client’s brands. In today’s post I’ll share my insights on why most advertising agencies just don’t get it…

Let me begin by stating that it is the CEOs responsibility to set the brand vision, and then to evangelize and champion that vision. I have observed far too many CEOs and entrepreneurs who abdicate their responsibility by just turning over their brand to advertising agencies and hoping for great creative output. The problem lies in that the concept of “branding” has moved far beyond communicating product differences and building “image.” In order to improve brand performance, marketing experts need to consider the value of building relationships, product re-design, reengineering the supply chain, refining distribution, reducing costs, introducing loyalty rewards for customers and many other variables. While advertising will certainly retain an important role as a component of branding, it is clearly not the driver of branded businesses that it once was.

Put simply, ad agencies create brand advertising they don’t create brands…Put even more simply ad agencies create, buy and place media, they don’t develop brand architecture and modeling which are used as a blueprint for all activities and communications for the brand. It is rare that you’ll find ad agencies that will even have the diversification of competencies that will allow them to provide strategic brand direction across mediums. While I have rarely observed a lack of willingness by agencies to dive into a project, I have often observed a complete inability to execute.

Even within their purported areas of domain expertise (media and mediums) the marketplace is littered with agencies who have huge gaps in competencies in PR, direct marketing, blogging, micro-blogging and other forms of social media, interactive media, search marketing, word of mouth marketing and any number of other areas. However it is their lack of experience and ability to deliver on brand strategy, business intelligence, knowledge management, innovation, corporate venturing, competitive analysis (and by this I don’t mean whose TV ad is better), intellectual property and other items that make ad agencies the worst possible choice to take brand direction from. 

Okay, let’s call a spade a spade and bring the ad agency agenda out into the light of day. Ad agencies get paid to sell advertising not to build brands…Reflect back upon your last agency pitch and you may have been wowed by creative talent, and yes even a bit of brand-speak, but at the end of the day you were pitched on buying advertising. Ad agencies speak to your advertising budget, not your brand equity.

Bottom line…As a CEO your ultimate success or failure will be directly tied to the growth and sustainability of your brand equity. As such your company’s brand guardian should be the brand owner (you) and not your ad agency. CEOs should manage their ad agencies in collaboration with consultancies that understand strategic business and brand drivers across mediums, channels and markets. Don’t make the mistake of confusing advertising with branding and end-up over spending for the wrong reasons.