Top Leadership Movies

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Top Leadership MoviesTop leadership movies…you may be thinking “can anything about leadership actually be learned by watching movies?” You bet. I was recently asked for my opinion about which movies I felt were the top leadership movies of all time. After thinking about my answer for a few minutes, I realized that while not all leaders are fans of cinema, all leaders can certainly learn valuable leadership lessons by watching movies with a critical and discerning eye…In the text that follows I’ve put a list together of more than 40 outstanding leadership movies. While most of them have not won an Academy Award, they all contain valuable lessons for leaders.

You’ve likely surmised by now that this post will not be a real brain-teaser, however it will nonetheless offer you the opportunity for leadership development. While the most natural leaders possess a large number of innate qualities and characteristics, the best leaders refine their leadership skills over time through a variety of learned behaviors, experiences, and activities. There are certainly more academic, substantive, and challenging ways to acquire leadership insights, but you’ll find few methods of learning more enjoyable than popcorn and a movie. I must confess to being a bit of a movie buff, so when it came to putting together a list of top leadership movies it didn’t take too long to come up with the following list of favorites (in no particular order of preference): 

  1. Braveheart 
  2. Remember The Titans
  3. Invictus
  4. The Great Escape
  5. 300
  6. The Last Castle
  7. Schindler’s List
  8. Lord of the Flies 
  9. Apollo 13
  10. We Were Soldiers
  11. Blind Side
  12. Pistol Pete
  13. Miracle
  14. Saving Private Ryan
  15. Amazing Grace
  16. Hoosiers
  17. Chariots of Fire
  18. To Hell and Back
  19. The Alamo
  20. The Last of the Mohicans
  21. K19 Widow Maker
  22. The Mission
  23. The Green Berets
  24. Dead Poets Society
  25. Glengarry Glen Ross
  26. Mr. Holland’s Opus
  27. Glory Road
  28. The Shawshank Redemption
  29. Twelve O’clock High
  30. Band of Brothers
  31. Ben-Hur
  32. Blackhawk Down
  33. Rocky
  34. The Longest Day
  35. Rudy
  36. The Lion King
  37. Passion of Christ
  38. Men of Honor
  39. The Last Samurai
  40. Deliverance
  41. The Patriot
  42. Bridge Over The River Kwai
  43. The Guardian
  44. The Ten Commandments

If you feel something has been left off the list (which I’m sure is the case), please let me know and I’ll add to the list…Enjoy!

Managing Vendor Relationships

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Effectively managing vendor relationships is critical to the success of any business. I found the above video posted on UberCEOand thought it was brilliant. Anyone who has ever been on the receiving end of the client-vendor cramdown will surely relate to this video. The moral of the story is treat your vendors how you wish to be treated…while you may currently have the power to play hard-ball, times change and shifts in the power curve can and do happen. Remember that most people have long memories, so it’s best to keep in mind that “what goes around comes around.”

Twitter Updates for 2009-06-16

Ghostwriting

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

GhostwritingGhostwriting…should you or shouldn’t you? Keep in mind that there have always been very passionate opinions on both sides of the ghostwriting debate. However I believe that the meteoric growth of social media not only seems to be fueling a very rapid proliferation of this dialogue, but it also seems to be causing both sides to become more entrenched in their positions. As a backdrop for the text that follows, it is important to understand that we are living in a time where the masses now have a very public voice…everyone is now an author, pundit, commentator, etc., and it is because of this that the masses now have a very vested interest in the ghostwriting discussion. In today’s post I’ll examine the both sides of the ghostwriting debate…

Let’s begin by framing both the affirming and dissenting arguments, beginning with those who staunchly object to ghostwriting as a practice…This group views themselves as purists who perceive ghostwriting to be the antithesis of transparency and authenticity. In fact, many purists feel so strongly in this regard that they see ghostwriting as some kind of literary fraud. Their position can be summed up as follows…any voice other than your own, and especially for which you take credit, is at best a very insincere and disingenuous form of public misrepresentation. The purist believes with all his/her heart that if you didn’t write it, then you shouldn’t publish under your name…period.

The other side of the argument comes predominantly from those who seek the opportunity for leverage. It is a business argument based upon the recognition of the need for, and benefit of, creating content and having a voice. Most of the people who utilize ghostwriting services simply don’t possess either the time, or in many cases, the skill needed to author consistently credible work on their own accord. Therefore they often hire a third party to produce the content for them. So what’s wrong with this? Outsourcing exists in virtually every other industry, why should the creation of content be any different?

The purists would answer the above questions by stating that ghostwriting creates an unequal playing field for those with significant financial resources to flood the market with a higher volume of content thereby gaining an advantage. An example of this would be someone like Donald Trump…do you really believe that “The Donald” writes all his own Tweets, blog posts and books? Yet because he can afford to retain ghostwriters and co-authors, he cranks out new books with great frequency giving him an unfair brand advantage, so the purists would say. Another example would be the larger firm that can afford to hire a a ghostwriter to author a white paper, as contrasted with a smaller firm that has to organically author their own collateral material because they don’t have the budget to hire a third party. It’s just not fair say the purists… 

So where do I stand on the debate? Positionally, I am ghostwriting agnostic…from my perspective ghostwriting is neither good nor bad, but rather a matter of whether it is an appropriate use of resources given the context of a particular situation. I had a Twitter follower ask me last week if I write my own tweets, and what I think of ghostwriting. My answer was that I author all my own blog posts, tweets, columns, articles, books, etc., but that I didn’t really have anything against the practice of ghostwriting assuming that it was used appropriately. After all, if Guy Kawasaki and other well established professionals can employ people to Tweet for them, who’s to say that you shouldn’t do the same? Ghostwriting doesn’t work for me personally, because I’m a writer whose topics are based upon personal experience, opinion, and subject matter expertise. While I choose to write all my own material, N2growth (my firm) ghostwrites content for many of our clients.

Bottom line…I don’t view myself as a content snob, as I can see value in both sides of the argument. My advice is this: if you have the time and ability to author your own content, then I believe you should do so. It’s an intellectually honest and rewarding use of time, as well as an often cathartic retreat from day-to-day operations. Lastly, authoring your own content helps you crystallize your thinking on topics of importance. However, if you have the resources to hire a ghostwriter, and don’t have the time or the ability to create your own content, I’m fine with that too. I have always believed in outsourcing where it creates leverage and economies of scale. Ghostwriting fits this definition for many, and so I see nothing wrong with it.

Why I Don’t Read Newsweek

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

This video is a perfect example of why I don’t read Newsweek. Newsweek editor Evan Thomas’ characterization of Barack Obama as “sort of god” is not only absurd, but it is exactly the reason why many media outlets have zero credibility with the public. It should come as no great surprise that this interview occurred on MSNBC. Newsweek + MSNBC = garbage in; garbage out.

Common Website Mistakes

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

For years now I have consistently received inquiries from CEOs who wonder why their web initiatives are falling short of reaching their objectives. Because most of these inquiries come from executives suffering from web maladies of a similar nature, I decided to put forth a list of what I consider to be the 20 most common website mistakes hindering success on the Internet. The sad part about the following list is that none of these typical mistakes are difficult to remedy, yet most offenders simply fail to correct the issues and wonder why their Internet presence isn’t producing the desired results… 

Without further adieu - 20 Reasons Your Website Doesn’t Work (in no particular order):

  1. Not Having One: If you’re a proud hold-out continuing to dwell in the offline world, WAKE UP! Not having an Internet presence is akin to not being open for business. Don’t think for a moment that you can outlast progress and advances in technology, and somehow end-up coming out ahead of the game…It won’t work. 
  2. Being a One-Trick Pony: The only thing worse than having no website is having just one. A website does not equal a web presence. To develop visibility, presence and influence you must use multiple sites, platforms and networks that work in collaboration with one another to create a digital “web.” It is not uncommon for a successful Internet presence these days to include ten, twenty, fifty or even hundreds of digital connection points. What you have to remember is to meet your customers where they are, and in today’s world they’re literally everywhere.  
  3. No Leadership: You’d be surprised at how many times a company’s Internet presence is still the number one corporate “hot potato” with either nobody in charge, or the wrong person in charge. Without leadership, vision and executive involvement, your web presence will be destined for failure. Hint: your web initiatives must be in alignment with, and serve as a key driver of your business objectives.
  4. No Aesthetics: While I’m not advocating form over substance, let me be very clear – design matters. Now comes the tricky part…what you think passes for great design isn’t as important as what your audience thinks. So, how do you know what passes for good design? Be open minded, seek advice, then listen. I’ve witnessed on more than one occasion great content that doesn’t get viewed because people can’t get past horrible design. I’ve also witnessed good content deemed less than credible because the design is clearly not credible. I’ll say it again – design matters.
  5. No Metrics: Nowhere is the axiom “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” more appropriate than as applied to the corporate Internet presence. If you don’t have a detailed analytics program measuring key metrics then you cannot even begin to hope to understand what’s working, and what’s not working…No metrics – no success.
  6. No Visibility: If you have a great website, but it can’t be found - you lose…If you don’t have page one visibility (either paid, organic, or preferably both) on major search engines under relevant search terms, then you’ve wasted whatever investment you’ve made into the creation of your website. No visibility, equals no traffic, equals questionable sustainability in today’s world.  
  7. No Phone Number: If you really want to frustrate your clients and prospects try not publishing a contact phone number. Let me put it another way…if you want to send your clients and prospects directly to your competition just withhold your phone number from them. Smart companies provide multiple channels through which they can be contacted. If someone on your leadership team believes it’s more cost effective to play hide the pea with your phone number, then I would suggest that person doesn’t belong on your leadership team.
  8. No Social Acumen: Being anti-social in today’s market is the proverbial kiss of death. A website without a voice doesn’t doesn’t engender much confidence. Numerous studies have shown that visitors have a better opinion of companies who maintain an active blog, and actively engage in social networking. If your company doesn’t blog, tweet, and participate in other social networking platforms, then you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to engage with your customers, prospects and other stakeholders.   
  9. No Opt-in List: Give your website visitors the option of opting-in to receive information and updates. This is the fastest way to identify those interested in what you do. There are few things as valuable for direct marketing purposes as having a large, targeted e-mail list, and nowhere can you build a better list faster than mining for subscribers on your website.
  10. No Executive Bios: People don’t do business with companies, they do business with people. If I can’t read-up on the team behind the brand, then I don’t know who I’m doing business with. If I don’t know who I’m doing business with, I won’t do business…
  11. Forced Registrations: If you force visitors to register prior to giving them access to your information, your losing valuable opportunities. Forced registrations out of the gate send website visitors away in droves. If your idea is to better qualify prospects by shielding access to your content behind a registration form then you are misguided in your thinking. Grant access to your information first, and people will gladly register to be provided full details of your offering. You need to earn the right to qualify a prospect or to mine for data by earning trust and communicating value. This cannot be done by starting with a forced registration. Engage first – sell later.
  12. Static Content: If the content on your website is ostensibly the same as it was 6 months ago, then you’re messaging that you either have a static organization void of innovation, or that you simply don’t care enough about your website to update it with fresh content…in either case you lose.
  13. Poor Quality Content: Content is still and forever will be king…If your website contains content that doesn’t add value to, and doesn’t properly address the needs of key constituencies, your website will not be successful. If you must pick between quantity of content and quality of content, choose the latter and not the former. However keep in mind that a combination of the two will afford you the most significant benefits. Hint- don’t create content for you – create it for your audience.
  14. Pop-ups: Today’s Internet is open, collaborative and consumer driven. Just like the topic of forced registrations mentioned above, attempting to control browsing habits through the imposition of unwanted interruption based applications is offensive to the majority of Internet users. If users want to be surveyed, polled, updated, etc., then they’ll subscribe to your opt-in list giving you their permission to query them.   
  15. Poor Linking/Navigation: If you make visitors work too hard to find the information they’re seeking, you’ll lose them altogether as they’ll leave your site for more fertile ground. Navigation needs to be simple, intuitive, and functional. When you examine your analytics and notice that visitors leave your site after viewing only one or two pages, a likely cause is poor navigational architecture. 
  16. No E-Commerce: Make it easy for your customers and prospects to buy from you. Don’t force them to order a catalogue, talk to a sales rep, visit a retail location, or to participate in other multi-step processes. Every web presence should have the ability to sell something. A website is capable of selling products, services, knowledge, information, subscriptions, advertising, and a virtually anything your mind can imagine. Make sure your website is e-commerce enabled.
  17. Bad Multimedia: When I land on a website I don’t want to be assulted by cheesey music, bad video, or maybe the worst offense of all – total multimedia as a feigned substitute for a lack of content. Let visitors select multimedia elements of interest, but don’t force your presentations on them.
  18. No Community: If your Internet presence creates a destination, but not a community you’re missing a key part of the puzzle. There is a big difference between creating a desire to arrive and the desire to stay and then to comeback again and again. To create a community is to create trust, a sense of belonging, the feeling that people have a voice, and that you listen. A strong community is also social proof that you have something valid to offer. Miss this point and you miss big time. 
  19. No Fun: Part of creating community is having a sense of humor and adding a bit of entertainment value. If you think your brand is too high-brow or too institutional to have fun – think again. Stodgy, stagnant, and elitist is just another way of saying you’re boring. Boring brands equal bad brands.
  20. No References: If you don’t provide references and testimonials you are simply creating an unnecessary barrier to success. Don’t tell people you’re good at what you do, let your work, and more particularly your clients tell them on your behalf. Nothing speaks to professional credibility like affirming voices – especially influential ones.

So, what did I miss? As always, I welcome your comments below…

Trust and CEOs

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Steve RubelIf you’re a CEO, are you trusted? If you’re not the CEO, do you trust your chief executive? Steve Rubel, the Director of Insights for Edelman Digital, and one of my favorite bloggers (Micro Persuasion blog) was recently quoted as saying “People have not trusted CEOs for years, and especially not for the last 12 months.” I normally tend to agree with Steve, and regrettably, I must admit that he accurately reflects the public perception with the aforementioned quote as well. As a backdrop for today’s post, I’d suggest reading a prior post entitled “The No Spin Zone” in which I breakdown the need for trust in the workplace.

One of the first things I stress with my clients is that to be an effective leader they must be regarded as trustworthy. CEOs must make it a priority to not only establish trust, but to maintain a trust bond with all key stakeholders and constituents. CEOs who break trust with their CXOs, management, staff, investors, lenders, media, vendors, suppliers, and partners will not survive for long. Even if by some stroke of luck they happen to survive, they certainly will not be effective. While great leaders will often have their policies and positions challenged, they will rarely have their character or integrity called into question.

So why is it that the public does not trust CEOs? If you will, I’ll ask you to put aside for a moment the fact that the media has vilified CEOs of late…Most rational people will see through the sensationalism and exploitation of a few easy targets, and not let the acts of a few rogue CEOs determine the fate of an entire occupational class (see “CEOs in Crisis“). The real reason that CEOs are not trusted is that they are not well known at a personal level.

CEOs who either sequester themselves away in their offices, or allow their access to be gated by others do themselves and their organizations a great disservice. CEOs who view themselves at the top of the org chart overseeing all, as opposed to placing themselves at the bottom of the org chart serving all others will have a difficult time establishing trust. It is a complete misnomer that you have to guard your authentic self to be an effective leader. Quite the opposite is true…To be known at a personal level, to be authentic and transparent, and to be just another member of the team doesn’t make you a bad leader, it makes you a trusted, respected, and effective leader.     

Xerox and Viral Video

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Xerox understands the value of viral video and social media as clearly evidenced by this brilliantly funny video. The search engines love video, few mediums drive home a messaging point as well as video, and not many things go viral faster than a well produced video. Not only did I appreciate the humor and production quality of the video, but it also gives us pause for thought…Xerox gets it…

Kudos To Wal-Mart

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growthWal-Mart

The media certainly loves to bash Wal-Mart, and Wal-Mart’s decision to not sell the newly released and profanity-laced album from the band Green Day is no exception. Green Day’s new CD is currently the number one celling CD in the country and the band is incensed that the nation’s largest retailer won’t sell the album. Wal-Mart actually offered to sell the CD, they just wanted Green Day to remove the profanity prior to doing so. Rather than Wal-Mart being applauded for its common sense approach to decency, it has been excoriated for accusations of censorship. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts about why Wal-Mart’s decision has nothing to do with censorship and everything to do with sound business logic, brand stewardship, and doing the right thing…

Let me begin by stating what should be three very obvious points:

  1. Wal-Mart is a retail outlet that has the absolute right to determine which products they accept for sale in their stores, which products they choose to decline, and which products the choose to conditionally accept with modifications. It is their retail shelf-space and online shopping cart space to do with as they will. If Green Day wants to sell their CD in Wal-Mart stores, then they need to comply with Wal-Mart’s conditions…it’s just that simple.
  2. Wal-Mart’s core demographic is selling into the family market. It would make no sense whatsoever for Wal-Mart to sell a product that the overwhelming majority of families would consider to be distasteful and objectionable. They must jealously defend their brand reputation, do everything within their power to adhere to their brand promise, and protect their brand equity…anything less would not be acceptable to Wal-Mart stakeholders.  
  3. Wal-Mart is not a library, government agency, or educational institution…it is a business enterprise, and as such, the allegations of censorship with respect to product selection and distribution are patently ridiculous.

Let’s move from the objective legal and brand arguments to a discussion of a more subjective nature…doing the right thing. Wal-Mart is simply being a good corporate citizen for not catering to the degradation of our nation’s character. Green Day, Gangster Rappers, and other so-called “artists” do not have the right to offend others under a perverted definition of what constitutes art, or an incorrect interpretation of the constitutional right to free speech. Being ill-mannered, hateful, vulgar, disrespectful, and arrogant are not qualities that retailers should be desirous of in their suppliers.

Now I’m going to get personal…I don’t know about you, but I grow very weary of having to approach people in public and asking them to tone down their language in front of my wife. Why should I have to subject myself, my family, or my friends to poor behavior, a bad manners, indecent behavior, or profane language? While I served in the military to protect the freedoms’ and rights’ of our nation’s citizens, I didn’t serve to protect overindulged idiots masquerading as artists who are bent on tearing down the moral fabric that made this country so great to begin with.

If more corporations would take a stand and do the right thing by holding the products they distribute to a higher standard of quality this country would be a far better place as a result. Kudos to Wal-Mart. Thus ends today’s rant…

Who is Brian Deese?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Who the heck is Brian DeeseDo you know who Brian Deese is? I didn’t have a clue until Monday when I read a very disconcerting New York Times article entitled: “The 31-Year-Old in Charge of Dismantling GM.” Well, Brian Deese is in fact the 31-year old staffer for President Obama referenced in the aforementioned article, and who also happens to be the primary influencer/driver behind the policy decisions now guiding GM. This is normally where my late father-in-law would have said, “no wonder the Russians are ahead.”

When you read the resume of Mr. Deese it is clear that he is a bright young man. It is also clear that he certainly has no executive level experience in the manufacturing sector, much less the automobile industry. Even more scary is that he has never really held a private sector job of any consequence. Mr. Deese is by any fair analysis nothing more than a very young, very inexperienced, campaign staffer who now finds himself way in over his head (see a previous post entitled: “Operating Outside of Competency“).

Regardless of how bright and talented Mr. Deese may be, there are nevertheless certain challenges and obstacles he will face for the first time that more seasoned executives have encountered numerous times over the course of their careers. Individuals who operate outside of experiential boundaries are met with frustration, if not failure, by having what appear to be great ideas eventually unwound by unforeseen factors that were only unforeseen to them due to their inexperience or lack of discernment. It doesn’t matter that Mr. Deese has an Ivy League education, or that he’s worked on a few political campaigns…he is still sailing in uncharted territory which is dangerous for even the most seasoned operating officers.

Bottom line…if this is the best our administration has to offer the stakeholders of GM and the American public (oops…I forgot we’re one in the same now), then I would submit that this is merely a sign of more ominous things to come…

Workforce Reduction…

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Workforce ReductionWorkforce reduction is not an operating strategy…Regrettably, tough economic times are often the precursor for ushering in massive rounds of corporate downsizing, rightsizing, layoffs, corporate restructurings and the like. Reducing headcount in an economic downturn is almost a Pavlovian response for many executives. It’s as if workforce reduction is priority number one in some corporate operating rule book. Here’s a news flash…in the 212 pages of my book “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual,” nowhere do I espouse an unplanned mass reduction in labor as a brilliant business move.

Let me state this as simply as I can…a business should always be rightsized, or better yet, it should always be optimized. If you find yourself carrying too many employees such that you have to eliminate positions to manage cash flow, then your operating plan was flawed to begin with. In a keynote address last year I made my point very clear when I stated: “Managing revenue risk through workforce reduction is simply a sign of poor executive leadership. If an employee is a valued asset one day, and somehow expendable the next day, then I question how valuable they were to begin with.”

If you can layoff large groups of employees then I question your need for them in the first place. Irrational exuberance and optimism on the part of executive leadership is not viable justification to go on a hiring binge. The thought that people are simply expendable resources constitutes flawed business logic. Good hires should be sustainable hires.

The bottom line is that as a CEO you never want to be too far ahead, nor too far behind the hiring curve. So the obvious question is this: how do you know if the size of your workforce is optimized? You rightsize all the time…My CEO clients have their CXOs justify headcount on a regular basis…They keep them on a short leash to avoid shortfalls or bulges in workforce size. I can already hear the naysayers complaining about not having time for this level of employee evaluation. Oddly enough, these are the same executives that find themselves making massive unplanned cuts in head count because they weren’t proactive in their approach to begin with.

There are any number of financial and non-financial metrics that can be assessed to evaluate whether or not the depth and breadth of your workforce is optimized. Each organization is different, and its not even so important which metrics are used, just that some logical standard is put in place. Whether it be something as simple as revenue per employee, or a complex formulaic approach to contribution margin, measurement needs to occur much more frequently than is the case in most corporations today.

The moral of the story is this…Any idiot can grow a workforce or shrink a workforce, but it takes great executive leadership to optimize a workforce.

The Truth About PR

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Truth About PRMuch to the chagrin of traditional PR firms, the practice of public relations is changing faster than most firms can keep pace with. If the image to the left even remotely resembles how you feel when you interact with your PR firm, then it’s time to rethink things…Traditional firms who define their practice by writing press releases and conducting media pitches are seeing clients jump ship faster than politicians can sling mud. PR firms that “get it” have surpassed advertising agencies moving into the forefront of brand building, digital marketing, social media marketing, reputation management, and influence peddling. In today’s post I share my thoughts on the changing landscape of public relations…

In today’s ultra competitive global economy, the battle to win the hearts and minds of very broad and diverse constituencies has never been more critical or challenging. Savvy corporate clients are no longer settling for old school PR, and have mandated that both the strategy and tactics of PR evolve to meet the fluidity of market demands. Public relations is no longer about agency interns and thirty-something staffers pitching a story idea, or attempting to book a speaking engagement. Rather PR done right has everything to do with a new generation of influence agents who leverage relationships to open doors and markets, create buzz across mediums and geographies, who carefully protect and manage reputations, and who build dominant personal and corporate brands.  

A good PR initiative in today’s world transcends media relations…It enables the achievement of client business objectives through whatever ethical means are required to get the job done while increasing brand equity in the process. If your PR firm cannot break through political barriers via lobbying efforts, help facilitate joint ventures and strategic partnerships, manage personal or corporate reputations online, and build a dominant brand then you have the wrong agency on retainer.

I’m always amazed at the substantial budgets companies expend with PR firms who not only fail to deliver, but who actually tarnish their client’s brand. The market is fraught with recent examples of sophomoric efforts on the part of name brand PR firms who have flubbed blogging initiatives, mismanaged publicity stunts, crossed ethical boundaries, and otherwise have placed their clients in untenable situations. The bottom line is that when it comes to protecting and advancing your brand through the creation and execution of sound business opportunities, don’t just buy into a pitch from an old-line agency that has not proven that they have transitioned their practice to the realities of the current business climate. 

In the final analysis when it comes to selecting a PR firm don’t buy a pitch, be sold on a brand, or even the brands that an agency has represented in the past. Rather look at the recent growth of the agency while considering who you want as a strategic business partner, who understands your business objectives, and who can deliver the results…