What If Leadership Was More Than a Buzzword

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

What if leadership was more than a buzzword?What if “Leadership” was more than a buzzword? What If…What if leadership was more than just another contentious term bantered around in meaningless conversations? What if leadership was truly understood, modeled, and actually experienced as the rule and not the exception? In the text that follows I’ll  answer these questions and hopefully encourage you to reevaluate how you view the practice of leadership…

Have you ever felt as if  the term “leadership” has a bulls-eye painted on it? Well, it’s because it does – the very mention of the word leadership seems to draw fire from increasingly large numbers these days. The term has been inappropriately hi-jacked by the politically correct who mock it, the avant-garde who belittle it, the naive who discount it, and the public at large seems to be growing tired of hearing about it. I’m befuddled by this dismissive attitude, and am left wondering how we could have arrived at such a place – how could something so valuable be trivialized by so many?

Why does all this matter? Because leadership matters…Whether through malice or naivete, those who trivialize the value of leadership place us all at risk…Poor leadership cripples businesses, ruins economies, destroys families, loses wars, and can bring the demise of nations. The demand for true leaders has never been greater –   when society misunderstands the importance of leadership, and when the world inappropriately labels non-leaders as leaders we are all worse for the wear.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason so many attempt to ridicule leadership is twofold: 1.) The masses of feigned leaders in the public eye make it easy to do so, and; 2.) Real leaders tend to practice their craft quietly, and with great humility, often going unnoticed in the public eye.

By my definition, leaders are not self-promoting, pseudo celebrities whose propensity for personal achievement and media attention far outweigh their true contributions. Rather than focus on the braggarts that litter the media with their personal triumphs, or the charlatans who provide constant reminders of failed leadership, we need to focus our attention on the true leaders who quietly walk among us each day…ethical business people, soldiers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, principled educators, pastors & theologians, medical practitioners, responsible parents, student achievers, volunteers, statesmen (notice I didn’t say politicians), good Samaritans, and the every day hard working American citizen. These are the real leaders who through their personal sacrifice, committed service, and selfless acts who deserve our respect and attention.

So my challenge to you is this…the next time someone demeans the value of leadership in an attempt to show how cool or intelligent they are, stand your ground, engage, educate and inform them of the value of leadership, and don’t let them denigrate the value of leadership. But most of all, I would encourage you to engage in the practice of modeling true leadership – when all is said and done, it is your actions not your words that will demonstrate your true beliefs.

I’d hope that what’s been espoused above sets the stage for an active dialogue in comments below. This is a subject that deserves a serious conversation by serious people. I welcome your thoughts and observations…

Confidence vs. Arrogance

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

confidence vs. arroganceConfidence vs. Arrogance…is it merely a question of semantics? I think not. While confidence can be mistaken for arrogance, and vice-versa, they are clearly not interchangeable terms. When you think of yourself as a leader do you view yourself as having the quiet confidence of David or the boastful arrogance of Goliath? In today’s post I’ll describe the power that resides with the truly confident, as contrasted with self-destructive characteristics that plague the arrogant…

When you think of a true leader do you envision someone who displays a quiet confidence or a blatant arrogance?  In the competitive worlds of business and politics a reserved attitude of humility can often be misinterpreted as a sign of weakness. However if you’ve ever negotiated with a truly confident person who is authentically humble, you’ll find that their resolve is often much greater than the feigned confidence of the arrogant. While hubris can be a needed trait to call upon at times, to rely solely upon it as the foundation of your leadership style just doesn’t work.  

Great contrasting examples of confidence vs. arrogance as it applies to leadership would be the quiet confidence of World War II Generals’ Omar Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower vs. the often outrageous arrogance of Generals’ George Patton and Douglas MacArthur. All four were great strategists and tacticians, but it was the two less grandiloquent commanders who went down in history as more highly regarded leaders. They were able to command greater loyalty and respect from peers and subordinates alike with less bravado and more humility and discernment.

The truth of the matter is that few things have inspired and motivated me over the years like the quiet confidence and humility of great leaders. I would much rather listen to the self-deprecating humor of a confident person making fun of themselves than the mean spirited attacks of an arrogant person waged at someone else’s expense. More importantly, I would much rather work for, or along side of, the understated than the overstated. Those professionals that have self respect, and demonstrate a true respect for others regardless of their station in life, are much more likely to be successful over the long-term than those that use the tactics of disrespect to humiliate and intimidate.

While arrogant people can and often do succeed in business, I believe that it comes at a great personal and professional cost. Arrogance rarely results in lasting relationships built on a foundation of loyalty and trust. Rather arrogant people typically find themselves surrounded by exploitive individuals who are all to happy to ride the “gravy-train” in good times, but at the first sign of trouble all you will see is their backs as they run for the hills.

The confident also succeed in business, but not at the expense of others as do the arrogant. You’ll find confident leaders have broader spheres of influence, attract better talent, engender more confidence, and earn more loyalty and respect than do those that lead with solely with their chutzpa.

If what you’re seeking is lasting relationships, long-term success, and a better quality of life (in and out of the workplace) then you will be better served to forgo the pompous acts of the arrogant, and substitute the humility and quiet confidence displayed by true leaders.

I welcome any discussion about how either confidence or arrogance has impacted your role as a leader. Please share your thoughts in the comments below…

Leadership & Change

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership & Change
First the bad news
: If you’re not willing to embrace change you’re not ready to lead. Put simply, leadership is not a static endeavor. In fact, leadership demands fluidity, which requires the willingness to recognize the need for change, and finally the ability to lead change. Now the good news: As much as some people want to create complexity around the topic of leading change for personal gain, the reality is that creating, managing and leading change is really quite simple.  To prove my point, I’ll not only explain the entire change life-cycle in three short paragraphs, but I’ll do it in simple terms that anyone can understand. As a bonus I’ll also give you 10 items to assess in evaluating whether the change you’re considering is value added, or just change for the sake of change…

An Overview on the Importance of Change:
While there is little debate that the successful implementation of change can create an extreme competitive advantage, it is not well understood that the lack of doing so can send a company (or an individual’s career) into a death spiral. Companies that seek out and embrace change are healthy, growing, and dynamic organizations, while companies that fear change are stagnant entities on their way to a slow and painful death.

Agility, innovation, disruption, fluidity, decisiveness, commitment, and above all else a bias toward action will lead to the creation of change. It is the implementation of change which results in evolving, growing and thriving companies. Much has been written about the importance of change, but there is very little information in circulation about how to actually create it.

While most executives and entrepreneurs have come to accept the concept of change management as a legitimate business practice, and change leadership as a legitimate executive priority in theory, I have found very few organizations that have effectively integrated change as a core discipline and focus area in reality.  As promised, and without further ado, the change life-cycle in three easy steps:

1. Identifying the Need for Change: The need for change exists in every organization. Other than irrational change solely for the sake of change, every corporation must change to survive. If your entity doesn’t innovate and change in accordance with market driven needs and demands it will fail…it’s just that simple. The most complex area surrounding change is focusing your efforts in the right areas, for the right reasons, and at the right times. The ambiguity and risk can be taken out of the change agenda by simply focusing on three areas: 1) your current customers…what needs to change to better serve your customers? 2) potential customers…what needs to change to profitably create new customers? and; 3) your talent and resources…what changes need to occur to better leverage existing talent and resources?

2. Leading Change: You cannot effectively lead change without understanding the landscape of change. There are four typical responses to change: The Victim…those that view change as a personal attack on their persona, their role, their job, or their area of responsibility. They view everything at an atomic level based upon how they perceive change will directly and indirectly impact them. The Neutral Bystander…This group is neither for nor against change. They will not directly or vocally oppose change, nor will they proactively get behind change. The Neutral Bystander will just go with the flow not wanting to make any waves, and thus hoping to perpetually fly under the radar. The Critic…The Critic opposes any and all change. Keep in mind that not all critics are overt in their resistance. Many critics remain in stealth mode trying to derail change behind the scenes by using their influence on others. Whether overt or covert, you must identify critics of change early in the process if you hope to succeed. The Advocate…The Advocate not only embraces change, they will evangelize the change initiative. Like The Critics, it is important to identify The Advocates early in the process to not only build the power base for change, but to give momentum and enthusiasm to the change initiative. Once you’ve identified these change constituencies you must involve all of them, message properly to each of them, and don’t let up. With the proper messaging and involvement even adversaries can be converted into allies.

3. Managing Change: Managing change requires that key players have control over 4 critical elements: 1) Vision Alignment…those that understand and agree with your vision must be leveraged in the change process. Those that disagree must be converted or have their influence neutralized; 2) Responsibility…your change agents must have a sufficient level of responsibility to achieve the necessary results; 3) Accountability…your change agents must be accountable for reaching their objectives, and; 4) Authority…if the first three items are in place, yet your change agents have not been given the needed authority to get the job done the first three items won’t mean much…you must set your change agents up for success and not failure by giving them the proper tools, talent, resources, responsibility and authority necessary for finishing the race.

There you have it; the 3 pillars of change in three short paragraphs. Now that you understand change, here’s are the 10 points that need validating prior to launching a change initiative:

  1. Alignment and Buy-in: The change being considered should be in alignment with the overall values, vision and mission of the enterprise. Senior leadership must champion any new initiative. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new initiative it will likely die a slow and painful death.
  2. Advantage:  If the initiative doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field.
  3. Value Add: Any new project should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.
  4. Due Diligence: Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is. You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research. Do your homework – put the change initiative through a rigorous set of risk/reward and cost/benefit analyses. Forget this step and you won’t be able to find a rock big enough to hide under.
  5. Ease of Use:  Whether the new initiative is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must be simple and easy. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple. Don’t make the mistake of confusing complexity with sophistication.
  6. Identify the Risks: Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives should include detailed risk management provisions that contain sound contingency and exit planning.
  7. Measurement: Any change initiative should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling. Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections. The change being adopted must be measurable. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.
  8. The Project: Many companies treat change as some ethereal form of management hocus pocus that will occur by osmosis. A change initiative must be treated as a project. It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.
  9. Accountability: Any new initiative should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan and in the light of day.
  10. Actionable: A successful initiative cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through focused tactical implementation. If the change initiative being contemplated is good enough to get through the other 9 steps, then it’s good enough to execute.

Has this been useful? Have I left anything out, or got anything wrong? Sound-off in the comments below…

Leaders: Born or Made?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leaders: born or made? While there is a very simple answer to this question, most people are so entrenched in their beliefs no amount of reason or logic will alter their opinions. But that’s never stopped me before… For my part, I would actually like to make an attempt at putting this useless debate to bed once and for all. So, what’s the answer? Both – some people are born with innate qualities that predispose them to being leaders, and other people, while not naturally gifted with leadership ability can acquire it. Moreover, all leaders, born or made, can improve their ability with desire, experience and effort.

If we’re to be honest with ourselves, as opposed to defending a particular position to suit our needs, we’ve all known born leaders… They are those affable individuals who possess charisma and presence, combined with the ability to make good decisions – people have flocked to them since an early age. They were your class presidents, team captains, club leaders, and the people who held virtually all the available leadership positions you can imagine early in life. They were those unflappable individuals who seemed to just have that “it” factor. They were the born leaders we all grew up with.

Before we move on, and as a caution to those who are natural leaders, natural ability will only take you so far. Leaders who rest on their laurels without making the effort to develop their skills will eventually be overtaken by those who view leadership as a professional skill to be developed and refined. As they old saying goes, “it’s not what you’ve been given, but what you do with it that matters.” Every person has to decide for themselves whether they’ll be an underachiever or a person who excels, and since you’ll be judged for your choice, my suggestion would be to choose wisely.

Moving on, we’ve all also known individuals who while perhaps not naturally gifted leaders, either fell into, or accepted leadership responsibility, and worked diligently to develop themselves into highly effective leaders. Leadership acumen can most certainly be taught, and it can also be ingrained in those willing to put forth the effort to learn.

You see, the only things that keep someone from becoming a sound leader are a lack of character, effort and desire. If those three qualities are present, everything else can be developed. I’ve personally witnessed the shy and introverted develop presence, the greedy become giving, the arrogant develop an authentic sense of humility, the foolish become discerning and wise, people who struggled with decision making learn solid decisioning skills, individuals who lacked domain expertise acquire it, people who were ego centric transition into servant leaders, and the list could go on…

Bottom line: It is not how a leader comes by their skill that is relevant. It only matters they possess the requisite skills for the job, and that they are willing to apply those skills for the benefit of those they lead. Remember, there is no perfect leader, no single right way to lead, and no one-size-fits-all formula for leadership. Let’s stop wasting time debating whether leaders are born or made, and focus on how to help them be better leaders regardless of how they arrived.

If you have an opinion on the born vs. made argument I welcome you to share your thoughts in the comments below…

Related Posts: 15 Traits of Great Leaders Leadership DNA Leadership Principles

Great Leaders on Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Great Leaders Define Great LeadersI read a wonderful blog post the other day by Chad Missildine (@ChadMissildine) in which the meat of the post consisted of a compilation of answers to an open-ended question he posted on Facebook and Twitter. I thought this was such a brilliant idea that I decided to apply it to the topic of leadership. It just made sense to me that if you really want to know what makes a great leader, that the best thing to do is ask other great leaders and leadership experts for their opinions. Well that’s exactly what I did yesterday. I posted this on Twitter yesterday and asked for responses: Help write my next blog by finishing this sentence: Great leaders ___________.  The following answers are truly powerful and definitely worth taking note of…

  • Tony Hsieh (@zappos), CEO Zappos – Great leaders are obstacle removers.
  • John Baldoni (@johnbaldoni), leadership author, writer, speaker – Great leaders know their limitations and how to surround themselves with people who know more and can do more than they can do alone.
  • Mark Oakes (@MarkOOakes), CEO Intellimar – Great leaders shape a better tomorrow by laying the groundwork today.
  • Terry Starbucker, (@starbucker), renaissance man, passionate about leadership, social media, and all-around good guy – Great leaders never stop working to make their teammates better than themselves.
  • Bert Decker (@BertDecker), CEO Decker Communications, Chairman, Salvation Army Board- Great leaders speak!
  • Scott Mckain (@scottmckain), Hall of Fame Speaker & Best Selling author – Great leaders are humble.
  • Steve Roesler (@SteveRoesler),  leadership speaker/writer – Great leaders know what matters.
  • Phil Gerbyshak (@PhilGerb), speaker, author, brand coach  – Great leaders communicate clearly their expectations and ask probing questions to help all stay focused on the most important things.
  • Peter Mello (@PeterMello), Founder, weeklyleader.net – Great leaders serve.
  • Mike Henry Sr. (@mikehenrysr), Founder Lead Change Group – Great leaders inspire people to give excellent individual effort to achieve lasting team objectives.
  • Gary Schirr (@ProfessorGary), marketing professor and innovation expert – Great leaders are audacious and emerge in crises. Great leaders in non-crises are good leaders.
  • Rebel Brown (@rebelbrown), turnaround expert – Great leader LISTEN and ADAPT.
  • Wally Bock (@wallybock), author, writer, ghost writer – Great leaders touch base a lot.
  • Gwyn Teatro (@GwynT), leadership coach – Great leaders feed their egos only after everyone else has eaten.
  • Susan Mazza (@SusanMazza),  leadership coach – Great leaders stand for a possibility that matters for the long term and care about making a difference in the lives they touch on the journey.
  • Joan Koerber-Walker (@JKWleadership), innovation and leadership speaker – Great leaders listen, observe, and take action in a way that benefits others. Through their actions they inspire others to do the same.
  • Erin Schreyer (@eschreyer), leadership coach – Great leaders seek to inspire & understand as they equip and enable others to achieve greatness.
  • Elliot Ross (@elliotross), technology leadership and ITIL consultant- Great leaders ‘Care’ (all aspects) from people to business growth.
  • Stephen Bateman (@concentricdots), media executive – Great leaders inspire, inform and influence.
  • Lisa Petrilli (@LisaPetrilli) – Great leaders are passionate about the mission of their organization, magnetize others with a bold and inspiring vision, communicate clearly and with intent, & are as vested in their employees’ success as they are their own.
  • Randy Bosch (@RandyRules) – Great leaders are great servants, first and always.
  • Ed Piotrowski (@PiotrowskiEd) – Great leaders know when it is time to kick off their shoes, curl up by the fire and just “be”.
  • Jay Rhoderick (@BizProv) – Great leaders create leaders.
  • Julian Wood (@Ideas_Factory) – Great Leaders inspire others to be Great Leaders.
  • Alice MacGillivray (@4KM), Knowledge Management & Leadership Professional – Great leaders tolerate ambiguity; encourage diversity; can be anywhere in org; attend to boundary choices.
  • @WDYWFT – Great leaders are consistent, delegate the ‘ways’, but not the vision, know difference between influence & manipulation, have humor.
  • @arieliondotcom – Great leaders listen to, learn from, & love those they lead.
  • @justinvj – Great leaders produce great followers
  • @kmac4him – Great leaders are servants always.
  • @rmbrewer03 – Great leaders empathize…
  • @kengkaj_s – Great leader are men of democracy who never submit to injustice and dictatorship.

This just goes to show that there is tremendous value in a collective body of  work where people are competent and passionate in their beliefs. I apologize if I missed anyone, but if I did, or if you want to share other thoughts on what constitutes a great leader, please share them in the comments section below.

Leadership Interview – John Maxwell

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership Interview - John MaxwellFor those of you interested in the topic of leadership John Maxwell (@johncmaxwell – www.johnmaxwellonleadership.com) likely needs no introduction. John is probably one of the world’s best known and most respected authors and speakers on the subject of leadership. A New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week best-selling author, John has sold more than 18 million books. In fact, three of his books (The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader) have sold more than one million copies each. John is also the founder of EQUIP, a non-profit organization that has trained more than 5 million leaders in 126 countries worldwide. Rather than continue with his bio, I want to get on with the interview so that you can get up-close and personal with man behind the impressive credentials.

Mike Myatt: What was your first recollection of experiencing great leadership?
John Maxwell: Definitely in the home. My father is a great leader. He led our family well. He served our mother, which is the essence of effective leadership. And he led each of us kids differently. For my business-minded brother, he provided opportunities to connect with successful businessmen and develop his talent. With me, he knew I was going to be a pastor. So he often took me with him to hear especially gifted preachers. Many of them were kind enough to meet with me and even pray over me and my future calling.
Mike Myatt: Who had the most significant influence on shaping you as a leader?
John Maxwell: Well, aside from my father, I’d say one book really changed the way I looked at had leadership: Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders. That’s where I first read that leadership is influence. That insight changed my perspective on leadership and set the course for my career as a leader and teacher of leadership.
Mike Myatt: What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?
John Maxwell: I think it would have to be leaving the pastorate. I’ve always loved the church and believed in its mission. Pastoring the local church was my first calling. But later I began to sense that I was called to train leaders outside the walls of the local church.
As it happened, I served as senior pastor probably two years longer than I should have. After ten years of leading a church and an organization for leaders outside the church (essentially two full-time jobs), the workload took a toll on me. Even then, I didn’t want to leave. But it was a decision I eventually had to make.

Mike Myatt: What’s been most rewarding to you in your work in the leadership field?
John Maxwell: Seeing other leaders emerge and reach their potential. Nothing gives me greater joy than seeing a leader rise up and serve other people.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the primary role of a leader?
John Maxwell: Helping others succeed. If you take a trip up a mountain by yourself, you’re not a leader; you;re an achiever. A leader takes people somewhere. And they take the people not only where they want to go but also beyond where they believe they can go.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the single-biggest stumbling block for leaders?
John Maxwell: Thinking that their leadership is for themselves. Leadership by nature needs to be unselfish, to add value to others. Anytime a leader starts to think that the position, the influence, or the benefits are for them, they’ve got things upside-down.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest strength as a leader?
John Maxwell: Probably my ability to connect with people. All good leaders understand people, care about them, and know how to connect with them. You may meet a good connector who’s not a good leader, but you don’t really ever see a good leader who’s not a good connector.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest weakness as a leader?
John Maxwell: I believe so much in people that I’m unrealistic. There have been many times when I’ve thought I could help somebody get to the next level when maybe they didn’t even want to. I just have a real blind spot there, so much that I eventually got to the place where I was not the one hiring leaders. Because no matter what deficiency a potential staff member had, I thought, “Oh, I can help with that. I can help them be successful.”  That’s just not always true, because people have to want to change and grow.

Mike Myatt: Is it more difficult to be a leader today, why or why not?
John Maxwell: No. Leadership is leadership. It involves the same principles, no matter the time frame. Now, individual challenges can make things more or less difficult. But I think every era has opportunities for great leaders to emerge, and the great ones do. Pick any time in history, and you’ll find a challenge and a leader who rose up to take it on.

Mike Myatt: What’s the best and worst example of leadership you’ve observed in recent times?
John Maxwell: Let me give you two examples with the same person. Early in Barack Obama’s administration, he ran into problems with some Cabinet nominees who had failed to pay all of their taxes. After revelations about the third, Tom Daschle, Obama was quoted in interviews saying, “I screwed up. I’ve got to own up to my mistake.” It was very refreshing for me to see a leader – particularly a President in office – to say, “I own this.”
Now, look more recently to the same president, same administration. With this spring’s Gulf oil spill, I think Obama was too laissez faireat first. I don’t think he understood the magnitude of the problem and didn’t take a proactive enough approach. And so it soon grew to crisis proportions. This illustration just shows that no leader is immune. Every good leader makes some bad decisions. Likewise, every bad leader makes some good decisions.

Mike Myatt: What should leaders today be focused on with regard to the future?
John Maxwell: I think leaders always have to be looking forward at the vision. So that’s really a question for each individual leader. You can’t give one answer that works for all leaders because every leader has a unique vision and circumstances.
Whatever your leadership world is, you need to keep an eye on the vision. If you don’t see before other people do, and better than other people do, then perhaps you’re not really even the leader. Leaders are always connected to the vision. And then they connect the people to the vision.

Mike Myatt: If you could give our readers one piece of advice on leadership, what would that be?
John Maxwell: You never arrive. Leaders are learners. If you want to be a good leader, whether you’re just starting out or the CEO of an organization, do not have an arrival mindset. Always operate from the belief that you can always grow and get better as a leader and as a person. 

Mike Myatt: What’s next for John?
John Maxwell: More and more, I find myself speaking internationally. A little over 10 yrs ago, I started a nonprofit org called EQUIP, to focus on training leaders outside the United States. Because of EQUIP’s efforts, I’ve made more international connections. Last year, I taught in China twice, and I’m going back again this summer. I like to say that I’ve taught leadership on every continent except Antarctica. And I believe I’ll continue doing that. It’s a joy to train leaders here at home, but I find it especially rewarding in countries like China, where the people are so talented and so hungry to learn.

Conclusion: The thing that I’ve always admired about John’s work is that he has been able to authentically integrate his faith with his work in the field of leadership – this is a regrettably a rarity in today’s world. After reading this interview the real take away is that John is the antithesis of an aloof celebrity. He is warm, caring, engaging and truly passionate about the practice of leadership. If you enjoyed this interview, please leave a comment so that John has the opportunity to hear from you below…

Leadership Interview – Marshall Goldsmith

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

leadership Interview - Marshall GoldsmithI recently had the pleasure of spending about 40 minutes on the phone with Marshall Goldsmith (@coachgoldsmith) whom I consider to be one of the best executive coaches in the business. In fact, I hold Marshall in such high professional regard that he is one of only three other coaches that I’ll refer people to if I’m unable to meet their needs. Marshall has authored 30 books (most recently: What Got You Here Won’t Get You There and MOJO) as well as a plethora of other published material, and his services are in such high demand that his waiting list for new coaching clients has more than an 8 month backlog. Perhaps the best thing I can share with you about Marshall is that his candor, competency and experience are only equaled by his thoughtfulness and sincerity. On with the inteview… 

Mike Myatt: How would you describe your business and what do you do?

Marshall Goldsmith: I don’t specifically work in the area of strategy or leadership, but my work often affects those areas as what I do is help people change behavior. My business has 3 primary aspects: I write, speak and coach. I have spent my life studying people and have conducted exhaustive amounts of research which supports my belief that anyone is capable of changing if they have the intrinsic motivation to do so. I help people understand this and act upon it.

Mike Myatt: What if anything have you found to be a common misperception about the coaching industry?

Marshall Goldsmith: I have found that both clients and coaches can put too much faith in the coach. The role of a coach is very overrated and the role of the client very underrated. When either clients or coaches view the coach as the key to anything, it is an unhealthy relationship. Coaching is not about the coach – it’s about the client.

Mike Myatt: What’s the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?

Marshall Goldsmith: Not to be a leader. In all seriousness, I’ve made the conscious decision not to be a leader of people. I’m often regarded as a thought leader, but I don’t run an organization, and don’t have any desire to. They only job I ever had that I hated was being a Dean. I was thought of as a good Dean, but I didn’t like the job. Not everyone should be a leader.

Mike Myatt. How has social media changed your business, if at all?

Marshall Goldsmith: I could not possibly personally coach or speak to everybody who has an interest in my work. Social media expands my reach and influence and allows me help people I would not otherwise interact with in a meaningful fashion.

Mike Myatt: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your work in the leadership field?

Marshall Goldsmith: It has nothing little to do with awards, recognitions, books, etc., but everything to do with helping people. The most rewarding thing for me is always when I receive a message from a person that tells me that I’ve made a positive difference in their life.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the biggest stumbling block for leaders:

Marshall Goldsmith: One word – ego. A leader whose ego has begun to run astray suffers from what I refer to as the “halo effect,” meaning that they tend to overestimate the impact of their personal contributions. When you’re the boss your suggestions become orders, all your jokes are funny, and the higher you climb in an organization the more your ego gets stroked. This is a dangerous position for anyone who loses perspective.

Mike Myatt: We’ve both had the honor of being placed on a number of lists with regard to achievements in the leadership and coaching fields – What value do you place on these lists?

Marshall Goldsmith: It depends on the lists…some I’m particularly proud of, and others, while I appreciate the recognition I don’t take too seriously. It’s not the lists that matter, but the accomplishments that directly or indirectly result in your placement on such lists that count.

Mike Myatt: Can you cite any specific examples of individuals whom you believe constitute great examples of leadership?

Marshall Goldsmith: While I could offer many examples, three individuals come to mind: General (Ret.) Eric Shinseki, former Army Chief of Staff, Alan Mulally, CEO of the Ford Motor Company, and Frances Hesselbein, former CEO of the Girl Scouts. All three of these individuals have had a profound and positive impact on those individuals and organizations which they have led.

Mike Myatt: If you could offer any of our readers’ specific advice about leadership what would that be?

Marshall Goldsmith: Leadership is a contact sport and it’s often messy. The best thing a leader can do is to focus on making themselves a better human being. By learning to have balance, discipline and to become happy with the choices they make in life, they will become better leaders.

Mike Myatt: Do you think leadership is more difficult today than in times past?

Marshall Goldsmith: The principles of leadership haven’t changed much, but the world in which we apply them certainly has. Among the many things that make leadership more challenging today is the global market in which leaders must compete. The best example I can give you of how competitive things have become globally is that my daughter recently completed her PhD from an Ivy League school – out of 22 students she was the only one from the United States. This is an indication that things are only going to get tougher as we move forward.

More information on Marshall can be found by visiting his website. If you have any questions for Marshall, or if his work has helped you please let him know by leaving a comment below…

Leadership Interview – John Baldoni

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Leadership Interview - John BaldoniThere’s a lot of noise in the leadership space – in fact, there are so many coaches, experts, consultants, gurus, etc., professing leadership acumen and expertise that it can be tough to distinguish between the posers and the players. Over the next few days I’m going to sprinkle in three interviews with leadership professionals whom I hold in high esteem and regard: John Baldoni (@johnbaldoni), Marshall Goldsmith (@coachgoldsmith), and John C. Maxwell (@johncmaxwell). All three of these individuals are published authors, speakers, and advisors on the topic of leadership that have stood the test of time. In fact, while these three individuals wouldn’t necessarily refer to themselves as such, I believe it’s vey fair to call them thought leaders on the subject of leadership. First-up in this series is my interview with John Baldoni…Aside from John’s gifts for communicating and teaching principles of actionable leadership, what I hope you take away from this interview is how passionate he is about the topic of leadership, and the humble manner in which he expresses himself.

For those of you not familiar with John’s work, he has authored several books, the most recent of which is “Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managng Up.” John is internationally recognized for his work in the field of leadership and is listed as one of the world’s top 25 leadership experts. You can follow John on Twitter (@johnbaldoni) or visit his website for more information, to read his blog or watch his videos.

Some might wonder why I’d interview John as the general perception is likely that we are competitors. The truth of the matter is that while we conduct business in the same sector, share recognition on some of the same lists, and even write for some of the same publications, I view John as a peer and not a competitor. Put simply, this blog is about providing value to readers, and my job is to  expose readers interested in leadership to great leadership thinking. On with the interview…

Mike Myatt:  What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?

John Baldoni: Since I am by choice a solo entrepreneur, leadership decisions for me are personal. Deciding to remain independent, rather than join a firm or company was a difficult choice. It has been tempting and it’s flattering to be considered by other firms, but I have decided that what’s best for me is to pursue my career as an independent consultant.

Mike Myatt: What’s been most rewarding to you in your work in the leadership field?

John Baldoni: Helping men and women achieve positive results! I do this through my work as an executive coach, teaching as a leadership educator, and writing my columns and books. What keeps me going is when someone who’s read an article, heard a lecture, or allowed me to coach them tells me that they have learned something that has helped them become a more effective leader.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the primary role of a leader?

John Baldoni: Leaders do what the organization needs them to do. In good times, it’s a pleasure to grow and groom the organization. In tough times, it’s a hardship, often choosing between not good and bad choices, but two right choices. The role of leaders is to create followership and leaders do it by creating conditions for followers to succeed.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the single biggest stumbling block for leaders?

John Baldoni: Leaders are not perfect; they are living breathing human beings with clear faults. Leaders make mistakes, but leaders who succeed are right more often than wrong. But to me the greatest stumbling block is dealing with what you don’t know. It’s not what you know that keeps you awake; it’s what you don’t know that does.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest strength?

John Baldoni: At a recent speaking engagement I was introduced as a leadership expert who cares, really cares, about helping  people do their jobs better. That statement made me feel great and I’m quite certain I cannot top that.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest weakness?

John Baldoni: You asked us to keep our answers short so I don’t have time to delineate all my faults, but let me say one thing I work on is patience. Our leadership models are built upon action, getting things done. But sometimes you need to let things happen that requires patience, and so I am still learning.

Mike Myatt: Is it more difficult to be a leader today, why or why not?

John Baldoni: Every age presents its own challenges, but there are clearly some factors that are making it tough to lead organizations. One, our economic conditions are very tough. The economy is recovering, but jobs remain scarce so everyone needs to do more with less. Two, working globally stretches human abilities to adapt to different cultures and different situations. Three, time is compressed as never before due to 24/7 mindset. Get it done and get it done now is a real challenge that may not set up organizations for long term success.

Mike Myatt: What’s the best and worst example of leadership you’ve observed in recent times?

John Baldoni: I think we are seeing an epidemic of failure of accountability. Whether this absence of responsibility occurred in our financial meltdown, or is occurring now in the Gulf of Mexico, people in senior positions – and I would not call them leaders – are seeking to buck-pass responsibility. Senior executives whom we used to regard as sane and sober leaders are acting more like whining children as they seek to outdo each other by saying, “Not my fault!”

And the best example, that’s hard to say, but let me suffice to say that I see it – we all see it – everyday in the people around us. It’s school teachers who work extra hours to ensure their students succeed. It’s bosses who pass up a pay raise or a promotion so that someone on their team can stay on the payroll. It’s our community volunteers who help out in the neighborhood or go across the land to help another in his neighborhood. 

For an individual of note, I would have to select Father Greg Boyle of Home Boy Industries in Los Angeles. For more than two decades, Father Greg, a Jesuit priest, has been offering gang youths an opportunity to work and in the process discover an alternative to gang life. A truly extraordinary story of extraordinary leadership that provides common sense opportunities.

Mike Myatt: What should leaders today be focused on with regard to the future?

John Baldoni: Leaders need to encourage critical thinking. Ambiguity is the defining factor of our times. Scarcity of resources as well as need for renewable ones is challenging us to make new and different decisions. Global economics can determine survivability of neighborhood businesses.

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

John Baldoni: Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do. At the same time, realize what you don’t know and trust the people closest to you. And finally never be afraid to admit you are human, that is, capable of making a mistake.

Mike Myatt: What’s next for John?

John Baldoni: More coaching, more teaching, more writing!

Conclusion: Please leave a comment below for John if you have any questions or thoughts you’d like to share. Knowing John, he’ll be happy to respond to your questions so fire away…If you’re interested in reading other interviews please jump over to the interviews section of the blog.