Leadership and Broken Trust

Leadership and Broken Trust

Leadership and Broken Trust

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Over the years I’ve heard the following statement on more than a few occasions; “I don’t have to trust him/her, I just have to work with them.” My question is this; why would you want to work with someone you cannot trust? I never cease to be amazed at the great number of leaders who believe they can operate effectively in the absence of trust. Let me make this as clear as I can – you cannot build a culture of leadership where trust is not valued, respected, and required.

My advice on trust is rather simple – if you have someone on your team you don’t trust, find a way to develop trust or replace them with someone with whom you can establish trust. Trust is far too vital to the health of an organization to be trivialized. Trust is not a commodity. Trust is not something to be dismissed as useless or irrelevant. Trust is the cornerstone of leadership. Without trust being both extended and received, leaders, teams, and ultimately organizations will fail.

True wisdom is not fleeting, and therefore the proof of real wisdom is found in its ability to stand the test of time. The phrase “A house divided against itself cannot stand” is most commonly referred to as a quote from a speech given by Abraham Lincoln. However the statement dates back much further in time to words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. I make reference to this truism only to validate the importance of trust and alignment in the context of leadership and teamwork. Trust must be both implicitly and explicitly present for leadership to be effective and for teams to thrive. As the statement above proves, this concept has been known to be true for centuries.

Time for a reality check, and here’s where things get a little tougher – there are only a few certainties in life, and sadly, having the trust you’ve placed in someone be abused is one of them. Moreover, either intentionally or unintentionally we have all broken trust with others at some point in our lives. We know how it feels to be on both sides of the equation – betrayal hurts, it’s not fair, it can create bitterness and resentment, it has huge ripple effects, it can rock your world. All of this said, wise people learn from their own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. They especially use the most tragic of circumstances as teachable moments and learning opportunities. The issue isn’t whether or not you’ve made errors in judgment, or whether you’ve been wronged by others – we all have. The question is are you capable of doing the right thing so that you can learn, grow, develop, bridge gaps, and move foreword?

When it comes to the issue of broken trust there are really only three options: 1.) Repair it – understand why a breach occurred, find common ground, and gain/give assurances it won’t happen again; 2.) decide to live with a fractured relationship where trust is absent, or: 3.) decide to end the relationship. Leadership isn’t about being right, it’s about doing the right thing. Where this concept really gets put to the test is after YOU have made a mistake. I’ve always said the true test of a leader is what he/she does in the moments immediately after they realize they are wrong.

We need to keep in mind that all people make mistakes, and that mistakes alone don’t necessarily make you evil, they just make you human. That said, human nature is to be much quicker with forgiving ourselves than forgiving others. I’m not suggesting leaders should forgive all mistakes, but if leaders forgive no mistakes then people will cease taking risks, they won’t give their real opinions, and eventually they’ll stop making decisions. Be a leader who leads – not one who governs by creating a culture of fear.

While it is much easier to avoid disaster than it is to recover from it, perhaps the most important lesson is it’s not the mistake you make, but what you do with your life after the fact – will your mistakes define you as a failure and disgrace, or will they serve as the impetus to correct your thinking and actions such that you redefine yourself to become a better and more trustworthy human being? Don’t fear mistakes – fear not having the courage to make them. Leaders should be far more concerned with being wrong than they are being proven wrong.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on today’s post by leaving a comment below.

Why Influence Matters

Why Influence Matters

Why Influence Matters

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Leadership without influence – isn’t. In fact, understanding how to leverage the influence factor can make a defining difference in your ability to drive change, build cohesive teams, and to successfully implement strategic vision. As a CEO or entrepreneur your “Influence Quotient” is the IQ you need to pay attention to, as it will be a much greater determinant of your ultimate success than your “Intelligence Quotient” could ever be. Innate, raw intelligence while certainly something to be prized, is much more common and much less powerful than real influence. In today’s post I’ll examine the often misunderstood value of influence…

Let me be clear; when I mention influence I’m not referring to manipulation, elaborate schemes, or other forms of skulduggery. Ill-gotten gains will always be exposed for what they are, and moreover, they will never be worth the compromises that were made in order to achieve them. Not only is true influence much easier to acquire, but it is also sustainable. Put simply, true influence is nothing more than understanding how to work with and through others to achieve a stated objective while staying true to your core values and maintaining your integrity. The following fundamental concepts of influence, which if properly understood and implemented, can help anyone become more efficient, productive and successful:

1. Influence is built upon a foundation of trust: If a person is not trusted there is a firm limit on their ability to create and use influence. People will rarely make a leap of faith for someone who hasn’t earned their trust. However most people will gladly take a blind leap of faith for someone whom they have come to trust. Trust Matters….

2. Influence is built upon making others successful: This is often times referred to as the law of reciprocity – if you invest yourself in making someone else successful then they in turn will likely be predisposed to helping you become successful. I prefer to think of it as service. Care for the interests of those you lead and they’ll care for your interests. While this principle will not always pan out, in my experience it has held true across the overwhelming majority of my interactions through the years. True influence is rarely built upon the backs of others, but rather by serving others and helping them achieve their goals.

3. Likability: People do business with people they like, and avoid doing business with people they don’t like – it’s just that simple. Are you approachable, positive, affable, trustworthy, a person of character and integrity, or are you someone who is standoffish, pessimistic and generally not to be trusted? Those the fall into the camp of the former as opposed to the latter will find themselves having more influence and success. Let me be blunt – don’t be a jerk.

4. Influence is wielded through helping others maintain commitments: Professionals respect other professionals who keep their commitments. In the business world you are most often judged on your ability to keep your word and deliver on your promises. The key behind influencing people via commitment lies in your ability to have people adopt an initial position that is consistent with a behavior, such that they are willing to agree to requests that are consistent with their prior commitment. People desire to be perceived as dependable, reliable and successful, and will normally go to great lengths not to have their track-record or reputation tarnished. Gain strong commitments early on, and then simply hold people to their commitments. This ultimately helps them enhance their reputation for delivering on promises made.

5. Influence is most often possessed by those with authority: It is important to realize that there is a reason for the statement “the highest authority is that which is given, and rarely that which is taken.” Authority is most often given to those that display honesty, competency, expertise and wisdom. With authority comes credibility, and with credibility comes influence. While influence can be wielded by those without authority, it will be limited in both scope and scale. Those with the most authority will always have the most influence.

6. Value and scarcity drive influence – to a point: Understanding the value of your position, brand, authority, resources, access to people or knowledge, and any number of other items as it relates to fulfilling the needs and desires of others creates influence. To the extent anything under your charge is scarce or proprietary your ability to create influence will increase significantly. However it is important to note you can cross over to the dark side and actually lose influence if you attempt to hoard scarce resources as opposed to share them. The creation of silos, having a protectionist mentality, or simply not being willing to share knowledge is more about control and power than leadership – it undermines your ability use influence in a positive light.

Bottom line…Don’t manipulate for personal gain, rather facilitate for mutual benefit. Take a sincere interest in the success of others, work on your likability factor, become adept at gaining commitment, develop your authority, and have access to things of value or scarcity and your influence with others will increase.



Managing The Board – 10 Things Every CEO Should Know

Managing The Board – 10 Things Every CEO Should Know

Managing The Board – 10 Things Every CEO Should Know

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

I’ve yet to meet a CEO who at some point in time hasn’t been frustrated by their board – it goes with the territory. That said, it should be the exception, and not the rule. Ultimately, chief executives deserve the board relationships they develop. As a CEO, your board can be one of your greatest allies. Conversely, and just as easily, they can be a significant contributor to your undoing resulting in an early and unnecessary demise. In today’s post I’ll share 10 tips to help develop a skill set all successful CEOs excel at—managing board relations.

What’s interesting to me is that of all the constituencies CEOs must deal with, the relationship with a board of directors is among the easiest to manage, and the most valuable. So why do so many CEOs blow it when it comes to managing their board? From my perspective, CEOs who fail in their attempts to coalesce with the board usually do so as a result of being either arrogant or naive. The odd thing is, whether through arrogance or ignorance, the results are often the same. These misguided CEOs often just ignore the board as if they didn’t even exist until they see a board meeting scheduled, or receive an angry phone call or e-mail.

The simple truth of the matter is savvy CEOs see their board as a strategic asset, and not a liability to be avoided. The following 10 tips will help you become skilled at managing board relations by lessening your burdens, extending your shelf-life, and improving your performance:

1. Understand the Landscape: 
Regardless of composition, your board is likely made up of successful and influential people. As such, they make better friends than adversaries. Remember that no one likes to be publicly embarrassed, and that your statements, actions and overall performance are an indirect reflection on the personal brands and professional reputations of your board members.

If you inherit your board, seek to build strong relationships as quickly as possible. If you find yourself in the enviable position of being able to drive the selection process for your board—choose wisely. If you find that you have strong opposition that cannot be managed or improved, do everything possible to have them removed/replaced before they do the same to you.

Board members have egos, and will go to great lengths to help you if they perceive you respect and value their position. Likewise, they will seek to undermine your efforts by creating substantial barriers and obstacles for you if you choose to trivialize them.

2. Board Composition:
First rule of board management—avoid conflicts of interest. All board members should meet director independence standards and not subject themselves, their company or your company to unnecessary risk

While race/gender diversity mandates are drivers in today’s selection process, the diversity drivers you should be paying attention to are thought diversity, industry diversity, skill diversity and experience diversity. Selecting a board that challenges your thinking, and makes you a better chief executive, is more important than having a rubber-stamp board that adds little value.

Length of board term should also be considered when appointing new members, as you don’t want to be wed to a board member for a long-term commitment only to find out early in the relationship the member is not a good fit (see succession below).

Lastly, when developing board committees, I would recommend forming a minimum of the following: audit committee, executive committee, investment committee, nominating and governance committee, and organization and compensation committee.

3. Boards Must Be Led:
As I noted above, CEOs deserve the boards they develop – a failure to lead at any level, especially at the board level, will have significant negative consequences. The concept of “tone from the top” doesn’t just apply to employees. Just as chief executives must align expectations with their employees, they must also do so with the board. Smart CEOs develop a framework and platform from which to effectively lead the board.

Just as boards hold the CEO accountable to a set of standards and behaviors, the CEO must require the same of their board. The CEO must clearly communicate what they need from board members and then demand they do more than just show up for the meetings. CEOs that allow board sessions to devolve into gripe sessions as opposed to

4. Be Proactive:
The number one rule of board management is not to hold the meeting at the board meeting. Put another way, the meeting never happens at the meeting. As the CEO, your role in board management is that of leader, executive, fiduciary, lobbyist and evangelist. As such, it would behoove of you to have individual phone calls or meetings with board members in advance of the actual board meeting to seek their input and advice.

Also make sure to get a draft of the board deck out to the lead director or key committee chairs well in advance of the meeting creating another opportunity for feedback and input. Use these proactive encounters to flesh out, and seek alignment on, key issues and positions.

Never reserve bad news for the actual board meeting, but rather air it out well in advance. If you’re going to get beat up by your board, it’s better to have it happen in private rather than on center stage where the beating can not only be more severe, but where the results may also be recorded in the minutes. Never hold a board meeting when you don’t know where your board stands on key issues in advance. An unprepared CEO is a CEO who will not endure the test of time.

5. The Agenda:
Make sure the agenda isn’t too crowded, and that there is sufficient committee and session time available to cover needed ground. Most board meetings don’t lend themselves to being held over the course of a single day. I would suggest have committee meetings on day one, a board dinner the evening of day one, and executive sessions on day two. Having a high powered board of directors does little good if you don’t give yourself the time to peel back the layers of critical issues. 

6. Display Backbone:
Smart CEOs respect their board—that said, they will not allow themselves to be run over by the board, or to allow board meetings to turn into the meeting into little more than glorified gripe sessions. The board’s role is one of governance not management, and sometimes it’s necessary to remind them of that fact. Don’t go to the mat over insignificant issues. Be willing to compromise where prudent, but you’ll also need to stand your ground and successfully make your case on mission-critical issues.

CEOs who make a habit of too easily acquiescing to the board have in essence surrendered to the board. They will have lost the respect of the board and will have rendered themselves ineffective as CEO.

7. Manage the Trickle-down:
Remember that what happens in the board room rarely stays in the board room. VC, private equity or other investor directors leave your board meeting only to make a report on their observations. Non-investor board members will usually discuss the goings on of your board meetings as well.

If you conduct yourself professionally and respect your board’s ability to add value, the down-stream communications that follow your meeting will advance your cause as opposed to undermine it.

8. The Environment:
What should be obvious, but what is often overlooked, is the importance of having your board members look forward to the meeting. In other words, make the meeting meaningful, productive and if possible enjoyable. If your board members dread attending your meeting, they will be predisposed to show up with a bad attitude. Bad attitudes bring out the worst in people, and that is not what you want waiting for you when you arrive at the meeting.

Don’t bore your members with meaningless drivel or worthless presentations. Rather be crisp in your delivery and be specific about the issues at hand. Feed them, make them comfortable, ensure they don’t feel their time was wasted, or that they didn’t have the opportunity to be heard—have them leave looking forward to the next meeting.

9. Set the Chinning Bar High:
While rogue CEOs have received most of the media attention in recent history, don’t fool yourself into thinking that rogue board members don’t exist as well.

Remember that all board members are obligated to make decisions in the best interests of the company. Moreover, personally motivated decisions that speak of self-dealing will eventually come out into public view and will be dealt with harshly.

Make sure all board members share a commonality of values and vision where possible, and hold them accountable to make decisions in alignment with the fiduciary obligation they assumed when they accepted the board seat.

10. Succession:
Many studies show succession as a major issue of importance for boards, yet in most surveys, often more than 50% of companies feel dissatisfied with present succession practices/positioning. The board should make great effort to ensure continuity and succession is a primary focus, roles of the incoming and outgoing CEO are clearly defined and understood, and that transitions at both the operating and board level serve to advance the succession, not impede it. There should also be succession planning as it relates to board members as well – board member for life is not acceptable.

Bonus – Board Development:
Regrettably, many CEOs believe their investment into the board begins and ends with compensation – big mistake. I’ve always said you cannot have a growing and developing enterprise when leadership fails to invest in growing and developing itself. This applies to both executive and non-executive leadership. An investment into board development simply means the board will be better equipped to excel in the performance of their governance function, as well as to develop their ability to challenge and stretch your thinking.

Please use the comments section below to share any other tips for working more effectively with the board. Thoughts?

Unleadership – A Crisis of Identity

Unleadership A Crisis of Identity

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

The most popular piece I authored last year was a column I wrote for Forbes on the art and science of what I refer to as pursuitology. As of this writing it had been read more than 260,000 times, had more than 5,000 Facebook shares, and more than 3,000 ReTweets – it clearly struck a chord with the leadership community. As I thought about why this short article resonated so strongly with readers, it occurred to me I had awakened people to a simple, yet very powerful realization…

The realization is this – many of today’s leaders are suffering from an identity crisis.  The magnitude of this crisis can range from a distorted, diluted, destructive, and in some cases deranged form of what they inaccurately define as leadership. Society has allowed the practice of leadership to be commoditized, which has made it all too common for non-leaders to assume leadership positions thus continuing the devolution of leadership as a practice.

When we devalue the worth of leadership, it only follows many people will in turn devalue their worth as a leader. Many leaders today simply do not understand what leadership is, which is precisely why we find ourselves in a crisis of leadership. I would suggest much of what we view today being represented as leadership is actually unleadership – a cheap imitation of the real thing by those who are role playing, but clearly are not leading.

The following is an excerpt from my book Leadership Matters: “…Why does all this matter? Because leadership matters – whether through malice or naiveté, 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.”

When leaders become lost and confused, it doesn’t just impact them – it creates a ripple effect through an organization with a destructive force much more closely resembling a tsunami. Leadership isn’t about maximizing a W-2, and it’s not about personal glory or media attention. Put simply, true leadership isn’t about the leader.

Leadership is more than a title; it’s a privilege and therefore a burden of the highest responsibility. Nothing is more dangerous than a leader who loses sight of their real purpose – to serve something greater than themselves. Leadership is about qualities that recognize others while bringing out the best in them. Leadership cannot flourish with small minds, thinking about small things, in small ways.

So, what is real leadership? Leadership is about giving credit not taking it, breaking down barriers not building them, destroying bureaucracies not creating them, bridging positional and philosophical gaps not setting boundaries, thinking big and acting bigger, being able to focus on short-term objectives without losing sight of long-term value, not focusing on the volume of outputs but the impact of said outputs, surrender not control, and most of all, leadership is about truly caring for those whom you serve.

My challenge to those “playing leadership” is to abandon the practice of unleadership. I encourage you to stop contributing to the crisis of leadership and instead begin contributing to a culture of leadership. Invest in your development, build into others, don’t tolerate the status quo, and inspire greatness. When it comes to leadership, it’s not enough to be all you can be, you must focus on helping others become all that they can be.


Related Post: Leadership – What’s Next

Leadership and Surrender

Leadership and Surrender

Leadership and Surrender

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

You’ll rarely encounter the words leadership and surrender used together in complementary fashion. Society has labeled surrender as a sign of leadership weakness, when in fact, it can be among the greatest of leadership strengths. Let me be clear, I’m not encouraging giving in or giving up – I am suggesting you learn the ever so subtle art of letting go. A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control. Here’s the thing – the purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Surrender allows a leader to get out of their own way and focus on adding value to those whom they serve.

If you’re still not convinced the art of leadership is learning the focus point should be on surrender not control, consider this: control restricts potential, limits initiative, and inhibits talent. Surrender fosters collaboration, encourages innovation and enables possibility. Controlling leaders create bottlenecks rather than increase throughput. They signal a lack of trust and confidence an often come across as insensitive if not arrogant. When you experience weak teams, micro-management, frequent turf wars, high stress, operational strain, and a culture of fear, you are experiencing what control has to offer – not very attractive is it?

Surrender allows the savvy leader to serve where control demands the ego-centric leader be served. Surrender allows leadership to scale and a culture of leadership to be established. Surrender prefers loose collaborative networks over rigid hierarchical structures allowing information to be more readily shared and distributed. Leaders who understand surrender think community, ecosystem, and culture – not org chart. Surrender is what not only allows the dots to be connected, but it’s what allows to dots to be multiplied. Controlling leaders operate in a world of addition and subtraction, while the calculus of a leader who understands surrender is built on exponential multiplication.

I have found those who embrace control are simply attempting to consolidate power, while those who practice surrender are facilitating the distribution of authority. When what you seek is to build into others more than glorifying self you have developed a level of leadership maturity that values surrender over control. Surrender is the mindset which creates the desire for leaders to give credit rather than take it, to prefer hearing over being heard, to dialogue instead of monologue, to have an open mind over a closed mind, to value unlearning as much as learning. Control messages selfishness, while surrender conveys selflessness – which is more important to you?

Keep this in mind – we all surrender, but not all surrender is honorable. Some surrender to their ego, to the wrong priorities, or to other distractive habits. Others surrender to the positive realization they are not the center of the universe – they surrender to something beyond themselves in order to accomplish more for others. Bottom line – what you do or don’t surrender to will define you. Assuming you surrender to the right things, surrender is not a sign of leadership weakness, but is perhaps the ultimate sign of leadership confidence. I’ll leave you with this quote from William Booth: “The greatness of a mans power is the measure of his surrender.”


Tone Deaf Leadership

Tone Deaf Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

You’ll rarely come across successful leaders who have a tin ear. The best leaders are tuned in to the emotional needs of those whom they serve.  They engage, they listen, they empathize, and they acknowledge. They treat you as a colleague not a subordinate. They seek to understand not direct. They are the not tone deaf – they are relevant because they show they care. Are you guilty of having a failure to communicate? Here’s the thing – who cares if you possess excellent communication skills if you don’t use them properly. It simply does no good to listen if you don’t hear, or hear if you don’t understand. If your engagement isn’t advancing your vision, developing your team, or otherwise adding value to your stakeholders, then I would suggest your well honed skills are not as refined as you may think. In today’s post I want to address an often overlooked aspect of communications, which if not well understood, can render even the most articulate leaders ineffective – being tone deaf.

When it comes to communications, it’s not just a matter of if you send a message that determines whether it’s received, but rather how, when and why you send it that matters. I don’t know about you, but I’ve come across many a leader who just can’t seem to put the communications puzzle together – for whatever reason they don’t get it. They choose the wrong medium for their message, they appoint the wrong proxy to deliver a message they should have communicated in person, they communicate too infrequently, or my personal pet peeve, they bombard you by communicating far too often with disjointed messages that serve to confuse rather than to clarify – they are tone deaf.

In other posts I’ve pointed out that it is simply not possible to be a great leader without being a great communicator. This partially accounts for why we don’t encounter great leadership more often. The bottom line is that few things are as important when it comes to leadership as clear, crisp, on-point, and on-time communications. The big miss for most leaders is that they fail to understand that the purpose of communication is not to message, but to engage. It’s not about being efficient, it’s about making others more effective. It’s about focusing on understanding the needs of others.

Put simply, leaders need to figure out the communications rhythms, patterns and preferences of those they engage with. Leaders must learn to meet their constituents where they are in the manner most likely to add value to their world. The outcome of this should be obvious – improve the world of your stakeholders and your world gets better as well. Focus on the following three points and you’ll find that communications, morale and performance will all improve:

  • Engage: Good communications are bi-directional. Don’t speak at or to someone – speak with them. Don’t monologue – dialog. While one way communications might make you feel better initially, they only serve to frustrate those on the receiving end of your messaging. Keep in mind that when the negative impact of your poor communications are felt down the road, the damage will far outweigh the initial ego boost you received from giving your monologue.
  • Relevance: I’m always amazed at those who believe just because something matters to them, it must matter to others. Remember that just because you have something to say doesn’t necessarily mean other people want to hear it.  Furthermore, just increasing the volume or frequency of the message doesn’t make it any more relevant. When a message isn’t sticking, smart leaders don’t raise the volume of the rhetoric – they improve the quality of the message.
  • Pacing: It’s important to understand not everyone communicates at the same pace – frequency matters. Again, this isn’t easy, but it’s well worth the time to figure out. Some people simply require, and are deserving of, more frequent interactions. Likewise others thrive on less frequent engagement. Some do well receiving information in group settings, while others require one-on-one time. Moreover, everyone has their technology preferences that need to be figured into the equation as well. The important take away here is that it’s YOUR JOB to figure all of this out.
  • Timing: Like pacing, it’s also important for leaders to understand that timing matters. Just because you have something to say doesn’t mean someone is ready or willing to listen. One of the most important things a leader can do is to demonstrate respect for the time of others. Other than in the case of an emergency, interruption is never a good foundation for delivering a message. Whether you’re communicating to an audience of one or many, once said audience realizes that you understand their needs and respect their time your message will be much more openly received.
  • Medium: I don’t really care about my communications preferences, I care about how well my communication is received. I use virtually every communications medium available to me to make sure I meet the needs of my stakeholders. I text, IM, email, phone, tweet, facebook, blog, use video, and yes, my preference is to go old-school and get face-to-face when possible. I do these things not based upon what works for me, but what works for others. As a result of this I have learned to make these things work for me. Let me be as clear as I can – a leader who fails to meet the needs of the stakeholders will soon be replaced by a leader who does.

Bottom line…even though what I’ve espoused above might seem trivial to some leaders, if you truly engage with people in a meaningful way, and in the manner most effective for them, it will be well worth the investment.

Thoughts?  Please share them in the comments section below, but only if that works for you – if not, there are lots of other ways to reach me…