Leadership and Self-Awareness

Leadership and Self-Awareness

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Leader Beware – ignorant bliss, no matter how enjoyable, is still ignorant. If you’re in a position of leadership and don’t feel you have any blind spots, you’re either very naïve or very arrogant. All leaders have blind spots – the question is what are they doing about them? The reality is most leaders invest so much time assessing the cultural and functional dynamics of their organizations they often forget the importance of critically assessing themselves – big mistake.

I’ve never understood leaders who make heavy investments in personal and professional development early in their careers, who then go on to make only minimal investments in learning once they have reached the C-suite. Learning and development are lifelong endeavors. The learning journey doesn’t come to an end just because you reach a certain station in life – or at least it shouldn’t. It has consistently been my experience that leaders who are not growing simply cannot lead growing organizations. Moreover, leaders who fail to continue developing will always be replaced by those who do. A leader who fails to understand the value of self-awareness fails to understand their own true potential as a leader.

It’s at the C-suite level an executive must be on top of his/her game as they have the broadest sphere of influence, the largest ability to impact a business, and they also now have the most at risk. It is at this place the leader should make the heaviest investment in refining their game, because increased performance will pay the biggest dividends. Let me be as clear as I can – the more responsibility a leader has, the bigger their obligation to be on the forward edge of learning, growth and development.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates had a few guiding principles that today’s leaders would do well to adopt: Socrates said, “Know Thyself” and “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Those leaders who actively pursue gaining a better understanding of themselves will not only reduce their number of blind spots, but they’ll also find developing a sense of awareness is the key to increasing emotional intelligence. The better you know yourself the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll relate to others.

Following are 5 things all leaders should embrace if they desire to be more self-aware:

  1. Never Stop Learning: I read an article last week in Chief Executive Magazine profiling 6 leadership lessons from Mark Zuckerberg. Lesson #1 was: “Make your own development a priority - Zuckerberg knew he needed to be a leader (and not just a tech guy) if Facebook was going to go anywhere, so he hired an executive coach to learn management and leadership skills.” If top CEOs, Billionaires, leading scholars, and others who have reached the pinnacle of their profession can continue to invest in themselves, then so should you.
  2. Context Matters: Just as life is not static, neither is the environment you work in. Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The best leaders apply their craft contextually based upon the needs of those whom they serve. If you don’t know how to nuance your leadership skills you will simply miss opportunities others won’t.
  3. Be Kind: People go out of their way to help those whom they like. Likewise most people won’t lift a finger to help those they don’t care for. Smart leaders are purposed to build into those they lead. They understand leadership success is found by ensuring those whom they lead are better off for being led by them. Mean, arrogant, or belittling behavior may feed your ego, but it doesn’t serve your best interests as a leader.
  4. Surrender: 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. Forget span of control and think span of influence.
  5. Begin the Process of Unlearning: Just as important as learning, so is shedding the emotional and intellectual baggage trapping you in the past. Human nature causes most of us to hold onto wrong, unhealthy, or outdated ideas, concepts, thoughts, feelings or practices. The fastest way to become more self-aware is to challenge your own logic. If you’re really serious about finding the flaws in your thinking, ask others to help you identify gaps or faults, and then listen very carefully to what they share with you.

Becoming self-aware isn’t difficult, but it will be hard in the beginning. Becoming self-aware requires you to place humility above hubris, and to place a higher value on truth than you do on your ability to rationalize and justify your thinking. I’d encourage you to stay the course as few things of value come easily. Thoughts?

Why the “F” Bomb Shouldn’t Be Dropped

Why the “F” Bomb Shouldn’t Be Dropped

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

I recently read an interesting article on The Wall Street Journal discussing the use of colorful language in business settings. It prompted me to re-post an earlier piece I authored on the same subject. While both perspectives cover some of the same ground, the article in The Journal hedges a bit too much for my taste. You’ll find my piece a bit more direct and firm in expressing there is NEVER a good time to drop the F-bomb.

Okay, I know business is far less formal today than in times past. I understand many people are more tolerant of colorful language than they used to be. In fact, some even encourage the use of profanity as a means of being true to one’s authentic self. Case in point – The Journal article stated: “Deployed at the right moment and in the right setting, a well-chosen curse word can motivate a team, dissolve tension or win over an audience.” If you can’t motivate a team, dissolve tension or win over an audience without cursing, then I would suggest your toolbox might be a bit light. Call me old school if you will, but I don’t buy any of the aforementioned arguments as legitimate in supporting the use of indiscreet, inappropriate, and unprofessional language.

Before I go any further, let me state for the record that I’m not a prude, nor am I a mama’s boy. I’ve traveled the world (23 countries and counting), spent years in athletic locker rooms, served in the military, and have been in my fair share of interesting places. I’m also not going to come at this topic by presenting a religious argument, or from the perspective of academic elitism. That said, I am going to tell you what I think of the value of possessing a great vocabulary. Moreover, I will comment on what I believe to be appropriate and inappropriate use of speech, and I’ll do it all without pulling any punches.

While today’s rant has been brewing for quite some time, the following thoughts spawned from the regretfully sad reality there is virtually no public place you can venture into without being subjected to someone’s total lack of verbal courtesy. If that isn’t bad enough, the use of vulgarity has pervaded the business world to the extent you’re hard pressed to get through the day without having to deal with it in some form or fashion. As a leader, is this acceptable to you? It is not to me.

I recently viewed a YouTube video of a very highly regarded speaker, and simply could not believe the presentation was so heavily laced with profanity. The powerful message being espoused was only weakened by the sloppy and offensive language that was so unnecessarily inserted. It’s been my experience the best leaders and professionals have no need for the use of profanity. Here’s a thought…a leader should strive to inspire, motivate and challenge others to a better and greater end, but never should a leader dilute their message to the lowest common denominator.

Stop for a moment and consider this – even if you don’t feel the use of profanity is offensive, I guarantee you someone within earshot definitely does. So my question is this: is it more important to you to exercise your personal discretion (indiscretion??), or to exercise consideration for others? Here’s the cold hard truth – if you think your profanity isn’t offending anyone, you’re just plain wrong. It’s not a matter of whether or not I can handle it, because trust me when I tell you I’ve heard it all before, but why should my wife, daughter, mother, etc. have to endure it?

Does profanity even bother you in the slightest, or have you become so desensitized you don’t even notice what I’ve just described as being true? In this author’s humble opinion, there is absolutely no value whatsoever in coloring your verbal communications with expletives. As noted above I’ve seen a lot in my life, and experience has shown me the use of profanity typically boils down to an individual being guilty of having one or more of the following flaws:

  1. Lack of Intelligence: The English language offers us the choice of so many wonderful adjectives, analogies, abilities to paint word pictures and to use a variety of other descriptors, such that there is no need to substitute with expletives. The insertion of a four letter word for “emphasis” usually only points out the speaker lacks command of his/her vocabulary. Nothing flashes “stupid” like the use of profanity. Don’t make the mistake of appearing to be uneducated if you’re not.
  2. Laziness: We have all met bright people who swear. This usually means they either think they’re smarter than everyone else so people will put up with their use of profanity, or they have just fallen into a rut and are too lazy to work on improving their verbal communication skills. Either scenario is a negative label professionals should not desire to be tagged with.
  3. Poor Anger Management: People who are not quick on their feet, or do not possess adequate conflict resolution skills, often revert to profanity as a safety net of sorts. If all else fails, people who fall into this category resort to attempting to intimidate the other party with the use of profanity (see # 4 below). People identified as having anger management issues typically don’t reach their full potential without learning better skills. If you would rather spend your career advancing in the ranks, as opposed to spending time in counseling or coaching sessions, lose the profanity.
  4. Insecurity: People who lack confidence in themselves and/or their abilities often try to bolster other people’s perception of them by using off-color language as an attempt to feign strength and power. Here’s a tip…it doesn’t work. Profanity won’t intimidate anyone (at least not any worthy opponent), and will likely only lessen your image with the audience you are so desperately trying to impress.
  5. Socially Inappropriate Behavior: The show off, ego-maniac, substance abuser, the female trying to be “one of the boys” or the wannabe comedian are all examples of socially inappropriate behavior, which often times results in the use of profanity. Nobody likes a show-off, substance abuse is never a good thing, most people don’t find it appealing to associate with women who curse like the proverbial drunken sailor, and inappropriate jokes are more likely to get you a sexual harassment charge than a laugh. Even if you do elicit a brief chortle from your audience, they will likely not be left with the impression you were hoping for. Here’s a Myattism for you: “when in doubt, remember vulgarity doesn’t add value.”

Bottom line…few things make an impact, or lack thereof, like the words you allow to flow from your lips. Regardless of your station in life, vocabulary absolutely matters…It matters to an even greater degree for those in positions of leadership. I welcome your comments below, but remember that I’ll only publish those comments written without the use of expletives…

Creating a Leadership Movement

Creating a Leadership Movement

Creating a Leadership Movement

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Every so often a time arrives where society reaches a crossroads – where the situation and/or circumstance so obviously demands change that a populist mandate – a “movement” takes place. I would submit we find ourselves at just such a crossroads today. We are in a crisis of leadership, and our world is suffering greatly at the hands of people who confuse their desire for an ego boost, their quest for power, and their thirst for greed with leadership. It’s time to say enough is enough – it’s time for a leadership movement.

Movements are nothing new. Some movements have been evolutionary, while others have been revolutionary. Some have been misguided or misunderstood and have been short-lived, while others have taken deep root and changed the world for better. I’m afraid we’ve reached a place in history where if we don’t draw a line in the sand and say we will no longer tolerate personal exploits as a poor excuse for leadership we may be too late. Is this an overreaction? I think not. It’s not too difficult to make the case that leadership has devolved rather than evolved. If you pay even casual attention to the media and world events, it would appear those serving a personal agenda greatly outnumber those serving something greater than themselves. Here’s the thing – we’ll never all agree on what leadership is, or is not, but I think most reasonable people will concur it’s time for a change.

Why does all this matter? Because leadership matters…Whether through malice or naivete, those who abuse or tolerate the abuse 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.

It’s time for a leadership movement that values engagement, open dialog, and candid discourse above personal gain. A movement is a cause greater than one’s self – it’s a populist groundswell rather than an elitist academic exercise. A movement is intentional, impassioned and biased toward action. A movement requires a vision that’s inclusive, collaborative, and has an orientation toward service. Most of all, a movement requires people committed to change.

It’s time for less talk and more action. Leadership is not about the power and the accolades bestowed upon the leader, it’s about the betterment of those whom the leader serves. At its essence, leadership is about people. At its core, leadership is about improving the status quo, and inspiring the creation of positive change. As long as positional and philosophical arguments are more important than forward progress, as long as being right is esteemed above being vulnerable and open to new thought, as long as ego is elevated above empathy and compassion, as long as rhetoric holds more value than performance, and as long as we tolerate these things as acceptable behavior we will all suffer at the hands of poor leadership.

So, what’s next? I recently received a message from Steve Farber (@stevefarber) asking me to sign a petition committing to embrace what he referred to as “Extreme Leadership“. I respect Steve as a leader, and this petition resonated with me at a philosophical level – I signed it. But I must admit I was left wondering what’s next? What happens after the signature? Knowing Steve, I’m sure he has plans to turn platitudes into action, to rally those who want to make a difference into actually making a difference. However it all begins with a first step. I would encourage you to sign Steve’s petition.

Moreover, I’d encourage you to start making personal and professional changes. It’s time to dispense with the trivial, and begin majoring in the majors. We must bring the best leadership minds together – I’m not talking about like-minded thinkers, but big thinkers – deep thinkers, open to challenging what is considered “normal” with the goal of shattering outdated thinking. We must dialog and debate, but most of all, we must listen, learn and act. We must focus on what’s wrong with leadership and fix it. I’d ask you to become a better leader and awaken those around you to the dire need we have for a movement of leadership. This is where we start.

Thoughts?

Is Blogging Dead?

Is Blogging Dead?

Is Blogging Dead?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

I read an interesting article in Inc. Magazine entitled “Where Have All the Bloggers Gone?” If you read this article it would lead you to believe blogging is in decline and on it’s way out as a marketing tool. The article cites a study from the University of Massachusetts in which the respondents (170 executives from Inc. 500 companies) indicated the use of blogging was down 13% from the prior year. Before you draw the conclusion blogging is dead, you might want to read the text that follows…

Don’t Believe Everything You Read – Especially When It’s Labeled As Research
Research has it’s place, but only as it applies to credible research. Here’s the thing – just because a university, trade association, company, professor, etc., publishes something as research doesn’t mean it’s credible (read Not All Research is Valid). The Inc. article does offer some balanced viewpoints, but my fear is the tenor of the piece may create a negative bias in the minds of readers.  The statistics quoted from the University of Massachusetts study infer because blogging is in decline amongst a small sample group, therefore blogging must be on its way out. This is simply flawed logic based upon a lack of understanding about what’s really influencing the decline.

The Truth About Blogging
Despite opinions to the contrary, blogging isn’t dead; it’s just starting to get interesting. Microblogging (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) doesn’t replace traditional blogging, it actually serves as a catalyst to expose blog content to a broader base of readers. My observation is people who say blogging is dead either already have a blog that died, or they have no blog at all. The truth of the matter is blogging requires a committed effort, which many find to be unsustainable. We’ve all watched many a blog launch in prolific fashion only to die a slow public death weeks or months down the road. However for those willing to put forth the effort, there are great rewards to be gained.

There are always naysayers willing to offer their opinions, but my suggestion is not to listen to the rhetoric of the failed or uninitiated, but rather to seek your counsel from those who are experiencing success. While you can find numerous examples of successful bloggers to glean insight from, let me put this as simply as I can; I would not have continued blogging for the last several years if it was not extremely beneficial to do so.

Macroeconomic Forces At Play
For purposes of advancing this discussion I want to examine a few simple business fundamentals and macroeconomic lessons to lend some historical context to the rapidly evolving state of the blogosphere. When a new industry surfaces, the early adopters (first-movers) set-up shop, validate proof of concept, carve out their niche, and build very strong, if not in some cases, category dominant brands. Clearly this was the case for many of today’s most successful bloggers. The truth is that some of today’s most established bloggers aren’t necessarily the best bloggers, they just got there first.

However it’s also important to keep in mind that not all first-movers prosper, or for that matter, even survive. Because first-movers take large risks in uncharted territory, they often make mistakes that are not survivable. Even if their mistakes are not fatal, many times they serve to blaze a better trail for others to follow by removing and/or diminishing barriers to entry. In a previous post “Blogging Hits A Crossroads” I shared some insights on some of the “A-Listers” who have given up blogging, and why others stick it out. In a universe the size of the blogosphere there will always be churn. In fact, blogging has been around long enough we’re now starting to experience the second and third comings of those who once abandoned their blogs only to come back again.

Where Are We Now?
Many successful bloggers today were not necessarily first-movers, but rather fast-followers able to leap frog the early adopters. Any student of history understands as an industry matures, more capital becomes available, advancements in technology occur, new niches, markets and nuanced communication channels open-up, and more players enter the market. This wave of hyper-growth always precedes a consolidation, which is where we find ourselves now with regard to the state of the blogosphere. Blogging is going through a very natural (and healthy) consolidation phase where weak contributors are being weeded out. This is a positive sign – not a foreshadowing of doom and gloom.

Blogging isn’t dying – it’s being refined by those who understand it best, and abandoned by those who don’t have the talent or the ability to sustain their efforts. To be fair, the Inc. Magazine article which triggered this rant did point out those “Companies that do have blogs are very happy with them. Ninety-two percent of those businesses called the platform a success.” I’m not aware of any other medium/platform where 92% of users view their efforts as a success, are you?

Reasons Why Blogging Won’t Die
Because there is virtually no barrier to entry to a medium which offers global exposure to one’s thoughts and opinions, blogging won’t ever die. While the list of reasons behind why people blog are probably only limited to the confines of one’s imagination, the following list contains common representative examples of what I believe to be the main reasons people begin to blog, and why blogging will continue to be an influential platform (listed in no particular order):

  1. To follow a trend
  2. To become famous
  3. To rant, voice an opinion, or champion a cause
  4. To be of service
  5. To have a cathartic outlet
  6. To communicate with friends and family
  7. To collaborate or exchange ideas and information
  8. To build trust
  9. To acquire knowledge or business intelligence
  10. To engage a particular constituency or constituencies
  11. To make money
  12. To expand spheres of influence
  13. To extend marketing efforts
  14. To improve search engine rankings
  15. To improve personal or professional networking
  16. To create added personal or corporate brand equity
  17. To establish subject matter expertise
  18. And the list could go on, and on, and on…

The Road Ahead
The reason I’ve taken the time to walk you through this exercise is because “who” you are, and  “why” you blog will determine your unique definition of success with regard to your blogging efforts. Bottom line; process what you’ve read here and in other places, then incorporate what you deem to be valid into a blogging strategy that will work for you. For those of you in leadership positions, particularly at the chief executive level, blogging is an incredibly powerful platform, which should only be ignored at your peril. I authored a piece for Chief Executive Magazine which goes into great detail explaining the benefits of social media for CEOs. The only way you can lose with blogging is to not blog – stop finding excuses for why you can’t, won’t, or don’t blog and get in the game.

Thoughts?