Leadership & Curiosity

Leadership and Curiousity

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Have you ever noticed how the best leaders also tend to be the most curious leaders? Great leaders simply aren’t satisfied with what they know. They possess an insatiable curiosity for discovery and learning – they are in constant pursuit of what they don’t know. Real leaders are not nearly as concerned with the status quo (stasis) as they are with betterment (change). Since the dawn of time the world has been shaped by leaders who understand curiosity is the gateway to the future. So my question is this – How curious are you?

Among many other things, curiosity helps frame vision, advances learning, fuels passion, and drives innovation. Curiosity often inspires the courage to discuss the un-discussable, challenge current thinking, deviate from behaviors accepted as normal, and to do what others previously thought impossible. By the way, smart leaders realize the plausibility of impossibility only becomes a probability with the disappearance of leadership, and real leadership demands curiosity.

The best leaders understand that usual and customary are not necessarily synonymous with healthy and thriving. The real key to curiosity begins with an open mind – a recognition that those who think differently aren’t inferior, nor are they a threat. An open mind is a sign of confidence which allows leaders to recognize diversity of opinion leads to better thinking, better discovery, and better outcomes.

Here’s where I’m going to throw you a curve ball – while great leaders tend to spend most of their time being externally focused, I want you to turn your curiosity inward and become introspective for a few moments. It was Socrates who said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” When was the last time you did some serious self-examination on how your curiosity, or the lack thereof, is impacting your ability to function as a leader? Be curious enough to answer the following four questions about yourself:

  1. Are you making a difference? Why should anyone be led by you? Great leaders answer this question with their actions on a daily basis. If you’re not making a difference, you’re not leading. If your actions are not directly contributing to the betterment of those you lead, then you need to become curious about how to make some very real and meaningful changes.
  2. Are you growing? If you’re not growing as a person and as a leader, then it’s very likely those under your charge are following your lead. I’ve often said it’s impossible for a leader who is not growing to lead a growing organization. Nobody is too busy to learn. In fact, you don’t have the time not to learn. Leaders who don’t value learning will quickly be replaced by those who do.
  3. Is your curiosity starting conversations, or your lack thereof shutting them down? If your ego is messaging you have all the answers, and that your way is the only way, then why would anyone ever be inspired to pursue change and innovation? A leader who doesn’t encourage others to challenge their thinking isn’t a leader – they’re a dictator. Dictators suppress individual thought and new ideas, while leaders encourage it at all costs.
  4. Is your curiosity attracting talent, or your lack thereof chasing it away? A leader’s ability to seek out and embrace new ideas will serve as a magnet for attracting the best talent. The best talent desires to be a part of a culture that encourages contribution rather than stifling it. If you’re the leader who looks around the organization and asks “why can’t we attract better talent?” it’s because you value a compliant workforce more than a talented workforce. Real leaders don’t care who is right, they care about what is right – never forget this.

Bottom line – don’t settle for “what is”, use your curiosity to think “what if?” and seek out “what can be.”

Thoughts? I’m curious…

Strategy, Capability & Really Bad Advice

Strategy, Capability & Really Bad Advice

Strategy, Capability & Really Bad Advice

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Today’s post is a rather short rant, but one I felt compelled to put forth. I just finished reading an article where the author (a self professed innovation guru) recommended strategy be aligned with capability, and that to allow ambition to exceed capability is a nothing short of a recipe for disaster. If this sounds like rational thinking to you, I’d encourage you to read the text that follows for a bit of a different perspective.

Let me get right to it – if you want to fail as a leader then please follow the flawed advice given by the wizard of innovation mentioned in the opening paragraph. But if you want to rise above the crowd and become a truly innovative leader, I’d ask you to regard said advice for what it is – more of the same. It’s just another well-intentioned sound bite that will destroy your company and your career if you choose to follow it.

Strategy should never be dumbed down to match capability. In fact, quite the opposite – capability should always be in the process of being upgraded to keep pace with strategy. If a leader dilutes the strategy because of a lack of capability, they have already failed – the game is over before it starts. The best leaders set their strategy and then work tirelessly to develop or acquire the needed capabilities. It is simply impossible to cede opportunity to others, settle for mediocrity, and hope to somehow remain a competitive enterprise.

Here’s the thing – leaders who complain about a lack of resources, are simply communicating they are not very resourceful. Great leaders find a way to develop and/or acquire the best capability in order to create a certainty of execution around a winning strategy. If you want to fail as a leader, hire B and C talent and ask them to win with an inferior strategy. Thinking in a limited manner will only accomplish one thing – it will limit your future.

Sadly, history is littered with leaders who place self-imposed limits on themselves, their organizations, and their workforce under the guise of rational thinking. These are the brands that fall into rapid decline as they fail to innovate and change. Leaders whose aspirations don’t constantly exceed their capability have no vision – they are irrelevant on the way to obsolete and probably don’t even know it.

Real leaders know there is always more to be accomplished. They understand good must become better, and that better must be in constant pursuit of best. They also understand that best is only captured in the moment, and they must revert back to bettering their best in order to remain competitive. They understand business is not static, and they view things on a continuum. Great leaders aggressively pursue better.

Leadership is not for the faint of heart, and leaders not willing to innovate and adapt should not be leading anything. Great leaders beat their competition to the future, while failed leaders passively, ignorantly, or arrogantly surrender the future to their competition. The moment you become satisfied with your capability is precisely the moment in time when you are in greatest danger as a leader.

Whatever your capability is, it’s not good enough. Thoughts?

Leadership & Perception

Leadership & Perception

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

We’ve all heard the saying “perception is reality,” but is it true? Does perception never, rarely, sometimes, or always equal reality? While I long ago reached the conclusion perception does in fact matter, it may not be for the reasons you might think.  I have found the majority of people tend to be myopic with regard to perception – they understand their own perceptions, but are quite often either ignorant or intolerant of other’s perceptions. Here’s the thing – the most important item to understand is success as a leader has very little to do with your perceptions, but rather it has everything to do with the perception of others.

Let me be clear – I’m not suggesting you ignore your perceptions, subordinate your perceptions, or change your perceptions, but I am strongly suggesting you take the time to both be aware of, and understand the perceptions of others. What I’ve just espoused has nothing to with compromising your values or being disingenuous. Rather my reasoning simply hypothisizes that if you’re not in touch with the perceptions of meaningful constituencies, your success will be impeded by your tunnel vision.

Let’s start the analysis by examining the definitional differences between “perception” and “reality”:

Perception Defined: a perception is a belief, theory, hypothesis, feeling, appearance, opinion, observation, insight, awareness, or sensitivity. It may or may not constitute reality, and initial perceptions often change with the passing of time, the changing of circumstances, or the receipt of additional information.

Reality Defined: Reality is certain, authentic, actual, true, and factual. True reality is undeniable, (factually) indisputable, and not subject to debate (rationalization).

Attitudes, perspectives, and positions can in many cases be born out by facts. However they can also be little more than emotional or philosophical beliefs that are far from factual statements. The best example I can give is to ask you to revisit the image above – Is the glass half empty, or is it half full? My answer is yes. You see both answers are correct, both answers are a matter of perception, and to my points made earlier, both answers are very telling. If you’ll allow me to take a deeper dive on this illustration you’ll start to see why understanding other’s perceptions are critically important. Let’s look at how different individuals might view the glass:

  1. The Optimist: The glass is half full.
  2. The Pessimist: The glass is half empty.
  3. The Salesperson: How much water would you like your glass to hold?
  4. The Accountant: Does the glass really need all that water?
  5. The Attorney: If there are enough people on one side of this issue I can file a class action suit.
  6. The Investment Banker:  I’m only 50% leveraged.
  7. The Engineer: The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.
  8. The Quantum Physicist: The glass has a 50% probability of holding water.
  9. The Philosopher: If nobody looks at the glass, who’s to say whether it’s half full or half empty?
  10. The Politician: Let’s take a poll and then I’ll render my opinion as to how full or empty the glass is.
  11. The Servant Leader: Whatever the amount of water, I’ll use it first to quench the thirst of those I lead.

Those of you more creative than I could likely come up with a much longer list, but I think this exercise makes the point that understanding other’s perceptions is a critical part of being an effective leader. What’s interesting to me is most people actually form their perceptions in a very similar fashion. They take inputs (information), process them through a variety of filters (experience, emotions, expectations, moral and philosophical positions, etc.), those filters in turn create an output (accurate or inaccurate perception), which leads to an action (good or bad decision). Again, all of us use a very similar process, we just have access to different types of inputs, use different filters, arrive at different perceptions, and therefore make different decisions. It’s learning to access better quality information and/or develop a more refined filtering system that will allow us to have more accurate perceptions and create a better understanding.

The most powerful part of understanding the process described in the paragraph above is taking the time to understand the mechanics of this process as it applies to others – particularly those you lead and communicate with on a frequent basis. If you understand where someone is getting their inputs, and which filters they use in creating their outputs, you’ll be able to better understand and impact their perceptions, and ultimately, this will lead to greater influence over their decisioning process. This is very simple, but very powerful, and should be understood by anyone in a leadership position.

The bottom line is great leaders take the time to understand the various constituencies and spheres of influence they come in contact with. “My way or the highway” thinking, and/or positional dictatorships rarely create the culture and performance demonstrated by winning organizations. Whether you agree or disagree is not the point – the point is understanding the perceptions of others affords you a source of intelligence, a learning opportunity, and the ability to keep lines of communication open.

So back to my original question: Does perception never, rarely, sometimes, or always equal reality? Please leave a comment and share your experiences.