Talent, Leadership, Culture: The Number 1 Operating Challenge Cited By CEO’s

By John Mattone
Chair, Culture Transformation, N2Growth

What has been top of mind for corporate boards and CEO’s worldwide since 2004? It is not competitive threats, rising costs, innovation challenges, risk management, technology, debt, or even the regulatory environment. Corporate directors and CEO’s identify the need to create and sustain a leadership and talent culture that drives superior operating results as their #1 current and future challenge….and, this has been the case since 2004!

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Stand Your Ground – Even When You’re On TV

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2Growth

What do you do when the person sitting across from you fires a question at you that, like a 90 mph curveball spinning toward your face, threatens to knock you flat?

This is a challenge that I as an executive coach have advised many senior executives – as well as rising ones – to handle without looking like a minor leaguer bailing out of the batter’s box. Typically such questions come from a journalist, or maybe in a town hall situation from an aggrieved employee.


Bob Mankoff: Management Is A Laughing Matter

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2Growth

There is an old saying in show business that goes like this:

“Life is easy; it’s comedy that’s hard.”

That adage came to mind as I finished Bob Mankoff’s wonderful and warm memoir, How about Never–Is never good for you? My Life in Cartoons. That line also serves as the punch line to  Mankoff’s most famous cartoons. Mankoff is the cartoon editor of The New Yorker as well as a long time contributor to the magazine as a working cartoonist. Now turning 70 Mankoff looks back at his career not only with wry wit but with the soul of successful cartoonist, one blessed with a sense of irony as well as a work ethic that shapes his approach to his craft as well as his management style.


Read Full Column on Forbes

Chuck Hagel Lunches (And Learns From) Service Members

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2Growth

When you want to know what’s going on in an organization, especially a very large one, you talk to the people who make the place run well.

That is what Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is doing every since he assumed his current position last year. While Hagel was a Senator and businessman prior to taking this job, he is a two-tour Army sergeant Vietnam veteran – in fact the first enlisted man to become Secretary of Defense. He knows first hand what it means to serve on the front lines.


Read Full Column on Forbes

Why Your CEO Just Doesn’t Get It

By Mike Myatt
Chairman, N2growth

* This column was originally published on Forbes.com

Quality leadership or a lack thereof is easy to spot if you know what to look for. The problem is most people don’t know what to look for in a leader, and according to a recent study by Chief Executive magazine many CEOs don’t seem to know what to look for either.

While I probably shouldn’t have been surprised, I will admit to being absolutely stunned as I reviewed the results of a survey published in the January/February 2014 edition of Chief Executive in which respondents (sitting CEOs) ranked the top 10 skills needed for effective leadership.  Following are the results in descending order of importance:

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Governor Christie: Leadership Begins With A Look In The Mirror

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Legend – as well as Shakespeare — has it that Henry II said something to this effect in fit of pique directed toward his one-time good friend and loyal civil servant Thomas a Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury. The King was vexed over Becket’s refusal to subjugate church authority to the state and Henry sought to limit Becket’s influence. In time, Henry’s henchmen travel to Canterbury thinking they are doing the King a favor and slay Becket in the cathedral.

I cite Henry’s behavior frequently in my coaching with senior executives as a means of cautioning them to watch their words. Its theme resonates today in the unfolding drama of Governor Chris Christie and traffic jams near the Fort Lee entrance to the George Washington Bridge. At the moment it appears as if loyal aides conjured up the traffic jam as a means of getting back at the mayor of Fort Lee who was not a supporter of the governor in his re-election bid last fall. One of whom, Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy, has been axed.


Read Full Column on Forbes

Presidents and Executives Need People Willing to Disagree With Them

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth

It is important for a leader to include people in his inner circle whose power does not derive solely from the leader.

That is the gist of a comment that David Gergen offered as one of the reasons President Obama has stumbled managing some of the major challenges facing his administration, namely the launch of the Affordable Care Act and the intelligence-gathering activities of the National Security Agency.

Gergen, a veteran of four White House administrations, noted that the president’s inner circle of aides, while all very capable, owed their positions to him. While that ensures a degree of loyalty, it cannot make it easy for them to raise tough questions or challenge the president.


Read Full Column on Bloomberg


Does Size Really Matter

Does Size Really Matter?

Does Size Really Matter

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Does size really matter? Should you go big or go home, or does quality win out over quantity? The fascination business leaders have with size has always both intrigued yet perplexed me. Is empire building and the pursuit of category dominance a healthy thing, or the corporate equivalent of the road to Perdition? I’ll frame the debate – you decide.

First Impressions

First Impressions

First Impressions

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Do first impressions really matter? While they shouldn’t, the reality is that they most certainly do. As the old saying goes “you only get one chance to make a first impression,” and often times it is the perception of appearance that determines whether or not you are even afforded the opportunity to get up to bat. The truth is most people when first meeting someone will quickly attempt to size them up. Whether consciously, or unconsciously, they will make quick value judgments in an effort to assess your credibility and flesh out your agenda. In today’s post I’ll examine how managing appearances can have a substantial impact on your personal brand and your success.

In a perfect world professionals would only be judged solely on their character, skill sets, competencies, and performance. But alas, we do not live in a perfect world. While appearances shouldn’t matter, the reality is that the car you drive, where you office, the clothes you wear, whether you’re in good physical shape, the vocabulary that flows from your lips, the company you work for, the publicity and PR you put out, whom you choose to associate with, how you appear online (social networking platforms, search engine results, etc.), and any number of other appearance specific issues can add to, or detract from, the strength of your personal brand.

I want to be clear that I’m not advocating for form over substance, extreme self-indulgence, narcissism, or masking insecurity by the trappings you surround yourself with. Rather, I am a proponent of paying attention to detail and facing reality. Even the most discerning people make value judgments at the subconscious level – it’s only human nature to use the power of observation in an attempt to validate perception. We want those with whom we work to not only be competent, but there is also an innate desire to have them look the part as well, as those individuals we choose to associate with will often times influence other’s perceptions of us.

In most cases, the old saying perception is reality isn’t too far off. If the right person, enough of the right people, or even enough of the wrong people believe something to be true, it may not matter that they’re wrong. Perception can in fact shape reality, even if said reality turns out to be a false reality. Managing impressions, perceptions, and opinions is important if you want to be in a position of influence. Put simply, what people think of you matters. We’ve all met many an individual quick to state “I don’t care what people think of me.” The person who utters this statement usually cares very much about what people think. If they don’t they are either very naïve or very arrogant.

While the next statement might seem a bit callus, I believe it’s true as it relates to both personal and professional relationships. At a base level, most people will very quickly attempt to discern whether you are a person of significance or insignificance, ally or adversary, friend or foe. In most cases people will perceive you in one of two ways – as a person who can help them, or as a person who can hurt them. Which camp you fall into will largely determine whether or not you’ll be included or excluded – whether you’ll be part of the inner circle, or to relegated to the periphery always finding yourself on the outside looking in.

Let me be transparent and use my personal situation as an example. I actually prefer to play to the middle in that I am neither understated nor overstated, but I am comfortable with who I am and my approach to the market. While I will dress in a suit and tie when appropriate, you’re much more likely to find me in jeans and casual sport coat. While I have driven a variety of luxury imports over the years, at this stage of life my Chevy Tahoe seems to fit my lifestyle the best. While I have a few swiss watches, my Timex Ironman is still my favorite. I will always attempt to put my best foot forward, but like me, love me, or hate me, I simply won’t feign appearances to win business…what you see is what you get.

The advice I give to my clients is to be true to yourself, and authentic in your approach to creating a great first impression. As an example, I don’t really care what someone pays for their clothing or automobile, or even how expensive their office accoutrements are, but I do notice whether or not they are well maintained and appropriate for the given situation. We’ve all witnessed the shallow attempts made by insecure people who are living large in an attempt to impress others, as opposed to creating a lifestyle that is authentic, within their means, and personally satisfying. The bottom line is that your appearance should be one that both you and your clients/customers/stakeholders are comfortable with. You should manage appearances on creating a feeling of comfort and engendering confidence…not on trying to impress. Most importantly, your family needs to be comfortable with how you conduct yourself.

While much is often said about “first impressions,” this phrase in and of itself implies subsequent impressions are made as well. Professionals must be just as diligent in their management of future appearances and impressions. I am a huge proponent of being consistent and having a high degree of continuity of impressions/appearances. If you happen to be someone who makes a great first impression, but cannot execute and/or deliver up to expectations you are just setting yourself up for failure and your clients will be even more frustrated than if they had never engaged you to begin with. A negative experience is worse for your personal and corporate brand than no experience at all.

Here’s the thing – it is not about how much you spend or spin, but the authenticity, integrity, and appropriateness of how you manage your appearance that matters. When who you are on the inside is completely congruous with who you portray yourself to be on the outside you’ll find that life will just seem a bit more enjoyable. Disingenuous and insincere positioning may get your foot in the door, but when the door slams into your backside as your engagement or relationship blows-up, don’t say I didn’t warn you…


Personal Branding Done Right

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Personal Branding Done Right

So what’s the big deal about personal branding? The mere mention of this topic sparks intense emotions and frothy debate. The legions of personal branding advocates believe it’s the great brand equalizer, and the growing constituency of disgruntled adversaries see it as little more than the latest form of snake-oil. So which is it? The answer is for you to decide…I’ll frame both sides of the argument and let you draw your own conclusions.

I have written often on the subject of personal branding, and some of my practice focuses on shaping the personal brands of executives and entrepreneurs. Needless to say, I’m a huge believer in personal branding. That said, much of my writing sides with the skeptics as I’m not a fan of the type of  “instant personal branding” preached by so many these days. If this sounds a bit schizophrenic, it probably is; but stick with me as there is a lot of meat that follows.

Want to build a strong personal brand? Let your actions speak louder than your words. Be the best at what you do, be authentic, be honest, be focused on helping others, and above all else, add value in the performace of your work. If you focus on making a certainty of execution synonymous with your name, you won’t have to promote yourself as others will do it for you. Strength of personal character and reputation are your personal brand. If you’re good enough, your personal brand will precede you, and you won’t need to shout it from the roof tops.

Let me break it down as simply as I can…There are two types of personal brands: 1.) The personal brand created by your character, work, and reputation, and; 2.) The personal brand contrived to make up for a lack of the aforementioned items. The former is a personal brand that is authentic, sustainable, and valuable, while the latter is just hype and spin that will eventually get lost in the noise and be seen for what it is…form over substance.

To be clear, I have nothing against leveraging the positioning and promotion of real talent/ability, or up-and-coming talent/ability, but I have everything against blatant self-promotion by those who pretend to be something they are not. Regrettably, the fake it until you make crowd is burgeoning at a rapid pace due to personal branding efforts based upon a lack of integrity. If you have to market yourself as a thought leader, then you are NOT. A sustainable brand is far more than a contrivance for personal glorification – it is a reflection of what you do, but more importantly, who you are and what you stand for.

So what’s the big deal you ask? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to put their stamp on the world? Perhaps, but the problem with glory hounds is that they take opportunities away from those who deserve them, muddy the waters for undiscerning consumers, and serve to create unnecessary havoc in a market not in need of such distractions.

The reality is that most of us will probably never achieve the status of icons, nor do most of us really aspire to that end. However increasing your personal brand equity is good for adding value to your company’s brand, leveraging your earning power, and improving your job security and/or marketability. Personal branding is far more than an ego-play; it is smart business assuming it is done properly.

The bottom line is that personal brands can not only co-exist quite nicely with corporate brands, but they can add significant value to them. Don’t believe me? Regardless of how you feel about the following list of individuals you must agree that they have done a remarkable job of building a personal brand which has often times resulted in the creation of modern day empires. Think of Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Sam Walton, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs, and a whole host of others, and you’ll quickly see just how powerful a strong personal brand can be. In fact, spend some time browsing through the Forbes 400 and you’ll find that you recognize far more names than not. View a list of the Fortune 500 CEO’s and you’ll be surprised how many of their names have been converted into strong personal brands. Look at the Inc. 500 or Entrepreneur Hot 100 lists and you’ll see a number of strong personal brands in the making.

Unlike the surface level hype put forth by many, if you want to create a strong and authentic personal brand, the following five tips will start you in the right direction:

1. Make those around you successful. While some personal brands are built at the expense of others, or on the backs of others, the most highly regarded personal brands are built on the success they have created for others. Think “selfless” as opposed to “selfish.”

2. Be Trustworthy. Whether intuitively, instinctually, intrinsically, objectively, or subjectively, most people have an initial gut feel as to whether or not an individual is trustworthy. Over time, those initial impressions will either be validated or invalidated based upon actual experience. We all know the difference both in chemistry, and in productivity when working with those whom we trust and respect, as opposed to what occurs when working with those whom we don’t.

3. Focus on Performance. If you want to stand apart from the masses, develop a reputation for delivering a certainty of execution. Immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Think of any successful leader and you’ll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today’s business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations…if you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute. It is just not that hard to follow through.

4. Invest in continuing education: Okay, so you already make a great income, run your own (or someone else’s) business, and you’re busy. The sad fact is it’s far easier to reach the C-suite than to remain there. You will only stay in the corner office if you continue to refine and advance your skill sets and competencies. Never sacrifice or forgo learning because you think you don’t have time, or worse, because you think you already know it all.

5. Publicly give of your time. Get outside of yourself and lead by example. Get in the flow of relevant discussions, worthy causes, and public communities. Don’t be afraid of social networking, philanthropic endeavors, pro-bono work, and other intrinsically valuable investments of your time.

Authentic personal brand, or carefully crafted facade…the choice is yours. I’m very interested on your thoughts on this subject. Please share your observations in the comments below…

Addiction Marketing

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Addiction Marketing” is a phrase I started using a few years back while waiting in line for my drink at Starbucks. I was observing the mass of people who seemed almost desperate for their daily (if not more frequent) fix of caffeine. It was at that moment I realized the real power of one of Starbucks key business drivers, if not their most critical business driver – Starbucks sells products that cater to peoples addictive tendencies. What Starbucks has done better than many other addictive marketers is that they also make it cool and trendy to succumb to your addiction. In today’s blog post I’ll examine addiction as a key success factor in business.

Brands have always catered to our emotions viewing them as associative triggers – the tactics I’m describing are clearly not new. That said, has this practice crossed the line when addictive tendencies are being exploited for profit? Is this just creative branding and intelligent marketing, or are we merely sheep being led to slaughter? My intent is not to make judgments or draw conclusions, but rather just to have you wrestle with the following question: Are you an addict, pusher, or both, and if so, how do you feel about it?

When I was in school economics professors would lecture on using supply and demand drivers to create a business advantage, business professors would evangelize the strengths of the recurring value and stability of consumable products, marketing professors would espouse the benefits of customer loyalty and relationship marketing, but nowhere do I recall being able to register for a business class on addiction. However if you think about “Addiction Marketing” you’ll quickly realize what the “media pushers” on Madison Avenue and the product development and marketing gurus in the corporate world have known for years – all people have their unique set of vulnerabilities, which when creatively and effectively exploited will lead to strong sales and powerful brands.

In thinking about this topic with respect to media coverage, I recall that a few years back the Indian government was attempting to force Coca Cola and Pepsi to divulge the formulas to their popular beverage products. One of the charges being levied in the Indian High Court was that Coke and Pepsi products were addictive and unhealthy, Hmmm…More recently there have been a number of energy drinks and dietary supplements that have been pulled from retail shelves because of health hazards posed by addictive consumption.

Examine the following representative list of successful businesses and/or industries and come to your own conclusions as to whether these businesses or industries prey on the addictions of consumers world-wide to generate their revenue:

Las Vegas – The tagline “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” caters to virtually every possible addiction under the sun…Sin City lives up to its reputation.

Tag Body Spray – Tag’s recent commercial campaign has taken the phrase “Sex Sells” to a whole new level. In these campaigns all an adolescent male needs to do is to spray himself with the Tag product and he finds himself instantly being attacked by hordes of attractive young women. If you have a teenage son, it would be a safe bet that Tag is his cologne of choice.

The Beer and Alcohol Industry – You will be hard pressed to find a beer or alcohol company that doesn’t portray consumption of their beverage as the key ingredient to a lifestyle of fast cars, beautiful women, successful careers, etc.

The Tobacco Industry – The tobacco industry has been publicly hammered for selling products that leverage the addictive effects of Nicotine, and even with all the known health hazards smokers face, in many instances the addictive nature of the product is greater than peoples ability to make a logical decision.

I don’t think anyone will dispute the examples noted in the above list as obviously preying on consumer’s addictive tendencies. However what about the more subtle side of the addiction business? Isn’t Starbucks using the same addictive business tactics as those industries listed above? What about other fast food outlets? What about companies in the luxury products sector? Companies that sell high end products and services cater to the elitist attitudes of this segment allowing consumers to make statements about their socioeconomic status based on the products they purchase. Is this not also catering to addictive tendencies?

Okay, now I’ll hit a little closer to home and turn the spotlight on myself. What about my company’s value proposition? We sell success… Is it not possible to look at success as being an addiction? How about the social networking industry? Are social networkers and bloggers addicted to the interaction, attention, etc. that the social media platform affords? While I could go on, I think my point has been made.

I’m certainly not implying that all consumers are addicts, nor am I implying that all companies are “pushers,” but I am pointing out that addiction marketing sells and that many companies use this as a strategic advantage. In fact, I believe the evidence is clear that a business can create a strong strategic advantage in sustainability if they find no ethical flaw in what I’ve coined as “Addiction Marketing”.

The bottom line is that I love to travel and watch movies and I don’t think it makes me an escapist. I have a penchant for Starbucks, venti caramel frappacinos in particular and I don’t think I’m a caffeine addict (perhaps a sugar addict), and I appreciate fine clothes & quality automobiles and I don’t believe that makes me a social elitist. However I have also come to realize that my perceived addictive tendencies are clearly attempting to be preyed upon by creative and intelligent marketing and product development efforts. I’ll leave you with the following questions to ponder:

  • What is the difference between pleasure and addiction?
  • Do you feel “Addiction Marketing” is ethical?
  • Does your company partake in addictive marketing strategies and tactics? And;
  • When was the last time you made a purchase based upon your addiction?


Brand Exposure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you understand the difference between presence, visibility and overexposure? Have you figured out how to apply the laws of scarcity to brand management? If not, then this post is for you. While a brand without exposure is not much of a brand, I consistently find that brand exposure is an aspect of brand management that is all too often overlooked as a success metric. Whether you’re assessing the strength of a personal or corporate brand, finding the appropriate level of brand exposure is key to sustainable growth in brand equity. 

As I stated above, having an underexposed brand, or what I like to refer to as having a brand in stealth mode, means that you really don’t have much of a brand. Conversely, having a brand that is mismanaged through overexposure can cause a brand to go into decline by diluting hard earned brand equity. The reality is that premium brands are viewed as such because they jealously manage their brand exposure. They pay attention to the both the frequency and reach of their exposure. While they are careful to insure that their brands are visible to the right constituencies, they simply won’t allow overexposure. When a brand’s pedigree has an element of mystique, scarcity, intrigue, or sophistication, said brand will be in high demand. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating brand snobbery, just astute brand management based on time tested success principles.   

Intelligent brands create at least some level of focused planning surrounding the issue of access to prevent overexposure. Once a brand is overexposed it becomes commoditized, diluted, and ultimately. will go into decline. While you might not detect brand taints associated with overexposure in the short-term, this principle holds true across most genres over time. Think about any overexposed brand that comes to mind and you’ll see that it quickly begins to lose its luster. Once a brand’s appeal begins to erode, it will require significant time and expense to recover. It is simply a more intelligent approach to consistently manage brand exposure than it is to let your brand run wild and then attempt to triage overexposure.  

Let me offer just a few examples to help connect the dots: Recording artists that release too many CDs over too short of a time period hurt their own appeal. The same holds true with authors that release books with too high a frequency, or actors that churn out too many movies. You may also notice that politicians who confuse their real job with that of a media celebrity will lose the respect of their constituency and taint their effectiveness.

Please keep in mind that the personal brands of business people are not immune to the phenomenon mentioned above. The goal of a sound brand exposure strategy should be to increase your demand, which in turn allows you to pick and choose your opportunities, which in turn further increases your demand…the goal is not to seek every opportunity in the marketplace, but to have the right opportunities seeking you. 

I’ll close today’s post with a prime example of personal branding overexposure that while a pet-peeve of mine, will certainly draw the ire of many. I’m a huge believer in the use social media and social networking to further brand exposure. That said, I have little use for social networking junkies who collect friends/followers/contacts just for the sake of watching the numbers go up, while adding little or no value to their network. I would suggest that if your brand is based solely upon the quantity of contacts in your LinkedIn network, or the number of followers you’ve amassed on Twitter, and not the qualitative relevancy of said contacts, then you are more likely stroking your ego than you are acting as an astute personal brand manager. If no real interaction, no real value add, or no real engagement takes place, then while you migh have a lot of contacts you likely have very few relationships – there is a difference. 


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