The Downside of Passion

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Review any list of positive leadership traits and “passion” will undoubtedly rank near the top – rightly so. In most cases passion is an asset capable of carrying you through tough times, sharpening your perspective, revealing purpose, and helping you succeed in the face of overwhelming odds. You’ll find no shortage of content describing the positive attributes of passion, but few that examine the downside of passion, and trust me, there is a downside. On more than a few occasions I’ve witnessed passion run amok resulting in untold harm. Virtually any positive trait when taken to extremes, misunderstood and/or misapplied can quickly become a liability. So, in today’s post I’ll examine the downside of unbridled passion…

The word “passion” comes from the Latin root which quite literally means “to suffer.” Therefore it should come as no surprise that those who are passionate in their pursuits are often willing to make personal and professional sacrifices in order to reach their objectives that the unimpassioned simply won’t make. Channeled properly, this is a huge advantage. As a person who provides advice and counsel to leaders I can tell you I’ve rarely come across a successful person who hasn’t been truly passionate.

You’ll find no argument from me that passion can almost single-handedly propel leaders to new heights of success. History is littered with accounts of marginally talented individuals who have risen to greatness based upon little more than being passionate about the pursuit of their objective. Passion creates a “refuse to lose” mentality which can enable the average person to move outside comfort zones, take-on greater risk, go the extra mile, and achieve phenomenal results. However it’s important to note the same trait which can propel you to the top can also send you over the edge of a cliff. Passion is not aptitude, nor is it omnipotence, neither is it totally unique. These are nuances lost on many…

This is where things begin to get a little tricky – passion without perspective and/or reason can actually serve to distort one’s perception of reality. These distorted perceptions can quickly become a very slippery slope that will blur the lines between fact and fiction…very dangerous territory for any leader. Have you ever known someone who wanted something to be true so badly that they started to adopt positions and manufacture circumstances to support their own false reality? Just because you can convince yourself (or others) that your position is correct, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is…

Just as there exists a very fine line between brilliance and insanity, there also exists a fine line between passion and many negative traits such as narrow-mindedness, narcissism, fanaticism, delusion, and even paranoia. For instance, there is a big difference in a leader who is passionate about their business, and one that is emotionally over-invested in their business. Passion which is balanced by perspective and reason can reveal purpose, but passion absent those filters can just as easily impede purpose.

Healthy passion for one’s business actually brings focus and clarity of thought, which serve to accelerate growth and create sustainable success. However being emotionally over-invested in one’s business can lead to irrational decisioning, prideful or ego-driven actions, the use of flawed business logic, and poor execution. These are the regrettable and completely avoidable precursors to unnecessary loss and/or failure.

It is not at all uncommon for entrepreneurs and executives to be too close to the forest to see the trees. Passionate professionals thinking clearly will seek independent outside counsel and advice to continually gut-check and refine their thinking. Emotionally over-invested professionals will either avoid counsel or surround themselves with legions of yes-men. Another trait of healthy passionate thinking is to recruit tier-one talent at the executive leadership and senior management levels in order to stimulate innovation and thought growth. Effective leadership teams have a balance of left-brain and right-brain thinkers from a variety of backgrounds so that they can draw from the broadest possible array of experiences when formulating positions and options. Emotionally over-invested professionals tend to surround themselves with very small teams of like minded individuals from similar backgrounds who tend to reinforce each others thinking instead of challenging it.

I applaud those of you reading this post who constitute the passionate minority…I would however also counsel you to take pause and evaluate your current positioning and thinking. Are you operating in a vacuum? Do you seek advice and counsel from those who will tell you the truth, or from those who will just tell you what you want to hear? Is your passion creating clarity, focus and purpose, or is it blinding you from seeing the reality of your current situation?

As always, I welcome your thoughts, experiences and opinions and encourage you to comment below…

Leadership and Blame

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

In the world of leadership where the traits of accountability and personal responsibility are so highly regarded, I have one question? What’s with all the finger pointing? One of my pet peeves is coming across leaders who think they’re always right, and that any problem or challenge that arises must clearly be the fault of someone else. Here’s the thing – as a leader, anything that happens on your watch is your responsibility whether you like it or not. This level of responsibility just goes with the territory, and leaders who cannot accept this do not deserve to lead. Last I checked we all make mistakes – I know I do. Most of us don’t look for perfection in leaders, we look for leaders who see mistakes as a chance for opportunity, growth and improvement, not an opportunity to blame shift.

Leadership isn’t about blaming others, but realizing any blame levied should rest solely upon the leader. The best leaders will only point the finger at one person – themselves. The truth of the matter is no victories are won by participating in the blame game. It’s been said, “the only thing that happens when you throw dirt is that you lose ground.” Blame doesn’t inspire, it breeds malcontent and discord. If trust is the cornerstone of leadership, then blame can only be viewed as the corrosive behavior that eats away at the foundation. Don’t be the “Teflon” leader who worries about what might stick – be the mature leader who takes the hit, deals with the issue, and moves forward with character. Lead – don’t blame…

Real leaders won’t accept credit for success, but always claim responsibility for failure. In analyzing why some leaders struggle with blame shifting I’ve concluded it usually comes down to an overabundance of pride or a lack of courage. Excuses, rationalizations, and justifications will never serve as an adequate substitute for courage and humility. Those in leadership positions who talk rather than listen, and point fingers rather than take decisive action have simply failed to lead.

We’ve all witnessed leaders who are masters of the quick draw when it comes to pointing the finger. These are also the leaders who most quickly lose the respect of those they lead. Almost nothing impugns the character of leader faster than attempting to dodge an issue rather than deal with it. The interesting thing is that distortions and deflections might seem to work in the short-term, but reality always seems to find its way home. The fastest way to make an issue fade into the background is to own it, and then do everything in your power to resolve it. Attempts to do anything else only end up amplifying the issue.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts on this topic. Should leaders point fingers and blame others, or own all the issues that occur on their watch? What say you?

Leadership is Black and White

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I was skimming through headlines on my RSS feed this past weekend when a particular title caught my eye – it simply read: “Situational Ethics.” Have we really devolved to this level of thinking? Situational Ethics – Really? If ever there was an oxymoron this is it. While this phrase seems to be getting play in some circles, my opinion is that it’s nothing more than the latest politically correct sound-bite which attempts to rationalize and justify wrong thinking and wrong behavior. Life is full of areas that benefit from flexibility, fluidity, context, and other forms of nuanced thinking, but ethics isn’t one of them. If the title of today’s post seems a bit rigid for you, I encourage you to read on and see why rigidity in certain areas can be highly productive.

Here’s the thing – leadership begins and ends with trust. Trust is built on a foundation of the constancy of your character, and if your ethics are situational, then I would submit so is your character. You cannot effectively serve those you lead if you fail to earn and keep their trust. I would challenge you to view those whom you might label as black and white not as lacking sophistication, but as possessing a clear view of right and wrong. People who display the clarity and confidence to consistently do the right thing regardless of the current situation have reached a level of leadership maturity to be applauded not mocked.

I want to be clear – situational or contextual leadership is not the same thing as applying situational ethics. The former asks a leader to adapt strategy or tactics while the latter asks the leader to adapt principle – big difference. I would suspect that those who apply situational ethics in their thinking also likely subscribe to the theory of moral relativism. They believe anything can be justified or rationalized by the need at hand, or worse yet, manipulated for a desired outcome. While some might believe this constitutes right thinking, I believe it constitutes flawed thinking. Thinking that supports a means to an end mentality is dangerous and ultimately should not be trusted.

If you pay close attention to those who practice situational ethics you find them to be masters of spin, who while often appearing to do things right, often fail to do the right thing. People who fall into this camp frequently exhibit an inconsistency in their reasoning and/or positioning. While they would describe themselves as flexible, fluid, and open-minded, my take is that their character lacks integrity and can be easily influenced. When a person allows popular opinion, or situational characteristics to either define or supersede their principles, then I suggest their character is flawed. Simply put, my contention would be that if you serve as your own moral compass, your character will only be as good or bad as your thinking at that time.

It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “Character is higher than intellect.” I could not agree more with Emerson as virtually anyone can develop their intellect, but it is the rare person who can retain their character. Emerson clearly understood the law of scarcity in placing more value on character. The most successful business leaders of our time have built their personal brand by consistently exhibiting strong character regardless of the situation at hand. They let right thinking, right decisioning and right acting serve as their guide. If you have to manipulate the truth or compromise your values to gain an advantage, the advantage is not worth the perceived gain, for any advantage gained in deceit will surely come at a very high cost – the sacrifice of your character.

Do you have to be perfect to be a leader? Absolutely not – as much as some won’t want to hear or admit it, we all have character flaws. The thing is, character flaws don’t necessarily equate to a lack of character – this isn’t situational rationalization, it’s a fact. We all have chinks in our armor, have had lapses in character, and have at one point or another broken trust with someone. We know how it feels to hurt and be hurt. The issue is not one of perfection or flawless character, but rather understanding our flaws and working diligently to have them be the rare exception and not the rule. The real trick is to focus on issues larger than ourselves. Real leaders understand that leadership has little to do with them – they are simply role players who have a job to do. In order to do that job well they must focus on something bigger than themselves, serve those around them, and not let their ego, pride, and arrogance overshadow their humility and empathy.

Bottom line, if you want to avoid falling on your face – avoid slippery slopes. Thoughts?

Greatness & Tragedy

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Few things highlight great acts of selflessness and heroism more than tragedy. This weekend’s helicopter crash in Afghanistan was a horrific loss for the families of our fallen warriors, but also for our nation as a whole. The men who perished in the crash were in fact our nation’s best. They were courageous men who placed service above self, who went places and did things that most of us could never conceive of, and who died to protect our freedom and way of life. What I’m struggling with is whether or not as a country we are deserving of their sacrifice…

I spent a great deal of my weekend just watching people. We are a nation at war, a world in economic crisis, a planet in moral decay, and yet most people I observed just go through the motions of their daily lives seemingly void of what happens beyond the shopping malls, golf courses, and various other forms of alternate reality. I’ve been feeling for quite some time that people are disconnected from any reality that isn’t immediately visible to them, and I’m increasingly troubled by the cavalier attitudes of the those in “leadership.” Yet in times such as these there are still men and women willing to make the ultimate sacrifice so that others may live their lives and exercise their individual freedoms. We lost some of these extraordinary men this weekend, and I hope their loss jolts us from our fog of ignorance, apathy, and naiveté.

The sad reality is that human nature adversely affects our perspective in that service is often undermined by short-sighted self interest. What most people intuitively understand, but fail to keep at the forefront of their thinking, is that our personal success and fulfillment will be much more closely tied to how we help others than what we do for ourselves…While there are many motivating factors which underpin a leader’s decisioning, nothing is intrinsically more pure, and more inspiring than the call to serve. The dedication and commitment required to be a true servant leader requires a level of personal sacrifice that can only be instilled by a passionate belief in a greater good…something beyond one’s self. As a nation we need to honor this weekend’s loss by living-up to the example set by our troops. We need to move away from self-interest and toward service. The good news is greatness overcomes tragedy, and the power of a lasting and honorable legacy can fuel greatness that spans generations.

Between ongoing military conflicts and wars, brutal acts of dictators, famines, droughts, violent flash mobs, riots, the frequency of economic calamity, and the almost daily forms of political hi-jinks and chicanery, it is impossible to view the current state of world affairs and not be troubled. Yet most people act as if nothing is wrong, and that everything will be okay. Will it? Perhaps, but of one thing I’m certain – we’ll never return to the world we knew growing up. What’s particularly troubling is that our children and grandchildren may never experience the innocence and charm of the childhoods we knew.

Other than in its creation our world has never been perfect, and we’ll likely never experience perfection going forward. That’s okay, and most of us can accept that fact. What’s difficult for me is that we live in far too dangerous times to exhibit such callous disregard for anything other than ourselves, and if we as a nation don’t wake-up to this fact we will continue to see more chaos. Our nation was built on the high cost of sacrifice by those willing to see beyond themselves, and today it is defended by such men and women. But know this – they cannot preserve ideals that we ignore, do not honor, or refuse to embrace. Hoping everything will get better is not the same thing as doing something about it.

In a time where our world is starved for those who take action on behalf others, if nothing else, let us honor those who did just that with their sacrifice this weekend. My advice is simple, don’t pretend everything is okay and ignore the examples of heroism, but rather pray for our military and their families while keeping them in the forefront of our thoughts and actions. The more we adopt a servant’s heart and a warrior’s commitment and discipline the better off we will all be. The following links will take you to just a few of the organizations’ who would gladly accept your contribution of money or service. If you cannot do either of those, at least honor our troops and their families by not forgetting what they give for you at such great cost to themselves and their loved ones.

If you want to comment or offer support to our troops and their families via this platform I’d encourage you to do so.

Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Ideas Don't Equal Innovation
I had a long conversation yesterday with a friend discussing creativity, ideas, innovation, branding and the like. As a result of our conversation, I decided to dust-off an old post, give it a few updates, and pass along my thoughts, which can be best summarized as “Ideas Don’t Equal Innovation.” It is my hope to help dispel the myth that ideas are inherently good things. Let me state right from the outset that I place little value on ideas. Not only do raw ideas have little intrinsic value, but they are often very costly. While I stipulate to the fact that ideas can sometimes lead to great things, I also submit that it is more frequently the case that ideas lead to disappointment, and even outright disaster. Those of you familiar with my work are probably wondering if it is really me authoring this text…if you’re baffled at how a champion of innovation can simultaneously be an idea-basher, I urge you to read on, and I promise the congruity will become apparent.

I want to start by actually defining what an idea is, and is not. Ideas do not constitute a philosophy, principle, or strategy. An idea is not synonymous with a competitive advantage, an idea is not necessarily a sign of creativity, an idea does not constitute innovation, and as much as some people wish it was so, an idea is certainly not a business. To the chagrin of many reading this post, ideas in and of themselves are nothing more than unrefined, random thoughts. Ideas on their own accord are really quite useless. The truth can often times be harsh and difficult to hear, but it is nonetheless the truth.

Ideas are a dime a dozen…take a moment and reflect on all the ideas you’ve spawned over the years, or the many ideas that have been birthed by your friends, family, and professional associates and you’ll quickly see that most of them never got lift-off. The problem is that most ideas never get implemented, and moreover even the best ideas when improperly implemented can cause great harm. You see, while creativity is a clearly a valuable asset, unbridled creativity where random, disparate ideas abound outside of a sound decisioning and execution framework will create distraction and chaos much more often than they will lead to innovation. The difference between an idea and innovation is execution – don’t be the “idea” person, be the innovator.

In fact, it is most often the organizations that demonstrate a “heard mentality” when rushing to adopt the latest ideas that are the farthest thing away from being innovative. The net result of being a late stage trend follower is that you will likely experience little more than yet another in a long line of great adventures that ended in frustration due to the time wasted and the investment squandered.  The reality is that many businesses are quick to recognize great ideas, but they often have no plan for how to successfully integrate them into their business model.

My advice to you is not to let your business get caught up in embracing random ideas – at least not without some initial analysis being conducted to determine the likelihood of success. Failed initiatives are costly at several levels. Aside from being costly, a flawed execution can cast doubt on management credibility, have a negative impact on morale, taint the brand, adversely affect external relationships, and cause a variety of other problems for your business.

Every sound business initiative begins with a solid strategic plan. However while most anyone can cobble together a high level strategic plan, very few can author a strategy that can be successfully implemented. In order for your enterprise to turn an idea into a monetizing and/or value creating event you should develop a strategic plan that attempts to measure the idea against the following 15 elements:

1. Framework: The idea should be generated within a solid framework for decisioning. It should be developed as a solution to a problem or to exploit an opportunity. The idea should be in alignment with the overall vision and mission of the enterprise.

2. Advantage: If the idea doesn’t provide a unique competitive advantage it should at least bring you closer to an even playing field. That said, the best initiatives don’t level the field, they tilt the field in your favor.

3. Alignment: Any new idea should preferably add value to existing initiatives, and if not, it should show a significant enough return on investment to justify the dilutive effect of not keeping the main thing the main thing.

4. Assess: Put the idea through a risk/reward and cost/benefit analysis.

5. Simple: Whether the new idea is intended for your organization, vendors, suppliers, partners or customers it must easy to use. Usability drives adoptability, and therefore it pays to keep things simple.

6. Validate: Just because an idea sounds good doesn’t mean it is, and just because you can doesn’t mean you should. You should endeavor to validate proof of concept based upon detailed, credible research.

7. Contingency: Nothing is without risk, and when you think something is without risk, that is when you’re most likely to end-up in trouble. All initiatives surrounding new ideas should include detailed risk management provisions.

8. Realistic: Adopting a new idea should be based upon solid business logic that drives corresponding financial engineering and modeling.  New projects alway take longer and cost more than originally planned.  Be careful of high level, pie-in-the-sky projections.

9. Accountability: Any new ideas should contain accountability provisions. Every task should be assigned and managed according to a plan, and all of this should occur in the light of day.

10. Measurable: Any new ideas being adopted must lead to measurable objectives. Deliverables, benchmarks, deadlines, and success metrics must be incorporated into the plan.

11. Timing: It must be detailed and deliverable on a schedule. The initiative should have a beginning, middle and end.

12. Integrated: Ideas need to be incorporated into strategic initiatives and not constitute disparate systems. They should be incorporated into integrated solutions that eliminate redundancies, and build in tactical leverage points.

13. Evolving: Ideas should contain a road-map for versioning and evolution that is in alignment with other strategic initiatives and the overall corporate mission. No road map signals an incomplete idea and will also likely equal quick obsolescence.

14. Actionable: A successful idea cannot remain in a strategic planning state. It must be actionable through tactical implementation.

15. Champion: Senior leadership must champion any new idea being adopted. If someone at the C-suite level is against the new idea, it will likely die on the cutting-room floor.

The bottom line is that new ideas are beautiful things when they become solutions or lead to opportunities. Properly implemented, capitalizing on process driven creativity can keep business from stagnating and cause growth and evolution. Just follow the 15 rules above and avoid being the misguided change agent for solely for the sake of change. Thoughts?

When Humor Isn’t So Funny

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The old saying “everybody loves a comedian” has regretfully given birth to a time where everybody thinks they’re a comedian. Sadly, what many have failed to realize is the old saying noted above was meant to be sarcastic…We all love good humor, but the truth is all humor is not good. The timely and appropriate use of humor is an asset to any leader. Likewise, distasteful or inappropriately timed humor can be a significant liability.  As a leader it’s quite easy to get a laugh – your title will virtually guarantee it. Therefore it’s important for leaders to become skilled at distinguishing the difference between a compliant chuckle and a sincere chortle. Good humor can bring people closer, but poor humor can be one of the strongest repellents known to man.  

Did you hear the one about the pastor, priest and rabbi who went skydiving? Just kidding…The very nature of humor is it’s misunderstood more often than not. This makes humor a proverbial two edged sword – it can slice through the toughest of situations to your advantage, or cut sharply against you. When levity is used to appropriately ease a burden or relieve tension it is greatly appreciated. However when your rapier wit is used as a weapon of humiliation or intimidation you are confusing humor with arrogance. I believe it was Winston Churchill who said: “Humor is a very serious thing.” Just because you find something funny, doesn’t make it so. Put simply, to use humor to mock, belittle, undermine, or attack isn’t good humor, and it’s certainly not good leadership. Remember – many a slient tear has been hidden behind a public smile.

One trait that consistently ranks highly among the most admired leaders is they’re confident enough to poke fun at themselves. When leaders understand the difference between false humility (self-serving) and authentic self-deprecating humor (benefiting others) things quickly transition from awkward to funny. Smart leaders have long recognized the best punchline – themsleves. Use the levity surrounding your experiences, mistakes, failures, challenges, etc., to turn teachable moments into unforgettable lessons.

Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. The mental picture of a whoppie cushion in a board meeting might be funny, but it wouldn’t be appreciated. A general rule of thumb would be if something would get a laugh at a fraternity party, it’s likely not appropriate in the workplace. Jack Benny said: “Gags die, humor doesn’t.” Workplace humor is a tricky thing to be sure, and I’m hopeful the following thoughts will help keep you from falling down the slippery slope and having your jokes land with a thud: 

  • Don’t confuse being a leader with being a comedian. Leadership is job number one.
  • An attempt at bad humor is not an acceptable excuse for unacceptable behavior. Racist, sexist, ageist, and other forms of discriminating acts won’t be tolerated because you attempted to cloak them in bad humor.
  • Use humor to lift people up, not to put them down. Don’t laugh at people – laugh with them.
  • Don’t force it – if you’re trying too hard to be funny your humor will fall on deaf ears.
  • Use your humor to make people feel more comfortable rather than more awkward.
  • Gags and practical jokes should only be used when those on the receiving end find them funny.
  • Don’t use humor to single someone out, use it to help them acclimate.
  • Sarcasm is not a license to belittle someone. Saying “I was just joking” doesn’t cut it.   

Please leave your comments below, and if you have an appropriate joke to share, please do that as well. The best joke will win an autographed copy of my book…

Leadership & Toxic Work Environments

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I have read a tremendous amount of information over the last several months on the topic of toxic work environments. While these articles tended to stir the pot a bit, they were in my opinion mostly missing the mark. The articles should have been written on the topic of poor leadership. Toxic work environments can only exist where a lack of trust and respect are present, and this can only occur in the absence of sound leadership. Let me be as clear as I can – the phrase “toxic work environment” is code for bad leadership, becasue a toxic culture simply cannot co-exist in the presence of great leadership. In the text that follows you’ll find the truth about toxic cultures…

A toxic work environment thrives off of everything that great leadership stands in opposition to. The fuel for toxicity is conflict not resolution, ego not humility, self-interest not service above self, gossip & innuendo not truth, social & corporate climbing not team-building, and the list could go on. Toxic cultures occur where arrogance, ignorance, ambivalence, and apathy are present, but again, not where sound leadership stands at the helm.

It’s also important to understand that a toxic culture cannot exist if toxic people are not allowed to take up residence.  This is why a value based approach to recruiting is a key component when teaming-out the organization, and is especially important as you build a senior leadership group. Those team members who share the same core values will be predisposed to trusting one another at high levels. Those team members who share a commonality of core values will automatically assume “best intentions” in one another vs. assuming “worst intentions” or “motives/agendas.”

From my perspective there is no such thing as a toxic asset – toxic liabilities yes, but assets, no. Here’s the thing – leaders who allow toxic personalities to invade their culture put the health of their entire organization at risk. Toxic personalities will put a damper on morale, attempt to intimidate and/or manipulate co-workers for personal gain, and can even chase away a company’s best talent. Bottom line – toxic individuals kill productivity, and if allowed to run unchecked can have a much broader and deeper impact on an organization than one might think.

A bad attitude isn’t something good leaders take lightly. Smart leaders see themselves as protector of culture, defender of those under their charge, champion of brand, and steward of trust. Great leaders simply won’t tolerate a toxic team member – the risks are too great. Real leaders will quickly coach toxic team members to a healthy place, or show them the door – there is no third option.

So, what do you do if you’re not in leadership and find yourself in a toxic work environment? My experience shows you have four choices: First, don’t get sucked down into the toxicity – it’s bad for your health. Secondly, assess whether or not there’s anything you can realistically contribute to making an impactful change, and do it. Thirdly, If you cannot, or will not help to create positive changes then get out as quickly as you can. A fourth option is of course to do nothing. If you choose this option you have the certainty of remaning employed in the near term, but at what cost? The good news is in most cases poor leadership will eventually cause it’s own demise. I’ve often said that leadership not accountable to its people, will eventually be held accountable by its people.       

As always, I welcome your comments below.

Leadership Interview – James Hotaling

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

There are simply no words that can do justice to the example of servant leadership epitomized by Command Chief Master Sergeant James Hotaling. A highly decorated member of the special operations community earning the Bronze Star with Valor for actions during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan, Jim is a true American hero.  I have interviewed countless leaders over the years, and never has so much leadership wisdom been espoused so poignantly, eloquently, and with such authentic humility as what you’re about to read below. Jim’s answers to my questions are nothing short of a leadership manifesto. Please take the time to leave a comment below and thank Jim for his service. On with the interview…    

Mike Myatt: What is your first recollection of really knowing that you were called to be a leader?

James Hotaling: From my earliest memories I always felt I had a “calling” to serve. At the age of 13, I joined the Civil Air Patrol. The teachings of this auxiliary of the USAF, was invaluable to me and truly the building block to what I have become today. I was exposed to military discipline, traditions and core values as a teenager and along with solid family values shaped my servant leadership style.

Mike Myatt: Has your leadership style changed over the years, and if so, how?

James Hotaling: Call it maturity, but I would be lying if I said I haven’t learned from my mistakes and frustrations. I have learned to slow my rush to judgment and always understand there are other viewpoints. My biggest change is learning to truly embrace diversity of thought.

Mike Myatt: What was the single biggest “ah-ha” moment you’ve had as a leader?

James Hotaling: It was actually very recent. This February I attended a resiliency conference conducted by the DoD. The premise of the conference was presenting the answers to some of the problems we have been experiencing in the military with suicides and PTSD. The military has come up with eight key areas to concentrate on when supervising for a “Total Force Fitness” approach. These keys to resiliency has changed my leadership style and really was an “ah-ha” moment for me. You see, in order to be effective during good times and bad are to embrace and develop a resilient force. I try to “weave” the eight key points into conversation everyday with my people. In the introduction to the study, the publication states, “We are in an age of sustained conflict. Wars and threats to our security are no longer episodic, but require continuous optimal performance, resilience and recovery. Injury from these conflicts may be physical and mental, social and spiritual. It impacts the service member, their family and community and the nation. If we are to protect the freedom and security of our nation, we must move beyond simply having a sound body to a holistic view of health and fitness that includes both mind and body.”

The eight areas are; Physical, Environmental, Medical, Spiritual, Nutritional, Psychological, Behavioral and Social. We as leaders must work hard to create an atmosphere where everyone has a holistic approach to well-being.

Mike Myatt: Who had the most significant influence on shaping you as a leader?

James Hotaling: I have been blessed with great mentors. My first was a retired Air Force Colonel in his 60’s who gave his time to teach young teenagers who volunteered to be in Civil Air Patrol. He taught me about the power of giving back. I had a supervisor in my active duty days who always understood the importance of providing broadening experience to his people. True story: I was on a downhill slide of being over confident (and young), cocky, arrogant and downright turning into a bad apple. One night he took me out behind our work section and proceeded to beat the crap out of me! After I was the recipient of a good right hook and fell to the ground, he jumped on top of me and was about to hit me again when he stopped and I could see he was actually tearing up. He was so upset at me for failing him and my teammates. He wanted me to know that I had all the opportunity in the world to succeed and I was not taking advantage of it. That one event changed me forever. Never again would I let my attitude get bigger than the opportunities that other people were working hard to provide me. His emotional caring showed me what it was to be a servant leader. My last great mentor was my team leader. He showed love. Love for his country, mission and his team. A grown man many years older than me showed me how to love others.

Mike Myatt: What does the military offer young leaders in the making?

James Hotaling: Our core values sums up what you get in a young military leader. Integrity first, Service before Self and Excellence in all we do. With this simple foundation along with tried and true military discipline, how can you go wrong with future leaders!

Mike Myatt: How do you feel military leadership skills translate into civilian life?

James Hotaling: See the above answer. What corporation would not want to invest in someone who comes to them with these skill sets and leader DNA already built in? Today we have a new term for it and it is being a “warrior-diplomat”. The amount of exposure to various leadership scenarios throughout the world gives a military member a very unique perspective. Whether it’s negotiating with a tribal leader, working with the State Department, leading people in challenging and rapidly changing environments, etc; these experiences allows someone to think critically and lead successfully which would translate to a well prepared leader no matter who you work for.

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

James Hotaling: Placing mission accomplishment over friendship. I once stood up an organization from scratch. This was a two year process and cost me many friends and tarnished a bit of my reputation. But in order to accomplish this stand-up and do it right, I had to make many hard choices that were very unpopular at the time. This taught me that it is truly lonely at the top, but as a leader you must always have the integrity to do the right thing no matter the personal cost.

Mike Myatt: What’s been most rewarding to you as a leader?

James Hotaling: Leading men into combat. To lead men who have volunteered to serve their country is unlike anything else I have experienced. To share in a tradition of Service before Self and willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country is humbling. Since the days of the Spartan Warrior, men have stepped forward to defend their homeland. To serve amongst special operators has taught me many things in leadership.

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

James Hotaling: A good leader should always focus on taking care of his own (through leadership, management, communication and mentorship), should always know how to analyze the strategic context of the operational environment and always as a leader be able to manage change.

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

James Hotaling: Over management and under leadership

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

James Hotaling: Passion. I bring intensity and focus to the job every second of every day. My love of country and passion for the mission keeps me motivated to perform at the highest levels for my people. It is extremely important to never settle, but rather always seek to continuously develop yourself to be better.

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

James Hotaling: I never try to think in terms of weakness. I think of terms of where I need to improve. The area I think I need to constantly work on is having the patience to listen to contradicting opinions. I truly value diversity of thought and work hard at making sure a majority of meetings have diverse players in them. My issue is always learning to sit back and really listening to a counter argument without first trying to jump in and defend myself.

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

James Hotaling: I recently transferred into a new organization. After the first 30 days of walking around and talking to people, evaluating their processes and seeing performance levels; I realized there was one vital ingredient missing that would propel them to the next level, and that was good old fashion leadership. I would not say it’s more difficult to lead today, I would say you need to have courage to be a leader. Not a manager, not a process improver, but a leader. It really doesn’t matter if it was 3000 years ago or in present time, people need leadership.

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

James Hotaling: Best- I have witnessed a senior leader work hard at “looking into the future” and really set the condition to deliberately develop his force. He has tirelessly placed people in key schools and assignments to develop them. He cares more about the future of his organization then worrying about himself.

Worst-I witnessed a leader of an organization care more about himself (image, reputation, amount of friends he had) than he cared about his people and organization. When a person is in it for themselves, he is truly a hollow leader.

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

James Hotaling: Force Development. You must be developing the people below you to succeed. You must do this much earlier than you think. You can’t wait for someone that is only a year or two out from being a key leader to start developing that person. Work hard to provide as much development and broadening experience to as many subordinates as possible. This will create a pool of experience and the true leaders will begin to evolve and rise to the top. You must invest in future leaders now in order to grow in the future. With limited resources we have to rely on leaders to think and motivate their people to achieve success.

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

James Hotaling: A true leader should never be in his position for personal gain. It should always be about accomplishing the mission. That is why you are there. You are to LEAD the organization to better performance. It is a privilege to have the capacity to execute that responsibility every day. A good leader always looks at himself in the mirror first before looking at anyone else for excuses. Responsibility to SERVE in a leadership role has responsibility and reward, be respectful of both.

Mike Myatt: How important is “legacy,” and how do you hope to be remembered?

James Hotaling: Personal legacy is something a servant leader should never think about. It is all about the organization. I would like to be remembered as someone who gave back to his country since the age of thirteen. I am an American Airman and I have answered my nations call. It’s that simple, I look for no accolades only the ability for myself to say thank you to my country for giving me and my family all that we have.

Leadership Interview – Warren Bennis

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Widely regarded as the father of the contemporary field of Leadership, Warren Bennis paved the way for those of us who make our living as leadership advisors. Warren would never say this, so I will; he has forgotten more about leadership than most of us will ever know. Put simply, spending an hour with Warren Bennis is like drinking leadership wisdom from a fire hose. At age 19, Warren was the youngest combat infantry officer in the European Theater during World War II, and was awarded both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. After the war, Warren went on to author 30 books, served as an advisor to four different U.S. Presidents, spent time on the faculties of MIT, Harvard, Boston University, INSEAD, the University of Exter (UK), and at age 86 Warren is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California. My favorite piece of Bennis trivia is that Warren actually knew Albert Einstein. Watch the video, enjoy your time with a living leadership legend, and then please leave a comment and let Warren know what his work has meant to you…

Leadership and Independence Day

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The Heart of A WarriorIndependence Day is one of my favorite holidays. It celebrates the birth of a great nation founded by men and women who understood the meaning and value of disruptive thinking, service, honor, leadership, and above all, freedom. As we approach this 4th of July weekend I can’t help but think of our founding fathers and the sacrifices they made when they fought to establish our nation’s independence. Those thoughts of respect and admiration in turn led me to think about of our troops overseas currently fighting to protect our way of life and preserve our freedom. The more I began to ponder the heroism of our military (past and present), the more I began to consider the traits possessed by our nation’s warriors. I believe the same characteristics that are present in the heart of a warrior are also present in the most successful executives and entrepreneurs.

Here’s the thing – you really can’t separate leadership from independence. Leadership void of independent thought and action isn’t leadership – it’s a train wreck. Those leaders who fail to grasp the importance of the preceding sentance may practice some form of demagoguery, but it will fall woefully short of the historic example set by our founding fathers and the prodigious efforts of our nation’s present day warriors.

Regardless of whether or not they have served in the military, today’s business leaders would be well served to possess the characteristics of a warrior in their pursuit to achieve sustainable growth and long-term success. Commitment, attention to detail, discipline, service above self, honor, integrity, perseverance, the ability to both lead and follow, to execute with precision, and the ability to adapt, improvise, and overcome are all traits that will serve you well in the boardroom.

There are many so-called management gurus in today’s politically correct world who would take great exception to what I’m putting forth in today’s post. They would tell you that the classic strong leadership traits that define our nation’s best military leaders are outdated, and that they don’t display a proper amount of empathy and compassion. I’m here to tell you that strength and compassion are not mutually exclusive terms…rather the strongest leaders are in fact the most compassionate leaders. A leader’s greatest responsibility is not for his/her own glory, but it is for the well being of those whose care has been entrusted to said leader. Many of those currently holding positions of leadership would do well to rid themselves of their feckless ways and take note of how real leaders conduct their affairs.

The leadership characteristics that have served our nation well throughout history will allow you to inspire and lead others with a focus and commitment not present in DNA of those leaders who don’t have the heart, mind, and soul of a warrior. It is the ability to stay mentally focused on achieving the mission at hand, regardless of circumstances, that will help you take your organization to that next level. While not all great business leaders have served in the military, those of you who possess the heart of a warrior understand the advantages you derive from your military bearing and state of mind. I’ve rarely come across students of military history that don’t have a great command of both strategic thinking and tactical implementation.

I strongly recommend to all business leaders that they learn to develop a command presence, and lead from a committed, empathetic, and passionate position of strength. The word “passion” comes from a Latin root which means quite literally to suffer. If you’re passionate about something it means you care so much that it hurts – that you’re willing to suffer greatly for something you hold dear…Refusing to surrender, and having the ability to make the tough decision or the needed sacrifice, will allow your organization to continue taking ground and will keep the competitive advantage on the side of your enterprise.

As always, I welcome your comments below…

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