Why Accountability Matters

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Don't let accountability be your weak link...Accountability and transparency are hot topics today, and rightly so…Given this new found popularity, I felt that a piece delving into the topic of accountability would be both prudent and timely. Frankly, considering what the lack of accountability has done to our nation’s economy and political structure we should all be spending more time on the topic. However the truth is that few people really like to hear the “A” word applied to their individual circumstances, choices, decisions, and performance. Regrettably, this is precisely why we are embroiled with many of the daunting challenges facing our country today.  Nothing keeps personal and corporate train wrecks from occurring more than a solid framework of accountability. In today’s post I’ll examine the many  reasons for why accountability should matter to all of us…

Regardless of where you are in the corporate hierarchy, accountability is a fundamental principle associated with success. Administrative and support staff needs to be accountable for the quality and timeliness of their work. Sales people need to be accountable for not only production volume, but also the manner in which they represent the company brand while attaining said volume. Management needs to be accountable to their subordinates, as well as to executive leadership. Executives need to be accountable for their quality of leadership and decision making, and as we discussed yesterday, board members need to be accountable to shareholders. I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t also take a moment to remind politicians that they are accountable to their constituents.

Accountability is the lowest cost, most practical, and most productive form of risk management and quality assurance that can be implemented across an enterprise. It is really nothing more than a common sense understanding that decisions made within a framework are going to have a greater chance of success than those made in a vacuum. Decisioning options vetted in the full light of public view will by default go a long way toward the prevention of self-dealing.

It is those individuals or organizations who don’t believe they are accountable to anyone, for anything, or at anytime that are nothing more than a disaster waiting to happen. All human beings, regardless of who they are, can be capable of making huge mistakes when operating in a vacuum or under a veil of secrecy. While there are certainly those individuals who are just predatory, bad to the bone people, clearly not everyone who makes a mistake is evil with the intent to do harm to others. Rather many people when faced with a tough situation simply were not operating in an accountable manner, and therefore made a decision that they would not have likely made if they were openly operating under the scrutiny and review of others.

All one has to do is to just pay attention to the recent headlines to understand the critical importance of, and need for accountability. I truly believe that if most of the public figures falling prey to bad decisions of late had been operating in the open light of day, and had they sought counsel in their decision making, that the outcomes of their recent debacles may have been quite different. If you think back to any of the bad and/or regrettable decisions you’ve made in your life, it is highly probable that you didn’t seek the counsel of others (or ignored said counsel) prior to making the wrong decision. Setting up an enterprise wide framework for accountability is as simple as implementing the following five items:

1. Have a clearly articulated statement of corporate values: Not only state the values that you want the entity to use as a foundation for operation, but also use the values to frame your vision, mission, strategy, tactics, and processes. Hire and manage based upon the corporate values. If you hire someone who doesn’t share the corporate values, or don’t hold existing employees accountable for maintaining the corporate values, then you will get what you deserve.

2. Have a written delegation of authority: A written guideline for corporate decisioning will help individuals make good decisions. Describe in great detail which employees are authorized to make what decisions. Establish budgetary and approval guidelines for all decisions, making sure that good checks and balances are in place to help keep employees accountable.

3. Implement a good leadership development program: Utilizing training, coaching, mentoring, peer review, talent management, and other development best practices will help insure that your leaders will continue to grow, and that corporate accountability guidelines are being consistently reinforced.

4. Active Oversight: Engaged management oversight is key to preventing poor decisioning. It is fairly easy to course correct if you’re only a few degrees off course for a short period of time. However, if allowed to wander far astray for great lengths of time, it may be virtually impossible to prevent a disaster. All small problems can be dealt with. However the bigger the problem, and the longer it has been allowed to fester, the more difficult and costly the solution (if there is a solution) will be.

5. Compensatory Penalties: Those individuals who believe they are substantially at risk for poor decisioning will simply make fewer bad choices. Fines, liquidated or punitive damages, compensation forfeiture, restitution, and/or termination will keep most people on the right side of the line.  

The bottom line is that individuals, teams, business units, divisions and corporations will be better off when a culture of accountability is adopted. Don’t run from accountability; rather embrace it as a way to manage personal and professional risk.

Related Post: ”Rogue CEOs & Board Accountability

Are You Culturally Savvy?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Are you culturally savvy?What do I mean by “culturally savvy“? I am not addressing the topic of being politically correct, rather I want you to focus on the importance of simply being cognizant that there is a larger cultural impact on how business is conducted today than ever before. Cultural differences often exist within the same companies…they certainly exist between different companies. Without question there are different cultural business practices in different cities or regions within an individual country. These differences are almost exponentially complicated when you start doing business on a global basis. For purposes of this post we will address how to best blend and manage your internal cultural characteristics with those of your vendors, partners, suppliers, customers and investors who may be located in foreign countries.

The impacts of globalization are being felt by all of us at some level whether we realize it or not. Moreover, it is likely that businesses that once would never have had to deal with global concerns most certainly will as time marches forward. Every culture has their own unique way of functioning, and if you want to remain competitive in today’s market you will need to develop a cultural sensitivity and maturity to your business approach that may not presently exist.

I have been doing business internationally since the mid 80′s. I have traveled to 26 different countries and have done business in Canada, Central and South America, the Mid-East, Europe, India, and Asia. What I have learned in my travels and experiences is being culturally savvy can not only shorten your initial time to market, but also help insure that entry into a foreign market is profitable and sustainable. Learning the language (or at least some common pleasantries), customs, values, and usual and customary business practices are a must for not embarrassing yourself or your company. False starts in a new country can be very costly and often times there a no second chances…

While the basics of cultural awareness mentioned above will get you in the door, it is becoming culturally savvy that will keep you there. I liken international business to acquiring a new company. It is rarely the acquisition that is a problem, rather it is the post acquisition integration issues, many of which are cultural, that often determine the long-term viability of an acquisition. Similarly, it has been estimated that the mortality rate of international joint ventures exceeds 50% within a three year period of time. It is rarely technical competency that is responsible for the high failure rate noted above, rather the reason most often noted for the dissolution of ventures are the problems surrounding the inability to manage and deal with cultural constraints, barriers, and conflicts.

What works in one culture often times simply does not work in other cultures. In fact, many times what works within one country can deeply offend someone from another country. Let me give you an example of how even innocent things can spiral out of control when you’re on foreign soil. Regardless of what you think about Richard Gere’s acting ability, political beliefs, or religious views there is much that can be learned by peeling back the layers on the unwitting and very public faux pas he made a while back in India. Mr. Gere who has long been a strong supporter of the Indian, Tibetan, and Chinese cultures essesntially unwound years work during a public appearance in India in what I’m sure he believed was nothing more than an innocent gesture of public affection. However his cultural perception of an innocence actually insulted much of the Indian public, and in such sever fashion that he had to be rushed out of the country for his own safety and to avoid potential legal consequences. The bottom line is that it pays to do your homework well in advance of doing business abroad. While the incident was later resolved, it should have never occured to begin with.

The most effective way in which to insure your success abroad requires a blending of two key components. The first is selecting the right “in country” partners and advisors. These should be locals who know the ropes from a political, regulatory, legal, tax, and cultural perspective. The local partners should already have a solid network in place that will help you hit the ground running. A common mistake is to just open an office, staff it up, and expect to get the same results that you would by opening a branch office domestically. This rarely works, and in fact can be very costly on a number of different levels.

The second component needed to be successful abroad is to hire a consultant to advise and train your domestic staff on the finer points of cross-cultural integration and interaction. You may select the perfect set of foreign partners and advisors, but if your domestic staff doesn’t understand how to communicate and do business with them on a culturally acceptable basis the venture will be very short lived.

To conduct business successfully in today’s international marketplace requires a commitment to global team building in a multicultural environment. This in turn requires that both you and your organization become culturally savvy. 

Fear, Failure, Risk and Success

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Fear, Failue, Risk and SuccessBecause risk management as it applies to executive decisioning is a subject that is not adequately addressed in the educational world, it is often left to lessons of experience. As such, learning how to recognize, understand, quantify and manage risk is one of those lessons that often comes at a very high price. While each individual has a different tolerance for risk, it is how a person chooses to manage risk that will have a direct correlation on their ability to succeed in the world of business. In today’s post I’ll examine the relationships between fear, risk, failure and success.

So, what is the greatest fear possessed by executives and entrepreneurs? It has been my experience that the greatest fear most professionals struggle with is the fear of failure. It is often times this fear of failure that governs how much risk a business person will take, and in turn how successful (or not) they are likely to become. 

Fear in and of itself is not a bad thing, rather it is how a person chooses to cope with fear that will determine its effect on their life. Ask anyone who has ever been in combat and they’ll tell you that it is their innate and often heightened sense of fear that helped to keep them alive. A good soldier doesn’t give into fear, but they learn to respect and manage their fear so that it acutally becomes their ally and not their adversary.  

Most professionals don’t naturally associate the words “success” and “failure” as having anything to do with one another. However under the right circumstances, failure is absolutely the best experiential learning tool available. Furthermore, I would go so far as to say failure is an essential element of becoming successful. In fact, if you show me a professional who has never experienced failure, I’ll say that professional either hasn’t tried hard enough or is very new to the world of business.

One of my favorite lessons in the world of overcoming failures, and understanding the value of persistence, is what can be learned from looking at the life of Abraham Lincoln. Born into poverty, Mr. Lincoln was faced with defeat throughout most of his life. He twice failed in business, lost eight different elections and suffered a nervous breakdown. The following bullet points represent Lincoln’s chronological path to the White House:

  • 1816: Lincoln’s family lost their home and he had to quit school to support them.
  • 1818: His mother passed away.
  • 1831: He failed in business.
  • 1832: He ran for state legislature and lost, also lost his job, and while he wanted to go to law school he couldn’t get in.
  • 1833: He borrowed money to start a new business and was bankrupt by the end of the year. He spent the next 17 years paying off the debt.
  • 1834: He ran for state legislature again and this time he won.
  • 1835: He was engaged to be married and his fiance died.
  • 1836: Mr. Lincoln suffered a total nervous breakdown and spent six months in bed.
  • 1838: He sought to become speaker of the state legislature and was again defeated.
  • 1840: He sought to become elector and was defeated.
  • 1843: Lincoln ran for Congress and lost.
  • 1846: He ran for Congress again and this time he won.
  • 1848: Lincoln lost his re-election race for Congress.
  • 1849: He sought the position of land officer in his home state and was turned down.
  • 1854: Lincoln ran for the US Senate and lost.
  • 1856: He sought the Vice-Presidential nomination and lost receiving less than 100 votes.
  • 1858: He ran yet again for the US Senate and lost.
  • 1860: Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.

It was in fact Abraham Lincoln who later said: “My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” Lincoln was obviously someone who was more focused on pursuing his goals than being guided by a fear of failure. Thomas Edison failed more than 1000 times before he successfully invented the light bulb, and he was later quoted as saying: “Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” 

I have a strong belief that fear of failure is far more damaging than failure itself. While successful people overcome their fear of failure, fear absolutely incapacitates unsuccessful people. Over the years I have witnessed business people, who but for being guided by fear of failure, would have likely been very successful. It was Mark Twain who said: “Courage is resistance to and mastery of fear–not the absence of fear.”

Failure is really a matter of reason and perspective. I have met individuals ranging in perspective from those who believe anything short of perfection is failure, to those who don’t consider anything to be a failure. It is not where you fall on the risk spectrum that matters, rather it is how you learn to overcome your fears and manage risk that will determine how successful you will become. My nature is to be somewhat conservative, but I learned long ago that if I were to allow myself to be guided by my fears I would have very few successes. I am a classic example of someone who has learned to manage risk in order to assuage my fears, which in turn allows me to pursue activities that lead to success.

All people have the ability to gain control over their fear of failure by simply defining their tolerance for risk, and then using their new risk tolerance definition to manage their “fight or flight” tendencies. For years I have subscribed to using the following acronym to help overcome fear and manage risk:

Focus: Focus on your values, vision, mission, strategy, goals, tactics and processes. Clarity of thought and attention to detail will take you where you want to go. Don’t focus on failure; focus on success.

Explore: Search out your fears and confront them. Be willing to learn from your fears. I have learned far more from my fears and failures than I ever have from my victories. Introspective thinking is one of the most productive things you can do to advance your learning.

Assess: This is your time to innovate…Take stock of what you learn during times of self-assessment, failure analysis, introspective thinking and research. There is nothing wrong with failure assuming that you learn from it, leverage it, and not fall prey to the same mistakes in the future.

Respond: Develop a bias toward action…Use focus, exploration, and assessment to develop actionable steps to managing risk and achieving your goals. You can accomplish great things through action and few things through inaction.

Bottom line…Don’t be limited by your fears or your failures. The truth is that most fears possessed by individuals are likely self-imposed, and in fact rarely have a factual basis. There is an old axiom that states fear is an acronym for False Expectations Assumed Real. The reality is that most failures are simply stepping stones to future success. Get focused, harness your fears, leverage your fears, and take action. To your continued success…

CEOs In Crisis

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

CEOs In CrisisCEOs are in a state of crisis. As an adviser to CEOs, I can tell you that chief executives are under siege on all fronts…This is clearly a defining time for CEOs as an occupational class. To be clear, I’m not using the term “crisis” as it relates to dealing with the difficulties and challenges associated with navigating a recession, rather I’m talking about CEOs being able to successfully manage the intensity of negative public opinion.  In today’s post I’ll share why I believe most CEOs are unfairly being vilified.

Will the actions of a few bad CEOs take down the reputations of all, or is the American public smart enough to see through the blame game currently being played by the media and the politicians? Look, I understand that Americans are upset about the economic debacle we find ourselves presently entangled in. I’m upset and outraged as well. Nobody could listen to the stories of CEO abuse that have circulated in the media of late and not have the hair stand-up on the back of their neck. That being said, not all CEOs are bad guys…in fact I’ll go so far as to say rogue CEOs are the exception and not the rule.

So, are CEOs getting a bad rap? In a word, yes. We’ve entered the blame zone of rash allegations and finger pointing in order to deflect responsibility. While I understand that no sane person could have watched the events of the last few month’s and not want to pin the blame on someone, simply assigning “villain” status to chief executives as a class because their compensation plans seem egregious to some is not the answer.

So, is CEO compensation out of control? In some cases I absolutely believe it is, but not in every case as many politicians and pundits would have you believe. I take great exception to those chief executives that take advantage of the position they hold, the shareholders they represent, and the relationships they’re entrusted with. That being said, the CEOs described in the preceding sentence don’t constitute the majority of chief executives.

I have called for transparency in previously addressing the issue of Rogue CEOs and Board Accountability. I can tell you from first hand experience that most chief executives are hard working professionals who take their fiduciary obligations very seriously. Moreover they hold the position of chief executive while incurring great personal risk and sacrifice. All one has to do is watch a CEO testify on Capitol Hill to know that the buck does eventually come to rest with the chief executive. I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity to chasten the shameless politicians who use national tragedy and congressional testimony as a publicity platform to air venomous soundbites in order to transfer blame and placate their constituencies, but I digress…

At face value, I don’t care how much money a CEO does or doesn’t make. The issue is not the amount of remuneration paid out to CEOs, but rather on what basis, and when it is paid out. Simply put, CEOs that perform deserve all the compensatory benefits that accompany said performance, and to compensate them for the risk they undertake in the execution of their duties. Conversely, those CEOs who fail to perform have no business maximizing compensation to the detriment of the stakeholders they were supposed to be serving. I have no troube with a CEO using a corporate jet to conduct business that is in the best interests of shareholders. It is the CEO who abuses shareholder trust by using the corporate jet for personal gain or frivolous activities that has crossed the line. Again, keep in mind that most CEOs have never even seen the inside of a private jet…

Sure some CEOs are idiots, but so are a certain percentage of people in any occupational class. No doubt CEOs will need to work overtime in order to rebuild trust and credibility with the public…Their actions must match their words, and they need to demonstrate an understanding that holding the title of chief executive is a priviledge, not a right. All of this said, what is perhaps most important for the American public to realize is the true peril that lies ahead if we over-react and neuter CEOs such that they become nothing more than powerless figureheads. Oversight is a good thing, but where were these concerned politicians leading up to this current mess.

Bottom line…it is not wrong to assign some blame to the rogue CEOs who deserve it, but it is terribly wrong to assign blame to those good chief executives just because CEO is printed on their business card.

Spreadsheet H*ll

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Spreadsheet H*llAny CEO or entrepreneur still vertical and breathing has spent more hours than they can likely count pouring over poorly conceived financial information. I probably review at least 50 spreadsheets a week, and few things chap me more than a worthless attempt at using Excel. While PowerPoint presentations certainly receive more notoriety for being the butt-end of jokes from business schools to executive boardrooms, a boring slide-show pales in comparison to the sophomoric use of a spreadsheet. I know this may seem like a trifling rant of little consequence, but if you stay with me, I promise to connect the dots in a way that will resonate with most of the senior executives that read today’s post.

Let me begin with the premise that few commonly available business tools are as valuable and proficient at justifying business logic, validating proof of concept, synthesizing data, and testing a variety of assumptions and hypotheses than that of a well-crafted spreadsheet. However, it is the caveat “well-crafted” in the preceding sentence that gives strength to my original premise. An adeptly authored spreadsheet is truly a thing of beauty as it can serve to crystallize the ambiguity often surrounding financial complexities and decisioning conundrums. Contrast the aforementioned elation with the antipathy you feel when trying to interpret the anathema represented by some spreadsheet monkey’s hack attempt at sophistication, and you will start to empathize with my frustration.

It should be clear by now that poor spreadsheets are a huge pet-peeve of mine. They not only waste my time, but the time of the people who prepared them to begin with. Rather than serving to advance an idea, decision, or initiative, a poorly conceived spreadsheet can have the unintended outcome of serving as the final nail in the coffin. Just as sound business logic and great presentation can serve to validate, the lack thereof can just as easily serve to invalidate. My point is that if something is worthy of taking the time to assess, then it is also worthy of good analyses. The following 5 items represent a few basic pointers for authoring a spreadsheet that will serve as an asset and not a liability. I would suggest that you forward this post to those within your organization who prepare your spreadsheets in hope of reducing the amount of unnecessary brain damage you’ll incur in the future:

  1. Planning: Don’t lose sight of why you’re creating the spreadsheet to begin with. Major in the majors and don’t get lost in extrapolating massive amounts of useless information, or bogged-down with convoluted minor analysis, both of which can be dilutive to the mission at hand. Great spreadsheets are not built on the fly. Rather they are conceived through a rational planning process that leads to a seamless design and a good outcome. I suggest spending about 75% of your project time planning what you want to create and about 25% of your time creating it. 
  2. A Narrative Introduction: Few things are more annoying than not being able to even discern what it is that you’re looking at. The first spreadsheet tab in your workbook should contain a textual, narrative overview of your business case. Explain what it is that you are attempting to prove/validate, as well as your methodology for doing so. Moreover, if there are any major points you want your audience to take away from the presentation, explain them in narrative form by “telling them what you’re going to tell them.” 
  3. Headers, Navigation & Footnoting: Make your spreadsheet easy to understand and navigate by using consistent formatting, clearly defined row and column headers, collapsible data, drop down menus, pivot tables, freezing panes, and the appropriate use of color and graphics. Be sure to footnote your assumptions and cite your sources using external links where they provide value added support and back-up. Where possible use graphs and dashboards to present your data in an easily understandable fashion. Not everybody is a quant-jock that lives to crunch rows and rows of data. I can blow through even the most complex spreadsheet in 10 minutes if it is well architected, and I can spend an hour on a relatively simple, yet poorly designed spreadsheet trying to understand the intent, and validate the logic of the presentation. Presentation matters…
  4. A Command of the Toolsets: Learn how to use Excel. If you don’t have the patience for self-taught learning, invest in some classroom education. If you won’t invest in learning the toolsets, then sub-out the work to someone who has. The important thing is not to get in over your head. Complexity that serves no purpose does not equal sophistication; it is just a waste of time. If you don’t know how to roll-up data, or use VBA in your spreadsheet don’t just take a whack at it…I would much rather review a simple spreadsheet that is well conceived than something that looks impressive but has no continuity. As with anything in business competency matters… 
  5. Testing: Make sure that your spreadsheet works. Test your formulas, assumptions and presentation. Once you think you have it where you want it, solicit peer review to insure you have the finished product you’re looking for. Much like you shouldn’t proof your own papers, you shouldn’t proof your own spreadsheets. Where there is smoke there is usually fire…when I’m reviewing a spreadsheet and I see one error, experience tells me there are likely more to follow and I quickly lose interest.

While I could have gone broader and deeper with this post, I hope this rather simplistic piece will provide you with some useful information to help guide the legions of evil financial deviants bent on wasting executive time and resources with sloppy, ill-conceived, and often useless spreadsheets.

Understanding Your Customers

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Unlocking The PotentialMany businesses find that understanding their customer base is often easier said than done, which is why I’ve written often on the importance of maintaining an external focus with an emphasis on customer centricity. Let me put this as simply as I can…If you want to succeed in business, you must be in touch with the demands of the marketplace. While many businesses think they understand their customers, few of them really do. What most companies view as an understanding of their customer’s wants, needs, and desires, more often reflects their own internal biases, perceptions, and judgments. In today’s post I’ll share a few tips that will help your business succeed by achieving a better understanding of your customer’s needs…

If you desire to possess a true understanding your customer’s needs, it is essential that you interact with them as often as possible. Moreover these interactions should be deep, broad, and come via a number of different inputs. If you want to get inside the heads of your customers, I would suggest implementing any or all of the following tactics:

  1. Use Social Media and Networking to Your Advantage:Use Blogs, social networking sites (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) and other social media platforms to interact with your customers. Encourage user generated content and real-time input from your customers. You can also use these channels to address conflict or misperceptions when the inevitable corporate faux pas occurs. If you don’t have a social media strategy, then it’s time to get one…
  2. Customer Surveys: Whether conducted via the phone, on your website, pushed out during a webcast, through direct mail, or via other mediums, a properly structured survey will allow you to elicit answers to your most important questions. What better way to find out what your customers are thinking than to ask them. Surveys today are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement. Surveys also provide quick feedback in that many tools allow for real-time feedback. More in depth analysis for more complex surveys can still typically be completed inside of 60 days.
  3. Focus Groups: Again, whether conducted online or in person, there is no substitute for getting your information straight from the horses mouth. As with surveys, the key to success is selecting your groups and structuring your questions. Select the wrong participants and/or ask the wrong questions and you’ll receive information of little use.
  4. Form Beta User Groups: Offer incentives to get your customers and prospects to collaborate on new ideas, technology, products and services. Gaining direct insight from the market you’re selling into is invaluable.
  5. Annual Customer Reviews: Reviews can be done either one-on-one, or in group venues such as an annual client summit. If you incorporate reviews into your business process you can close the loop on any knowledge gaps on a regularly planned basis. When your customers understand that you not only value their feedback, but that you also provide them an efficient and entertaining venue in which they can have input into decisions, you will collaboratively maximize customer relationship value.
  6. Gather Intelligence: Whether it is competitive intelligence, market research, or other forms of business intelligence, the more you know about your customers the better you will be able to meet their needs. If you don’t regularly conduct market research and participate in business intelligence initiatives you are missing a tremendous opportunity to gain insight into your marketplace.

Bottom line…If your company can meet or exceed the demands of the marketplace it will increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. On the flip side of the coin, if you’re not meeting your customer’s needs someone else will.

Leadership vs. Management

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Leadership MattersAs a person who makes their living in the field of leadership, I can tell you without any doubt that “Leadership” is different than “Management.” While there seems to be a never ending stream of politically correct pontificating in corporate circles about the differences between managers and leaders, most of it misses the mark. Leaders and managers play different roles, and have different purposes. They both are unique in their value, and in their contribution. While most of the commentary I have read on Leadership vs. Management attempts to please all constituencies, those of you who have read my work in the past know that I am rarely politically correct, nor do I ever seek to try and please all the people all the time.

While there is clearly a need for both managers and leaders in the business world, and while I respect and have developed close friendships with many a manager, this author simply believes that the law of scarcity applies to the topic at hand. There is an infinitely greater supply of managers causing a much greater demand for leaders. Put simply, because leaders are much more difficult to come by, they are therefore more valuable to the enterprise.

The paragraph above begs the question why are there fewer leaders than managers? I believe it is largely for one of three reasons:

  1. I know this isn’t a popular stance, but the reality is that not everyone has it in them to be a leader, and thus the old axiom “a born leader.”
  2. Many people that possess leadership ability haven’t cultivated their leadership skills to the point where they’re comfortable in leading, or;
  3. While there are many managers that possess highly refined leadership skills, many of them simply don’t possess the desire to be in a leadership role. 

The intrinsic quality of leadership often begins with nothing more than raw talent and a certain state of mind. To possess the innate qualities of a leader is however not the same thing as being a leader. As important as your DNA is, effective leadership skills are developed and refined by time, experience, and a true desire to be more than just a manager…the desire to be a true leader.

Let’s breakdown the DNA of a typical leader A leader is usually a very creative, dynamic, outgoing, and unflappable individual. They tend to think big picture focusing on vision and strategy while looking to make a long-term impact. By way of contrast let’s examine the DNA of a manager. Managers are usually more analytical while focusing on process and procedure looking to make short-term contributions. Two key points of distinction between leaders and managers are that leaders attend to the needs of the enterprise with a focus on the future, while managers attend to the needs of individuals with a focus on the present.

We have all witnessed companies that have been over managed in the absence of leadership. When leadership has been abdicated to management in a corporate setting you will always find that growth slows, morale declines, creativity wanes, and the competitive edge is weakened. That being said, I have personally experienced the value of true leadership at every stage of my life from the athletic playing field, to the military battleground, to the corporate boardroom. Let’s look at an example of the value of leadership from each of the three areas:

  • An example from the world of athletics: If you were the owner of an NFL franchise and had to choose between having the #1 quarterback in the league or the #1 center in league what would your choice be? Again this doesn’t mean that a great center isn’t valuable, it just means that the role player isn’t as valuable to the team as having the talent factor and leadership characteristics of a true impact player. Simply reflect back upon your own life experiences and you’ll see that you have come across many utility players over the years, but very few franchise players.
  • A military example: Contrast if you will the differences of two enlisted men of the same rank. The first is a NCO in a headquarters unit charged with the administrative support of a company commander.  The second NCO is a combat controller in a special operations unit charged with coordinating air strikes from the ground behind enemy lines.  While both of the enlisted men described above hold the same rank, are part of a team, and play important roles, one is clearly an impact player in a leadership capacity while the other is solely a utility player acting in a management capacity.  The military has determined that it is a rare individual who exhibits the characteristics necessary to become a member of a special operations unit.  Therefore they are willing to make a much larger investment in the combat controller, and in return, the military expects a much larger contribution from that individual.
  • A corporate example: This example will be short and sweet, but hopefully very clear in its statement of impact. Who do you believe is of greater value and makes a larger contribution to a corporation, someone who administers policy and creates processes, or someone who sets the vision and creates the strategy? Just examine the difference in the pay stubs of the two individuals contrasted above and you’ll quickly see who the enterprise deems to be of higher value.

I want to be clear that I am not “anti” management. I am however very “pro” leadership when it comes to optimizing the talent factor in any organization. My bias toward leadership doesn’t mean that I don’t understand the principles behind such truisms as: “there is no “I” in team” or, “the sum of the parts is greater than the whole” or that “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Rather it simply means that I believe you achieve a much greater return on human capital with investments made into leadership due to the scope and scale of the impact that a leader can make. The bottom line is that I prefer to lead rather than manage, and to be led rather than to be managed.

The trick is to invest in your managers such that they embrace and adopt leadership traits and characteristics. The strongest organizations apply leadership development programs across the enterprise to enrich the quality and productivity of their workforce. The simple truth of the matter is that if you don’t develop leaders from within you won’t have depth or scale to your organization as it applies to leadership. A bonus is always hidden when you come across a great leader who happens to possess strong management skills as well…    

Family Business

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth 

Family Business = Risky BusinessFamily Business…a quote from Charles Dickens sums up my feelings about family businesses: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Oh what a conundrum…Family business; should I, or shouldn’t I? Today’s Myatt on Monday’s question comes from an entrepreneur who asks: “Should I involve family members in my business venture?” In my opinion there really isn’t a right or wrong answer to this question…it is simply a matter of personal preference. When family businesses work, there is nothing that can really compare to the benefits and upside afforded with such a structure. The problem is that they don’t always work…I have observed extremely successful family enterprises that strengthen relationships and flourish across generations, and I have also witnessed business ventures that were responsible for the total destruction of what were previously very close families. Whatever decision is made with respect to bringing family members into a business, it is a decision that should not be taken lightly. In today’s post I’ll share my thoughts on the topic of family businesses…

Let me begin by sharing some personal history with my involvement in family businesses. In addition to advising numerous family held businesses over the years, I have personally been involved in three family businesses. I have witnessed the good that can come from helping family members grow and prosper, and I’ve seen the harm that can come when greed becomes more important than right thinking. While my experience with family businesses wouldn’t keep me from involving family members in business ventures in the future, I also wouldn’t be quick to rush into such a venture. That being said, the following five points should be kept in mind when considering inviting family members into your business:

  1. Think it Through: Family should be about unconditional love, security, and continuity of relationships. However business is often driven by conditional relationships, greed, and ego.  While business interests and family relationships can successfully coexist, the conflict of interest described in the statement above can often be terminal. If you cannot live with the possibility that things may not turn out on a positive note, and family relationships may be damaged, then I would strongly advise caution about including family members in your business venture.
  2. Seek Alignment Up Front: It’s easy to assume that family members should all have the same values, but that is not always the case. Don’t just assume you family members share your values; confirm it is so prior to their inclusion in your business. While it is certainly easy to involve family members in your business, parting ways is rarely easy, and usually comes with more than its fair share of emotional turmoil. Spend the time up front to align expectations and talk through all the “what ifs” surrounding family involvement in the business. Spend more time talking about what happens if things don’t work out rather than the upside of potential success.
  3. Document Everything: There is often a tendency to believe that since you’re dealing with family there is no need for formal business agreements…WRONG! Document everything when it comes to dealing with family members so that in the event of a dispute, sound business logic and prudent governance will prevail over emotions, revisionist history, or suddenly flawed memories.
  4. Don’t Give Anything Away: My thinking on this topic applies to responsibility, titles, compensation, and ownership interests. In general I have found that human nature is such that people just don’t value something that they have not earned (this can be particularly true of family members who can often display an undeserved sense of entitlement).  The goal here is not to make things unduly difficult on family members, nor is it to make money off of family members, rather the goal should be to teach them that along with the privilege of ownership comes requirements for investment, risk, responsibility, and commitment.
  5. Keep Things Close: While family should be family, this assumes value alignment, right thinking, and prudent behavior. The reality is that your chances for success in family businesses rapidly diminish the further removed you are from your immediate family. There are certainly exceptions to what I’m about to espouse, but the harsh reality is that your immediate family are much more likely to remain loyal in good times and in bad times than nieces, nephews, cousins or in-laws.   

The unfortunate reality is that conventional business logic often does not apply when dealing with family businesses. It is important to realize that even when you do everything correctly, things still may not work out when dealing with family businesses. The upside is that when things do work out well there are few things as rewarding as building something of value with your family at your side.

Why N2growth Blogs

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Because I can...Nary a week passes when I am not cornered by inquisitive minds asking why I blog…The questions range from those wondering how I have the time to blog, and why I give away free information, to those who wonder if blogging is a profitable endeavor, why we don’t sell advertising on the blog, or the oh so tired “isn’t blogging passe?” So, for all those inquiring minds, in today’s post I will answer your questions in hopes that our blogging efforts at N2growth won’t seem so perplexing from this point forward…

Q. Why does N2growth produce a corporate blog?
Becasue it works…Productivity aside, N2growth is a strong believer in the benefits of building community through social media. It is something we are committed to, and we earnestly feel that the Blogosphere is still the medium that provides us with the strongest brand voice (yes, I Tweet, have a LinkedIn profile and maintain a presence on other social networking sites as well). As the Chief Strategy Officer at N2growth, I believe strongly in the concept of brand fluidity, which means that rather than promote a static brand, we evangelize a fluid brand that is constantly being shaped and refined by the feedback and input we receive from our audience. It is without doubt in the best interests of the company to give freely of our opinions and advice, as well as to use the feedback we receive from our readers to help us shape our collective futures. 

Q. Why do I blog?
A. Five reasons…First, blogging is part of my job description. Second, to engage, listen and learn. Third, I wanted a platform that would be uncensored, and one of the reasons that I accepted this position is that it afforded me the opportunity to share a bit of my opinionated self without being edited. Fourth, I love to write, and; Fifth, because it works.

Q. How do you have the time to blog?
Between books and columns, I already spend a great deal of time writing, so Blogging didn’t really change my routine that much. Since I usually spend between one and two hours each day engaged in authoring content, I just had to change my focus a bit. That being said, I would be less than candid if I didn’t admit that authoring this blog is an occasional struggle. However I have become convinced that I don’t have the time not to blog…Blogging is not an afterthought, but rather it is something that is part of my daily regimen. It is meaningful to, and appreciated by, our audience, as well as being useful to me by helping me refine my thinking and allowing me to synthesize disparate thoughts into valuable information and useful content. It can also be quite cathartic at times…

Q. Why don’t you sell advertising on the blog?
Because we are a corporate blog we don’t feel that it is appropriate to sell advertising. Our readers subscribe to the blog for its content, and not to be bombarded by third party advertising. Our profits from the blog come from building a strong community with our stakeholders, creating a bond of trust with our audience, the creation of good will, an increase in brand equity, and paid engagements that are spawned as a result of publishing the blog.

Q. Is blogging profitable?
. The answer is unequivocally yes. We not only receive almost daily inquiries for services as a result of the blog, but we are consistently engaged by clients as a direct result of communication originated by content published on the blog. Moreover, we believe the blog is profitable for our audience as well. We receive frequent emails, Re-Tweets, and other feedback attesting to the positive impact our blog has had on our audience.

I hope this has helped address any questions that you may have with regard to our blogging efforts and thank you for all the positive feedback and support with regard to this endeavor.

I Hate Spam

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I Hate SpamI don’t just hate Spam, I actually loathe it…There is a big difference between legitimate marketing practices and the use of Spam disguised as legitimate marketing. Spam is NOT a legitimate marketing tactic. Spam is unsolicited, illegal, unethical, intrusive, abusive, and rude. Furthermore, it is very costly both in terms of the time and money associated with implementing countermeasures to deal with Spam’s consistent attack on my privacy and productivity. In today’s post I put forth for your consideration my quite vehement objection to Spam…   

How pervasive is Spam? Just in e-mail form alone I’ve seen estimates that more than 100 million Spam messages are sent each day. But Spam reaches far beyond e-mail…There is fax Spam, voicemail Spam, IM Spam, Mobile Spam, RSS Spam, Social Spam (Blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.) and the list goes on…I receive between 700 and 900 e-mails per day of which 150 +/- messages usually constitute some form of Spam. Sure, I use a variety of filters and blocking technology, but even so, between 30 and 60 e-mail Spam messages still get through. I don’t know about you, but the incessant policing of Spam cheats me of anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes a day, which when annualized constitutes a considerable direct cost to me…Perhaps worst of all, is that each month I will regrettably miss a few important messages that were either inadvertently filtered or just fell through the cracks. This would most certainly never happen if Spam were not as prevalent.  

Spam clogs-up networks, perpetuates scams and fraud (my network of relatives of deceased third world dignitaries asking for my help in stewarding their considerable fortunes is actually quite impressive), wastes incredible amounts of time, spreads viruses, furthers rumors and innuendo, distributes pornography, and enables any number of other completely unproductive and harmful endeavors to thrive. 

So far I’ve just commented on intentional Spam as classically defined, but what about well intentioned forms of communication that based upon a lack of judgment or etiquette actually have the same ultimate effect? I appreciate humor as much as the next person, but please, please remove me from your distribution lists passing along jokes and trivia items as I really don’t have time for these things. Oh, and while I’m at it, please don’t add me to group chats on Skype without checking with me first. I do thank you for all the attention, but I prefer to reserve all my various communications mediums for productive activity that I choose to participate in.   

I believe Spam contributes to the moral and financial decay of our society more than most are willing to admit. I would encourage you to not partake in the use of Spam, and moreover, I would encourage you to report anyone who does.

I’m happily married and not interested in meeting lonely housewives. While I admit to getting on in years, I am in no need of Viagra or Cialis at this time. While I haven’t made the Forbes 400 list, I don’t desire to attempt to get there by participating in foreign lotteries, playing “pump and dump” penny stocks, or by being a distributor for someone’s network marketing endeavor.  

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