Leaders Stop Trying to Be Efficient

Leaders: Stop Trying to Be Efficient

Leaders Stop Trying to Be Efficient

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Let’s cut right to the chase; stop focusing on being efficient – it’s a waste of time. Nobody other than perhaps you really cares how efficient you are, but everyone cares how effective you are. Not only do they care how effective you are, but they also care about the effectiveness of those whom you lead. It’s important to remember leadership is a people business, and people are messy. Leadership has little to do with how neat and tidy things are, but everything to do with how successful you are at scaling effectiveness.

Efficient vs. Effective – there is sometimes a very big difference between the two. So much so, that I’ve really come to cringe every time I hear the word efficiency. It’s not really that there’s anything wrong with becoming more efficient, but far too many executives major in the minors when it comes to efficiency. Stop focusing on optics over outcomes. Don’t worry about how you look, worry about the results you produce.

Let me ask you a question – Have you become so efficient that you’ve rendered yourself ineffective? At an organizational level, have you focused so much on process improvements and incremental gains that you’ve failed to engage people, and seek opportunities to be disruptive? Are you efficient or effective, or do you know?

I really don’t have a problem with increasing efficiency so long as the tail doesn’t start wagging the dog. If you’re a baseball player who has beautifully efficient swing mechanics, but you can’t hit the ball – who cares? If efficiency starts diluting productivity rather than increasing it, something is woefully amiss.  This is more than an issue of semantics – it’s become a systemic problem with many individuals and organizations. Here’s the thing – process in and of itself was never engineered to be the outcome, it was designed to support the creation of the right outcomes.

If you’re not tracking with me yet, ask yourself the following questions: Do you send an email when you should make a phone call, or worse, do you hide behind the phone when you should be face-to-face? Even worse yet – the leader who sends a message by proxy when it should have been delivered personally. Do your sophisticated screening processes do such a great job of filtering they blind you to new opportunities and critical information? If your desk is so clean you don’t have anything to work on then you might be focusing on the wrong thing – it might be time to make a bit of a mess (see Leadership Is About Breaking Things).

What I want you to recognize is sometimes the least efficient thing can lead to the most productive outcome. A great example of this would be carving out time in your already too busy schedule to mentor someone in your organization. Clearly this endeavor will take time, and may not yield immediate results, but the payoff organizationally, relationally, culturally, and in terms of future contribution can be huge.

As I’ve said many times before, things don’t always have to boil down to either/or types of decisions – not everything must end-up on the altar of sacrificial decisioning. With the proper perspective and focus it is quite possible to be both efficient and effective. Efficient process can enable effective resource utilization. The two concepts can co-exist so long as the focus remains on the proper thing – results. Smart leaders don’t just focus on moving the needle, they focus on moving the right needles, at the right times, and for the right reasons.

Bottom line – check your motivations. When you ever so efficiently cross something off your to-do list has it moved you farther away from, or closer to, putting points on the board? Better yet, are the items on your to-do list even the right items to begin with? Lastly, I’ll leave you with this reminder – leadership is not about how many emails, memos and transmittals are sent under your signature – it’s about relationships, service, and engagement.


What Would You Do

What Would You Do?

What Would You Do?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

What would you do if you didn’t need to work? Golf, travel, volunteer, spend time with family and friends, teach, go into politics – the list of options are virtually endless. A friend of mine called me today, told me the sale of his business had closed, and then informed me he had enough money to never need to work again. He told me he was calling to ask what I would do if I didn’t have to work again. I was impressed with his logical pursuit of advice and counsel, but wasn’t at all surprised that he was searching for a bit of direction. While many entrepreneurs tirelessly seek their exit by disposition, few have spent a great deal of time planning what life after work looks like. In today’s post I’ll ask a few questions and share a few thoughts with the goal of causing you to think about what defines you.

I want to begin today’s post with an excerpt from my book “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual:“

“By the time you reach the CEO level you should be striving to move beyond success and towards significance. You need to use your network, your wealth, your experience and intellect, as well as your passion to create a legacy that transcends your title. Having the advantage of hindsight, I can say with great certainty that who you are a a person is infinitely more important than the job you hold. There are few things in life as thought provoking as witnessing what by all outward appearances seems to be a successful executive, but as you begin to peel back the layers of their carefully crafted veneer you quickly come to realize they are little more than an empty, bitter, and frustrated person. They work their entire career chasing some illusive form of fulfillment only to fade into the sunset with nothing more than an empty lifetime of regrets as their reward.”

While my friend is the farthest thing from the illustration provided in the aforementioned quote, I have seen far too many people fall into this category. My hope in authoring this piece is to have you adjust your thinking when it comes to the definition of success. My clients usually tend to be successful individuals prior to finding me. My goal is to simply help them leverage their success into significance over the course of our dealings. The sad reality is that far too many people either confuse success with significance, or they are so focused on success that they are actually blind to the meaning of significance.

Just take a look around and you’ll see that most people use their knowledge, resources, and experience to acquire things in an attempt to satisfy their personal desires, which in their minds constitutes success. Contrast this with the people that use their knowledge, resources, and experience to serve and benefit others, which by my standards constitutes significance.

Sure, for those “who get it” success and significance are one in the same, but for most professionals success begins and ends with the achievement of a certain list of personal goals with little regard to the impact on others. These people confuse success with significance, and regardless of their wealth and professional accomplishments, they fail to accomplish the true greatness that only comes through making significant contributions to something other than one’s self. I don’t care how your resume reads, what your net worth is, or what your W-2 shows – what’s important is your underlying motivation as evidenced by what you do with what you have.

I am always impressed by those who choose a life of service over personal glory, or those who understand how to leverage their personal success into significance. While most of my clients have acquired significant material possessions, they just don’t live their lives according to a “he or she who has the most toys wins” philosophy. They don’t give because their accountant told them to, or solely for estate planning purposes, they give to make a difference. They don’t throw trivial contributions to a variety of charities to see their name appear on donor’s lists, they make substantial contributions (usually with little if any self-promotion). It all boils down to motivation – are you only pursuing fun, fame, fortune, and recognition, or are you seeking to serve and benefit others with what you have?

It is my opinion that when you start to define your personal success by the value you add to the lives of others you have arrived as a mature human being who possesses true influence and has become a person of significance. My challenge to you is this – set the chinning bar very high for yourself by reevaluating your goals and objectives to ensure you are on a path towards significance. Don’t allow yourself to become blinded by your success, rather leverage your success in an attempt to make a lasting and significant legacy for which you and your family can be proud.

So, what would you do if you never had to work again? What defines you? C ‘mon you know you’ve thought about it – share your thoughts in the comments below…

Defining Great Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

With all the attention and emphasis given to leadership, I have a few questions for you: Why is it that so many people refer to themselves as leaders, but truly great leaders are so few in number? How do you measure great leadership? And finally, is there a common thread that distinguishes those viewed as great leaders from the masses of those who hold leadership positions? While you can measure many things when assessing a leader, great leaders stand apart from the masses based on the impact of the sum of their accomplishments. It’s not a leader’s traits or characteristics that make them great, it’s how they apply them that matters. Here’s the thing – nobody really cares if you have all the right tools if you don’t know how and when to use them…

Oddly enough, and while there are certainly exceptions to every rule, most great leaders don’t consider themselves as such. I don’t want to burst any bubbles here, okay, yes I do – It is not self-assessments that define great leadership. Here’s the cold, hard truth – if you consider yourself a great leader, yet have never led anyone or anything of significance, you may want to reevaluate your thinking. It’s not what you think that matters. What matters is how those impacted by your leadership think and feel about you. Insignificant leaders, hated leaders, and failed leaders all have one thing in common – they view leadership as a quest for personal glory. Great leaders, on the other hand, have a purpose beyond self – they tend to view leadership as means of accomplishing something of significance for the benefit of others.

Reflecting back on my experience with leaders I find one thing tends to shine a spot-light on great leadership more than any other – time. How a leader stands the test of time is the only definitive validation of ability and accomplishment. The reality is great leaders are rarely one hit wonders. Anyone can get lucky (I’ve certainly benefited from dumb luck on occasion), but luck alone won’t lead to long-term success. Just as good luck won’t make you  a great leader, a bit of bad luck won’t keep a great leader down. Luck, good or bad, is little more than an occurrence that needs to be managed – it is not something that defines you as a leader. In fact, if you examine the proverbial “overnight success” you’ll find their journey was anything but overnight. In most cases you’ll find the hype reflects a meteoric rise, but the truth reveals an intentional, focused, sustained effort.

Great accomplishments rarely happen quickly – they require the character and discipline necessary to expend the effort, focus, attention to detail, vigilence, and tenacity required to get the job done. Great leaders show consistency, demonstrate endurance, and stay the course  – they never quit. Great leaders may change course by altering strategies, tactics, or methodologies, but they don’t quit. If you want to succeed as a leader, it’s easier than you might think…just don’t quit. Strip away the excuses, rationalizations, and justifications, and the only thing standing between you and the attainment of your objectives is what you see staring back at you when you look in the mirror each morning.

So what separates those leaders who never quit from those that do? It comes down to possessing a state of mind that refuses to lose – think will over skill. Great leaders have a never say die mentality that places the cause ahead of self-interest, passion ahead of pride, humility ahead hubris, and people ahead of process. I’m a big fan of the Die Hard movies, and the one thing you have to admire about the main character, detective John McClain (played by Bruce Willis), is that regardless of the obstacles he encounters, he just won’t quit. Granted, the aforementioned example of determination against all odds comes from a fictional character, but the fact of the matter is that successful leaders play to win. They don’t indulge themselves in half-hearted attempts destined for failure, rather they choose to focus all their efforts and energies on accomplishing their mission.

Much more inspiring than the fictional example above, is the recent accomplishment by U.S. Spec Ops in bringing Osama Bin Laden to justice. This wasn’t the result of a fast, easy fix, but rather the culmination of efforts which spanned three presidents, 10 years, and the sacrifice of many. The commitment and resolve displayed by U.S. leadership, intelligence agencies, and particularly by our military, is a case study in mission focus and endurance. Great outcomes require great efforts, great resolve, great courage, and a great desire to finish what was started.

The real purpose of today’s post is to point out that anyone can become a great leader, but the reality is that most people don’t. They choose to accept defeat, they don’t play to win, they aren’t willing to do what it takes to be successful – they quit. Quitting is a temptation that all of us are consistently confronted with. The reason that so many people become a casualty of giving up, is because they can. Put simply, quitting is one of the easiest things to do in life. If you take your eye off the ball, even if only momentarily, that’s all it takes for most people to throw in the towel is a tinge of anger, humiliation, panic, rejection, stress, frustration, hurt, pain, jealousy, sorrow or anguish. Look back on your live, or the lives of others, and you’ll find numerous instances of people who took the easy way out and just quit.

I could certainly paint a more complex picture of what it takes to be successful by citing esoteric management theories, but the truth of the matter is that successful leaders don’t quit until the job is done. They don’t spend time complaining about the challenges and obstacles, rather they spend their time solving problems and creating solutions. If the objective is to get to the other side of the wall, they don’t really care whether they go over the wall, under the wall, around the wall or through the wall…they just care about getting to the other side. While they might spend a bit of time evaluating the most efficient strategy for getting to the other side of said wall, it will ultimately be their focus and resolve on conquering the challenge that will determine their success. Do you have what it takes to stay the course?


World Business Forum – Top 10 Speakers

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The video above recaps the final day of this year’s World Business Forum in New York. In yesterday’s recap of Day one, I gave a detailed breakdown of each speaker presentation, but today I thought I’d do something a bit different…Since everyone seems to like a list, I decided to rank the top ten speakers from both days. So the list that follows is my ranking of the Top 10 Speakers from World Business Forum 2010 as well as my logic behind the rankings.

  1. Nando Parrado– Nando was the only speaker at the conference to receive a standing ovation, but this is not why I ranked him #1. Nando earned the top spot on the list because his presentation simply raised the bar to an entirely different level. He recounted the miracle of surviving 72 days after his plane crashed high in the Andes. After being unconscious for 3 days and being counted among the dead by other survivors, Nando awoke to find his mother, sister and a number of his rugby teammates had died. They had no food, water or winter clothing. At an elevation above 12,000 feet and with temperatures that reached -35 below zero, Nando not only survived the initial crash, but a broken skull, being buried by a subsequent avalanche, eating the flesh of the dead, and then hiking for 11 days covering 70 miles across the Andes in street clothes to get help. This was one of the longest human survival accounts in history and was later made into the book Miracle in the Andes and then into the movie Alive. As a result of Nando’s efforts 16 people were rescued after 72 days in the Andes. Nando is an exceptional human being whose philosophy can be boiled down into two of the quotes given in his presentation: “I fought so hard for life that I decided to have a life” & “life is success.” Nando’s presentation simply put things into perspective for a world sorely lacking perspective. Bravo Nando…
  2. Jack Welch– The former Chairman and CEO of GE reminded us of the value of candor. He spared us the business speak and rhetoric and said things that all leaders needed to hear. As with Nando, I could have listened to Jack all day long. Candor, clarity, humility, passion and a heart for service characterize Jack Welch. Jack’s belief for the need to “lead change before you have to” is a mantra for leaders to live by. We all need to learn from Jack by dropping the politically correct approach to leadership by just doing the right thing.
  3. A.G. Lafley– The former Chairman and CEO of Proctor & Gamble gave a clinic on innovation. I’ve never heard anyone speak so fluently on the topic of innovation. Just about every statement that passed his lips was quotable. I thought his most insightful and accurate comment was: “Great innovators constantly disrupt themselves – It’s better to attack yourself on the innovation front than allow your competitors to do it.”
  4. Joseph Grenny – Joe spoke about the need for, and power of influence. Most notably he did it very well. A great presenter and story-teller, Joe has complete command of his subject matter and gave the audience actionable instruction on how to create influence. My favorite quote from Joe was “creating influence is about creating a magical experience.” Just go away on ponder this thought for a while – How can you create magical experiences across constituencies and throughout the value chain? Get this right and you’ll make Joe proud.
  5. Martin Lindstrom – Not only was Martin the most animated and entertaining presenter, but after listening to Martin I quickly came to the conclusion that nobody understands how to connect with the mind of consumers better than he does. Whether constructing, deconstructing, or smashing brands, Martin’s understanding of branding goes far deeper than the tired noise you typically hear from brand agencies. My favorite quote from Martin was: “great brands are emotional bookmarks.”
  6. Renee Mauborgne – Co-author of Blue Ocean Strategy, Renee offered great insights on creating demand, most particularly on creating consumer demand where little or none previously existed. I love creative thinkers and her presentation focused like a laser beam on creativity of thought and approach. My favorite thought by Renee was: “Success rests on pushing the creativity frontier. Smart leaders spend more time on creativity than productivity.”
  7. Steve Levitt – Author of Freakanomics and Super Freakanomics, Steve was superb. I had to pinch myself as I thought I might have been dreaming – was I really witnessing an economist with a self-deprecating sense of humor? Not only did Steve keep the entire audience at Radio City Music Hall in stitches, he did it while making astute observations and keen insights on what it takes to be successful in business. My favorite quote by Steve was: “Great ideas invade people.”
  8. Vijay Govindarajan– Vijay is a Professor of International Business and the Founding Director of Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership at Dartmouth. A recognized expert on strategy and innovation he is also the author of seven books. What I particularly like about Vijay is that his observations are truly unique and insightful – no surface level thinking to be found here. If you’re looking for someone to challenge conventional thinking Vijay is a very good bet. My favorite quote from Vijay was: “Strategy is not about competing for the present, but competing for the future. It’s about understanding that non-linear change means anticipating & appealing to customer discontinuity.” Brilliant!
  9. James Cameron – I actually wasn’t expecting to like Jim…I knew he was driven and creative, but my sense of him was that his ego may be even larger than his considerable talent. His words left me questioning my initial impressions, and I actually found him to be a pleasant surprise. What impressed me the most about Jim was his depth of knowledge, his leadership savvy, and his general business acumen (his creativity is a given). My favorite quote by Jim was: “Why ask why in the moment – just solve the problem.”
  10. David Gergen– As a White House advisor for more than 30 years David advised both Republican and Democratic Presidents. While I don’t always agree with David, I think we probably agree on more than not. He possesses a wealth of information and experience on leadership and is probably the speaker that I’d most enjoy having dinner with. Since my son is an active duty EOD officer in the Air Force, the following quote by David really resonates with me: “Looking to hire great leaders – hire one of our veterans.”

So there you have it…my picks for the Top 10 Speakers at World Business Forum 2010. Jim Collins, Al Gore, Joseph Stiglitz, Charlene Li, Bill McDermott, Mavin Odum and Luca Majocchi didn’t make my cut – do you think they should have, and/or do you think my list should be reordered? Love to receive your thoughts.

In case your wondering, yes, both of the recap videos contain our original footage which was shot, produced and uploaded on the fly while attending the conference. We love video at N2growth…