Mike Myatt, widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, is the author of “Leadership Matters…The CEO Survival Manual” and is the Chairman of N2growth. He has the pleasure of working with many of the nation’s leading companies and their best executives. In this interview, Mike talks about building bridges between old and new, local and international, young and old.
Q1: What can leaders at traditional companies (like Ford, Exxon) learn from leading-edge companies like Google and Twitter?
This is a great question. I have always believed good leaders are learning leaders. That said, it’s important to note that leadership isn’t new economy or old economy specific — what I mean by this is all leaders have much to learn from one another regardless of who it is they happen to work for.
For leaders in old-line companies, they must resist the temptation to succumb to the status quo, and never fall prey to what I refer to as the DITWLY (Did It That Way Last Year) factor. Leaders of old line companies must watch new and emerging organizations and learn from “next practices” approaches rather than settling for the herd mentality of “best practices”. Likewise, leaders of new companies can learn from well chronicled successes and failures of those who have come before them. Nobody has a corner on knowledge, and there is something to be learned from everyone. Smart leaders listen, observe, and above all, they challenge conventional thinking.
Q2: What are the keys to leading in a world that is “flat” and connected 24×7?
There are many, but one of the most critical, and difficult things for leaders to do is to keep an open mind to both new ideas and dissenting opinions. As a leader operates across time zones, sectors, and cultures they’ll be exposed to a variety of new thinking. Whether the new thinking comes as a result of cultural differences, or simply from having a different world view or philosophical outlook, opportunities in today’s world only come to those willing to explore them — that won’t happen if a leader has a closed mind.
Q3: With globalization here to stay, what are some conflicting (or at least differing) models of leadership that organizations have to contend with?
There are as many different leadership models as there are leaders. The issue isn’t the choice of leadership model, but rather understanding how to apply said model in a global economy, That said, the phenomenon of “globalization” is not new. In fact, it has been creeping up on us since the dawn of time; it just hasn’t been so visibly impactful until recent years. The broad macro-economic effects of globalization being experienced today arguably became most identifiable with the end of the cold war, and have only continued their rapid advancement with the continuing development of emerging markets, establishment of free trade agreements, the creation of the Internet and other technology/communications advancements, the ability to arbitrage discrepancies in labor pools and costs, and the increased efficiencies of global capital markets. In short, leaders cannot afford to turn a blind eye to global markets.
It’s important for leaders to understand that conducting business internationally is as much of a defensive play as an offensive play. In examining the upside of going global leaders must consider the sheer size of international markets as contrasted with the size of domestic markets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the majority of a company’s potential customers likely live outside their own boarder. So if a leader could double, triple or quadruple their revenue why wouldn’t they aggressively pursue that goal? Now consider the downside of not going global – If your company is not pursuing those customers your competition will be. They will not only take a first mover’s advantage of securing customer loyalty and brand recognition, but they will also tie-up key partners and distribution agreements. As consumers continue to become more demanding, and the world economy continues to flatten, there will soon be an expectation that you be able to serve multiple markets in a seamless fashion. Being a slow adopter in today’s world will eventually put a business at risk of obsolescence.
Q4: What are and will be the main internal (psychological or spiritual) obstacles to exercising effective leadership?
This is an easy one – reconciling their public self with their private self. I have always said, business isn’t hard, but balance sure is. Throughout history, one of the greatest challenges for leaders has been to maintain their authentic self — to lead effectively without compromising their core values. The increasing demands of today’s workplace make it even more difficult for leaders to balance multiple constituencies and what seems to be an ever increasing span of control. When leaders don’t take care of their families, their physical, psychological and spiritual self, it’s only a matter of time until their performance on the job is diminished or destroyed. Leaders aren’t machines — they’re humans who have needs that must be met both inside and outside the workplace. When a leader is the same person on the job they are off the job, and that person is a healthy person, their organization will be healthy as well.
Q5: What are the leadership character qualities that are most important and most tested in this early part of the 21st century?
Regardless of the century being placed under the microscope, it’s a leader’s character that will make or break them. In fact, in today’s world where nothing is private and news cycles have collapsed to real time, the news of a breach of trust travels faster than ever before. Anyone who hasn’t been living in total isolation only need browse their media source of choice to find the fallen leader de-jure. The sad part of this story is these leaders don’t fall for any other reason than losing touch with the reality of what it truly means to be a leader. Leadership isn’t about the leader, it’s about those whom the leader serves. While leadership in any organization is a far bigger than a single individual, a leadership ecosystem can nonetheless be placed at risk in short order by the acts of a single individual. When hubris far exceeds humility, and leaders see themselves as being above those they lead as opposed to serving them, trouble isn’t far off.
Q6: Finally, for those of us who are “over the hump” as they say, do you have any suggestions for more mature leaders who want to influence and stay connected with the millennial generation?
I might be on the north side of 50, but I’m chronologically agnostic – I find just as much value in those younger than I am, as I do my peers and my elders. As a leader you must learn to build bridges leading from old habits and comfort zones to the more fertile grounds of disruptive innovation. The best way to accomplish that is to align the creative energy of the younger generation, and the experience of your more seasoned workers with your organizational values and vision. Sooner or later, EVERY leader must deal with the changing demographic shifts in the workforce. It impacts culture, performance, brand, innovation, leadership development, succession and even the sustainability of your enterprise. As a leader you must get this right or fail.
Rather than complaining about the younger generation, engage them. As a leader, if you don’t have youth represented in your senior management and leadership teams — get some. Once they have a seat at the table you also need to give them a voice. Now comes the really hard part—you have to then be willing to listen. You won’t ever engage Gen X or Gen Y, you won’t unlock their creativity, passion, intelligence and commitment if you don’t respect them. Dismiss them, patronize them, or otherwise marginalize them and they’ll walk out the door. Show them you care about them, that you care about the right things — you know the small things like values, ethics, transparency and they’ll be the fuel the runs your engine into the future. Failing to embrace this is the same thing as choosing to restrict your access to opportunity.
We are grateful to Mike for allowing us to interview him on this blog. In addition to Mike’s professional accomplishments in the area of executive coaching, his blog site has been named as the #1 Consulting Blog and the #12 Leadership Blog on the Internet! To read more about Mike, check out his bio and make sure to visit N2Growth.com. Please feel free to add a comment to Mike’s interview in the comments section below.