Monday, October 21, 2013

Greatness comes from Choice - Be Ready - Guest blog

In my last blog, I did something new - I featured a guest blog from Don Maruska and Jay Perry about their new book, Take Charge of Your Talent.  This time I have a chance to do the same thing again - a guest blog about an exciting new book. As last time, I will preface the guest blog with a little more of my story. 

You will recall that a core part of my journey as a management consultant was with McKinsey & Company in London followed by the building of Mitchell Madison Group (MMG) to compete with McKinsey. I also told you that my time at McKinsey was not the easiest time in the world and that MMG was a totally different story.  A big part of that MMG difference is that we were building our own firm and like good entrepreneurs were able to do things our competitors just could not and did not do. We were "out of the box" most of the time. It was an amazing time and we did some pretty amazing things. 

This introduction to my guest blog is not about that part of the story - it is about my story. McKinsey & Company is a remarkable collection of the best brains the world can muster. Getting in was a big deal. Getting a designation as an Engagement Manager was a big deal. Getting a designation as a Senior Engagement Manager was also a big deal as it showed that one was able to manage more than one team at a time and also manage more than one client relationship. The horrible truth is I was asked to leave - after six years the collective view was that I was never going to be successful as a McKinsey Partner or Principal. That decision was something of a shock to me as I thought I was tracking well and had certainly outlasted the average tenure of around three years. 

My journey at Mitchell Madison Group seemed to be quite different. I also spent 6 years and had great success as a founding Partner. We were very busy building our business and did not think too hard about what we were each contributing to the story. There is no doubt that I was doing something quite different - perhaps because I too needed to be free of the shackles of McKinsey & Co. 

There are a number of things that stand out for me. 
  1. I never had trouble staffing my teams and for a London-based business I had teams working in Switzerland, in Greece, in South Africa, in France and Spain and Germany. 
  2. We ran a mentor program and I was always in demand to be a mentor, especially by our female consultants. 
  3. I had a few clients make big project awards conditional upon me dedicating a significant slice of time to the projects and were happy to pay the very high per diems.
  4.  I was asked to run the European sales effort, and I will be the first to admit that sales is not my strength. 
Reading my guest's book brought it home to me. As a leader, I had followers. People followed me because I put them first - "put yourself in the other person's shoes or sit on their side of the desk", I used to say. I was always searching out a better way - my mantra is "the day you stop learning is the day you start dying". I was never afraid to take action. "Bring me opportunities not problems", I would say.   My guest blogger's book crystallised for me why I had success at Mitchell Madison Group and not at McKinsey & Co. McKinsey were preoccupied with the 10% of leadership skill that lies above the waterline and at MMG we allowed our people to grow the 90% of leadership character below the waterline. We grew some great leaders.

My guest blogger may not be a stranger to you. He began writing about a decade ago when he teamed up with Ken Blanchard to write The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. In 2011 he released The Secret of Teams outlining the key principles that enable some teams to outperform the all the rest. Great Leaders Grow: Becoming a Leader for Life came next in 2011. I bring you Mark Miller, a speaker on leadership around the world and a chicken seller of note having led teams in Chick-fil-A for over 35 years, which has steadily grown to become the second largest quick-service chicken restaurant chain in the United States, with over 1,700 locations in 39 states and Washington, D.C.

Mark has launched his new book The Heart of Leadership: Becoming a Leader People Want to Follow this week.Thanks for sharing your blog with my readers and I start with one of my favourite lines from the book:


I believe there are five core leadership character traits that set leaders apart from those they lead. Unlike more common character traits like integrity, honesty and loyalty, the traits I’m referring to are what enable a leader to lead. They shape who the leader is as a person and also drive their day-to-day actions. Today, let’s go a little deeper on one of those traits - Hunger for Wisdom.

The best leaders are wise – some are wise beyond their years. Wisdom is the intangible ingredient that enables leaders to make good decisions in challenging or uncertain circumstances.
As you know, for a leader, the way forward is often unclear. Rarely do leaders have all the facts or complete mastery of the subject when a decision needs to be made. In other situations, a leader must choose between conflicting priorities or between multiple, good options. Wisdom allows a leader to consistently make good choices.
How can you and I grow in wisdom? Here are four ideas…
Embrace our Need for Wisdom. Arrogance and pride derail the career of many leaders. If we lose sight of our need for wisdom, we are doomed as a leader. As Toynbee discovered when studying the rise and fall of civilizations, one of the factors that repeatedly triggered demise was the application of yesterday’s answers to today’s questions. The same is true for organizations. This behavior is fueled by leaders who feel they’ve already got all the wisdom they need.
Seek Feedback and Counsel. When we seek feedback and the advice of others, we are on the path to wisdom. However, we need to understand the difference between the two – feedback is about the past; counsel is about the future. Both are critical. When we seek counsel, we are borrowing the wisdom of someone else.
Learn by Observing Others. Leaders pay attention. They are observant. We often see things others don’t. My theory is it’s because we’re looking for things others aren’t. One of those things leaders are constantly looking for is ideas that work – or don’t. Truett Cathy taught me this. He said, “We don’t have to make all the mistakes ourselves, we can learn from the mistakes of others.” That’s one way to grow in wisdom.
Commit to Life-long Learning. The more I learn, the more I know how little I know. This is the ideal posture to grow in wisdom. The realization of our personal limits opens our hearts and minds to new possibilities. Possibilities fuel options. Options contribute to better decisions. A spirit of curiosity, combined with the humility required for learning, are the embers from which the fires of wisdom can ignite.
One of my favorite TV commercials these days is the “Most Interesting Man in the World” series from Dos Equis. I love the tag line: “Stay thirsty, my friends.” My encouragement to you is similar: Stay hungry my friends…hungry for wisdom!
 Hungry for wisdom and ready to take action:

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