How To Be A Laudable Leader – Mike Myatt [Interview]
About Mike Myatt
Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and boards. He is the author of ‘Hacking leadership’ and ‘Leadership matters’. He is the chairman of N2Growth and a member of the board of directors at the Gordian Institute. He is also recognized by Thinkers50 as one of the top leadership thinkers with a great experience since the start of his career.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Mike Myatt today to our interview series. I am Aishwarya Jain from the peopleHum team before we begin just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated human capital management automation platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month.
Welcome, Mike. We’re thrilled to have you.
Yeah, thanks for having me. I appreciate it.
That’s really our pleasure Mike. Mike, I want to begin by, you know, saying that you have had quite an eventful journey.
And it would really be wonderful if you could just tell us about some experiences, some learnings that have shaped you and brought you to this successful place.
Yeah. You know, I think mostly my journey has been maybe eclectic, if anything. I’ve had the chance to sit around a lot of tables. So I’ve been a professional advisor, a sitting CEO and just have enough of the background that as I got into the leadership in talent areas, it just felt really natural to me.
It’s something that I really enjoy, I really enjoy helping people. I’ve got a great team. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic clients, and so, really, what makes what I do interesting to me is that every company, every client, every industry has, you know, they’re nuanced, they have their own particular sets of circumstances.
And so everything that I do every day while there are commonalities and there are points of nexus, there are also a lot of differences. And so over the years, I’ve had a chance to see a lot of things and do a lot of things. And, you know, it’s been a fantastic journey. I really enjoyed it.
That’s amazing. And congratulations to you where you are. It’s a very successful place, you know that you’ve been for yourself and it’s amazing that you have a great team and you’re helping out so many people out there.
Yeah, you know, it’s a, I was talking to somebody the other day and you know, you, when you get to be my age, they put you on a lot of lists. I think they just want to be nice to you before you die. So, you know, I think you have the ability to do a lot of things at this stage of your career. And I’m just, I’m grateful for, you know, the kindness I’ve been showed. So thank you.
Well, I’m sure you’re a great leader and you know,
I was just going through one of your blog articles and you were talking about how a leader has to be an effective communicator and not a talker, but a communicator. So, can you elaborate on, you know, that, that concept, because it is a very important concept, and I think you know, our viewers would really benefit from that.
Yeah, you know, I think a lot of people go to conversations with an agenda, right? And I’ve always believed that Conversations aren’t competitions to be won, they are dialogues to engage in. And it’s not just about the takeaways, it’s about the leave behinds.
“Conversations aren’t competitions to be won, they are dialogues to engage in. And it’s not just about the takeaways, it’s about the leave behinds.”
And so I think every interaction, whether it’s face to face, online, regardless of mediums and modalities, every interaction is not only a chance to learn, but it’s a chance to help and a chance to show empathy and that you actually care about somebody. And there’s the old saying that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, right?
So I think, you know, I just look at communication as really just at its base level, just engagement. And if you’re human, if you kind of take off the corporate facade mask and you forget about titles and roles and positions, you just try and help people. That’s how you build relationships. So I guess that’s my basic theory on communication.
That is, that is really great, you know.
But, Mike, you know, there are so many people out there that struggle with communication because, just because they might be an introvert or just like a closed book. So how do you think, you know they can take some steps or some kind of change? How do you, how do you kind of bring about change in them?
You know, it’s interesting. I think you know, most people wouldn’t see me like this, but I’m actually quite introverted. I mean, that’s my natural tendency.
And so I think you have to get out of your own head and you have to focus on what you’re doing and who you’re engaging with and the desired outcomes, right?
And so, most conversations that I have with people I try and help them understand that there’s no single answer to any challenge, problem, solution or opportunity. There are many paths to travel.
So just Treat conversations as explorations, they’re pursuits.
“Treat conversations as explorations, they’re pursuits.”
And so when you get people out of the mode of, you know, I have to look a certain way or I have to use certain language or vernacular, it’s not about that. It is just about being human, and I think we all communicate every day. But sometimes there’s the, I don’t know the business person and then there’s, who the person is at home. And to the extent that you can merge those two and they’re the same, that’s, that’s when you really feel comfortable in your own skin.
So I think most people in a business environment, there’s an acclimation period, you know, with my clients, they tend to be deep into their career life cycle of board members, chief executives, senior law officers. So they’re all pretty good communicators.
I think for the most part, the challenge with those folks is sometimes they just get into a routine. They’ve developed a communication style or a communication preference, and it’s what they’re comfortable with. But maybe it’s not evolved to the level that it needs to be, to be as effective as it can be. So you know, that’s the journey that we try and take people on
Right. Absolutely That is quite interesting the way you put that concept there.
And you, you know, you also talk a lot about leadership and talent being the core of any organization and those are two important factors, you know, that need to be focused on. So how did you come to that conclusion? Can you just, you know, kind of elaborate on your thoughts?
Yeah. You know, just think back to any organization you’ve ever been a part of, right? Whether it was in school or, you know, athletic teams or you know, anything that you’ve done throughout your life.
There are a lot of people that have talent, but not everybody develops that talent to its full potential. And so the way that I look at talent and kind of my role is helping people unlock their potential, you know, and actually, actualize it, kind of operationalize it.
And so talent is what makes a company successful, I mean, but for the people, there are no products. There are no platforms, you know? There are no services. There is no technology. I mean, but for the people, you have nothing to lead.
And so I think when leaders really take a look at their team and they say, ‘Hey, these aren’t just people in roles, you know, they’re human beings that have huge contribution potential.’
How do we unlock that? How do we unleash that? And that’s what really makes for an interesting culture. I mean, I’ve often said that leaders that aren’t accountable to their people will have eventually be held accountable by their people. So you know Leaders job isn’t to put somebody in a box, it’s to free them from the box. It’s not to leverage their people, it’s to create leverage for their people.
“Leaders job isn’t to put somebody in a box, it’s to free them from the box. It’s not to leverage their people, it’s to create leverage for their people.”
So it’s a mindset thing, right?
Absolutely. That makes so much sense and you know, you kind,
You also mention unlocking value at, at the intersection of talent, leadership, there’s culture, strategy, innovation. So what are the considerations and what specific aspects do you focus on during such consulting assignments?
Yeah. It’s a great question. I think that the challenge for any company is to have all of those areas changed together, right? I mean, you can have the best strategy in the world, but if you can’t operationalize it and execute it, it’s worthless.
You can have the best talent in the world, but if you can’t deploy them properly if you can’t get them operating at highest and best use, if you can’t get them working well together as a team and if the talent is a part of the strategy right? You know people talk, you know, they often juxtaposed strategy and culture. I don’t think it’s an either/or it’s a both, right? Culture should be part of the strategy.
“I don’t think it’s an either/or it’s a both, right? Culture should be part of the strategy.”
So if your talent is aligned to your strategy and it fits within the culture, good things start to happen. But, you know, if you don’t have those things woven together properly, you just have disconnect in the business that aren’t necessary. You create trouble for yourself.
And when you talk about, you know, having the right values for a company, having core values, now dissemination of this can be done by communication.
That’s obviously the foremost. But do you think that there are other ways how you can disseminate this culture and bring about unity or integrity in the organization?
Well, you know, there are different ways to go about this, right? So a lot of companies will take some time, develop some values only to kind of, print it up, frame it and put it on the wall, and that’s the last anybody ever sees of it, right? And I think the purpose of values is the kind of inculcating it into everything that you do, right?
So values need to be part of your decision metrics. I mean, every decision you need, you make needs to be values-based and the hire that you make, should be, you know, is it a cultural fit? Is it a value fit? But do they add something, you know, do they bring something more to the party than just being a fit?
But, you know, you can hire for competence all day long, but if there is not value and vision alignment, that competency you won’t be able to unlock it. You won’t be able to realize that, you won’t be able to maximize that. You can’t do much with it. And so the real key on the value is you know When you hire somebody, hire them for value and vision alignment first, because a lot of other things can be developed, but you can’t develop value alignment.
“When you hire somebody, hire them for value and vision alignment first, because a lot of other things can be developed, but you can’t develop value alignment.”
So you’re saying that, you know, inculcating values comes before you even join the company?
Yeah. I’ll give an example like, it is really difficult to get hired at my organization. Not that, we try and put people through mental gymnastics or create barriers or hurdles. But We’re looking for people that bring something special to us and are aligned with our values.
“We’re looking for people that bring something special to us and are aligned with our values.”
So you know, we’re one of the most diverse organizations around. I mean, if you go to our talent page and look at our team, I mean, there’s everything represented there, right?
But the one thing that they all have in common are the values and what’s interesting, if you just looked at our team, if you just went to our team page and looked at him or you looked at their bios, you kind of scratch your head. How, how do these people work together?
And it’s that diversity, you know, along with value alignment that makes this a really interesting place. But, you know, we vet probably harder for values than we do for capabilities and competencies. You know, we assume that people are going to bring those, right? Those are table stakes. They punch it, you take it to enter. But it’s not what’s going to keep you here.
So it’s more of attitudes than aptitude.
Yeah, 100%. 100%
Right. And, and
How do you check for these values while recruiting them, are there, is there a set pattern of understanding if they infringe your culture?
Yeah, I think a number one, nobody gets hired here with a single interview, right? And you know, you have to go through several interviews, and people are looking for different things. And, and you know, mostly what we’re thinking is, you know, do we wanna work with this person?
Would our clients want to work with this person? Does this person add to our culture, you know, not just fit, but add, are the people that we want to be around for a long period of time, are the people we can trust, you know, that our clients can trust or the people that will represent us well.
And you know, so when you look at our people, I mean, you know, they’ve got a lot of great gravitas, a lot of pedigree. They, you know, a lot of people here have really interesting backgrounds and that, that’s kind of what gets them to the interview. But what gets them through the interview is who they are as a human being because You don’t hire a resume, you hire the entirety of a human being.
“You don’t hire a resume, you hire the entirety of a human being.”
It’s like, you know, when you’re considering a significant other or a spouse, I mean, you know, it’s the whole person. It’s the whole family that you end up having to live with. It’s not just maybe, what you see on the outside. So, you know, kind of similar thoughts in that regard.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s like, it’s like marriage. You know, it’s really like a marriage proposal when you’re trying to find the right talent for your organization.
Yeah, I think that’s right. You know, we’ve got a gentleman that works for us. His name is Brian Kebbi. He is the CEO of our ventures unit and you know, Brian has a statement. He goes Talent is the only strategy.
“Talent is the only strategy.”
I mean, I mean, he just so wholeheartedly believes in that, almost to the extent that other things don’t even hardly matter. Now that’s an exaggeration. But that’s how much stock we put in talent.
So as an example, you know, we’ve got a very large executive search practice here and the people that sit in our talent acquisition chairs, they’re not talent acquisition people. They’re ex operators. They’ve built and lead teams in the real world.
They’ve recruited, they’ve been recruited, they’ve hired agency recruiters. But the background that they bring when they’re talking to candidates and clients, they’re very, very intelligent people with a great track record as an operator, and they’ve walked in the shoes of our clients.
I mean, we have people sitting in recruiting chairs for us that, you know, they’ve been chief executive several times over, and that is a whole different conversation with our clients and with our candidates because we understand what they’re going through.
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We know what they’re thinking, right? And so everything we do here, we kind of put through that lens of leadership, put through that lens of talent. It just makes a big difference.
Wow. That’s really impressive.
And in this process, how important of a role is technology, digital, AI, automation going to play? You know, what is being called as the digital workspace hub and its relevance in the future?
Yeah, you know, that’s a great question. And I think my answer to that may surprise you a little bit but we’ll see. I think, you know everybody’s on that digital transformation continuum, right? Technology is important, emerging technology is important. It’s a real thing. It’s not gonna go away.
A lot of people say that if you’re not a technology business, you won’t be in business. All of that said, consultants like to dangle, you know, shiny new objects and clients like silver bullet solutions, and that’s a very dangerous type of, of a thing.
And so I think, what most people have learned about technology, you know, they’re, they tried digital transformation. Then they re-engineered their failure at digital transformation. Now they’re re-engineering the re-engineering of digital transformation because they over-rotated the technology and they forgot about the people and the culture and the talent.
Now, what they don’t understand is that the people that unlocked the value of the technology. That’s not the other way around. And so, I think now people are starting to figure that out.
And if you drop technology into a well align culture and a really talented team and a crisp, clear strategy, that’s where you leverage technology. If you look at the companies that are really leveraging their strategic portfolio of technology, they’re really embracing emerging technology, and they’re kind of leading in that regard. It’s not because the technology. It’s because of the people.
“If you look at the companies that are really leveraging their strategic portfolio of technology, they’re really embracing emerging technology, and they’re kind of leading in that regard. It’s not because the technology. It’s because of the people.”
Technology, it’s like data. Data, these days it’s ubiquitous. Everybody has access to the same data, assuming that they have the resources to pay for it. But data is ubiquitous. Technology is getting to be ubiquitous, so it’s all about the people’s capability, to operationalize that, unlock value with it, lead with that. But it all ties back to the people, the culture of the talent, the strategy.
Absolutely, that makes so much sense, as you said. It’s the people that unlock the potential of technology, and that is absolutely true.
And what is your opinion on what is being termed as, you know, The future of work? And tell us something about the future of recruitment? What do you think it would look like?
Yeah, that’s a great conversation to have. I guess, first of all, I would say that most people’s perception of the future needs to be reframed. So most people think of the future as this far off, distant, ethereal event, right? It’s three years out. It’s five years out. You know, the future happens (clicks fingers) like that. I mean, and it refreshes itself every nanosecond. So the future is right here. It’s not way out there.
“So the future is right here. It’s not way out there.”
It’s right here. So you know, the goal of whether it’s industry Furtado or the future of work or whatever label you want to put on it is that they have clear line of sight to the future, but accelerate it, pull it closer to you, right? Actualize the future earlier on in the life cycles. So I think with regard to search, we built our practice to be different by design.
So we looked at the industry, the legacy-based competitors, in our competitors set and what we, what we saw is virtually everybody in the executive search business has the same pricing, the same process, the same teaming structure, the same delivery and execution model.
I mean, minus some modest advances in technology, everybody’s doing it the same way they did it 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago, right?
And so when we built our practice, we changed our pricing model. Our procurement model, our teaming model, our delivery and execution model. I mean, we built it to be antithetical to how the industry actually works. I mean, We look at ‘best practices’ as ‘last practices’. We’re kind of ‘next practices’ focused.
“We look at ‘best practices’ as ‘last practices’. We’re kind of ‘next practices’ focused.”
And so, you know, when you look at technology now as it applies to search, you know it’s not about the data. It’s not about slinging resumes. It’s about providing insights and guidance and counsel. Okay. And so if you can use technology to unlock better insights so that you can have some fact-based decisioning that’s dependable, that’s where those points of nexus have to come together, right?
Absolutely. You’re right. You know, it’s really how you kind of strategize and not follow the norm, but be different and challenge what a status quo, to be better than others.
Yeah, we were having a conversation the other day, and I think you know so many companies when it comes to executive search, they have a planned or an unplanned departure. And what do they do? You know, they look at the job description that they had when they hired the last person.
They make a couple of minor edits and they go to market and they try and replace the person they lost. You know that, that’s what I call backfilling, when what they should be doing is future filling, right? When that departure happens, they should re-imagine that position, right? They should reinvent that position and figure out, is there a better away to plug into the ecosystem?
Can we unlock value in new and interesting ways? Should we look at a different type of person to put in that chair, maybe split the position up in two or three things or, you know, but, but just literally tear it apart, reinvent it, put it together, and then go to market. Right? So Future filling- It’s a mindset thing.
“Future filling- It’s a mindset thing.”
Absolutely. It is a mindset thing.
Do you also think that, you know the future work and lives, is it going to change once we come out of this pandemic? Or would you see,
Lets’ say a search in succession planning, now that so many people are getting laid off?
Yeah, you know, it’s, we’re seeing it, so I think, this too shall pass, right? You know, we’re in the middle of a storm. And I think, you know, it shouldn’t be abandoned ship. It should be battened down the hatches. You just need to get through to the other side.
I don’t think we’re gonna find that we come to a certain day on the calendar, turn the page and everything goes back to the way it was. I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I think This pandemic will end, but it will have lasting and lingering impact.
“This pandemic will end, but it will have lasting and lingering impact.”
And so, I think a lot of us are focused on present, right? Because we’re at home, we’re sequestered, we’re sheltering in place. We’re doing safe distancing.
Some of those things will continue, but I think because most of us are so focused, and rightly so, right on our families and our loved ones and our friends and our co-workers, and we’re trying to figure out how to deal with this. But what you need to be doing is thinking past us, right? Because there will be the other side and that other side will be different.
I think, you know This is just accelerated remote working.
“This is just accelerated remote working.”
Our organization, I mean, you know, we’ve been largely decentralized and distributed for, I don’t know, 10, 12, 15 years. You know, so this wasn’t a real big shock to us.
I mean, the only time we go in to, you know our offices, kind of when people are coming into town or, if there’s a project or something like that, but, you know, we’re probably, I don’t know, 90% distributed and have been for a long time. And so it hasn’t really changed how we work here but the benefits of this are huge.
And see, clients are starting to realize that, I think when we first started doing that, people thought that’s really weird, but the advantage of this, so we’re headquartered in Philadelphia, so you know, we’ve got two physical offices in Philadelphia.
There’s, you know, depending on which day you go there, there might be five people. There might be 50 people. It just kind of depends on what’s going on. But, but if we were to have just said, we’re in Philadelphia, okay, that kind of limits our ability to attract talent. What, within an hour radius of that office, it excludes 90% of the market.
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We don’t care where the talent is. We want the best talent. We don’t care if they’re in Mumbai, we don’t care if they’re in Tokyo. We don’t care if there are in South Africa. We want the best talent, and we’re not gonna tie them to a cube. We’re not going to force them to go to back to back mind-numbing meetings. We want to free them from that box.
“We want the best talent, and we’re not gonna tie them to a cube. We’re not going to force them to go to back to back mind-numbing meetings. We want to free them from that box.”
And so I think the model that we’ve been using for a long time will kind of become the new norm. And people that haven’t, you know, had remote workers are going to be forced to go into that because there are a lot of people right now that are sitting at home going, you know what? I’m not going back and some really talented people that said, you know what? I’m not gonna fly a 1,000,000 miles next year.
I’m not going to spend all my time in a commute. And I kind of like being with my family, and I’m gonna figure this out. So the employers are going to be forced to deal with us, right?
And I think It’s gonna evolve technology just like the zoom meeting we’re in now. You know, there’s a company out there called Spatial. I mean, it’s all augmented reality and virtual reality, and yeah, I mean, this whole platform that we’re on right now, it’s just gonna get really, really interesting. Yeah, that is, it’s going to change. It’s gonna change a lot.
Wow, it’s amazing, the foresight you have and, you know, the mindset that you’ve operated on, it’s been quite advantageous to yourself and beneficial.
So, that’s really amazing, you know, Mike and, you know, I’ve had a very interesting conversation with you and to wrap this up, I’m gonna ask you the last one, which is, if you have any advice or any other important soundbites that you’d like to leave our viewers with?
Yeah, you know, I had somebody ask me the other day. They said, ‘what should I be doing right now?’ You know, this was a CEO of a fairly large company that, you know, was a lot of change was thrust upon him very, very quickly.
You know, we’ve talked this whole conversation about the importance of people on talent and, you know, as hard as it is for somebody running a multinational, publicly-traded company, you know, they’re focused on quarter over quarter earnings and they’re focused on so many things. But it’s just like, look, put all of that on pause. Focus on your people. Step back, take a deep breath, focus on your people. If you take care of your people, guess what, they’re gonna take care of you
“Step back, take a deep breath, focus on your people. If you take care of your people, guess what, they’re gonna take care of you”
…they’re gonna take care of your business. They’re going to take care of your customers.
But, you know, right now people have very real problems and we need to deal with those. I mean, the business things, that will come back. It will take care of itself. We still have to do what we have to do. But that needs to be second to the people.
So my advice to anybody that’s listening, just focus on your people. Focus on your family. Focus on your team. Business will get back to normal. Whatever normal looks like. Maybe we don’t know, but we’ll find our way there.
Absolutely. So people first. That’s the strategy.
Awesome. That, that is so wonderful, Mike. It was a pleasure talking to you. I really appreciate your time and sharing your views with us. It’s really been an enriching experience.
Yeah. Likewise. Likewise, my pleasure. Thank you.
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