Leading through Change

Mark Walztoni Crowe

Today’s guest on the Branch Out Podcast is Mark Walztoni, Managing Director with Crowe, based in their Grand Rapids, Michigan office. He provides human capital and culture due diligence and integration support services that include change management, employee communication, culture alignment, and HR infrastructure transition. He also serves turnaround, restructuring, performance improvement, and high-growth clients across a broad array of industry verticals. With over 25 years of industry and consulting experience as an integration project manager, planner, advisor, and interim “roll-up-the-sleeves” team member, Mark has plenty of wisdom and insight to share in today’s episode! Tuning in, you’ll hear our discussion on the differences between management and leadership and what it takes to successfully lead through change, including the importance of authenticity, emotional intelligence, having a big-picture perspective, and serving your team rather than pleasing them. In the end, it comes down to the logistics and the people, both of which are equally important, so make sure to tune in today to learn more about when to lead and when to manage.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Mark shares his initial thoughts on the differences between managing and leading in 2020.
  • Why management and leadership are equally important; being so well-prepared logistically that you don’t have to think about it.
  • Part of being a leader is understanding how you and your team complement one another.
  • Learn about this team leadership model: Forming, storming, norming, and performing.
  • How, as a leader, you can identify what causes a storm and work past it, starting with acknowledging and talking about it.
  • Mark emphasizes the importance of authenticity in a period of transition or change.
  • Essential skills of a leader include equipping your team with change leadership skills.
  • How wisdom and intelligence are two different (but equally important) things.
  • Mark shares a team management tool; assess what each team member can do, will do, and commitment level before assigning roles.
  • The importance of having an enterprise or company perspective rather than a siloed one.
  • Why an emotionally intelligent leadership approach never begins and ends at your desk.
  • Mark highlights influencing skills and serving a stakeholder rather than pleasing them.
  • Communication is key: tell people what they need to know six times, in six ways.
  • Hear Alex’s summary of the discussion, from what it means to be a leader or a manager to fostering a growth mindset and culture.
  • Mark’s parting words of advice: it’s not weaknesses that get you; it’s overused strengths.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast. Helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out Podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Mark Walztoni, Managing Director with Crowe, based in the Grand Rapids, Michigan office. Mark’s practice focuses on M&A, HR due diligence, and integration. We discussed the differences between management and leadership, and what it takes to successfully lead through change. I hope you all enjoy.

[00:00:45] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:00:52] AD: Mark, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m excited to have you here today.

[00:00:56] MW: Thanks, Alex. I’m a fan and I’m glad to be here as well.

[00:01:00] AD: So, talking to our listeners for a second, before we jumped on to record here, Mark and I were just chatting about management and leadership and, really, when do you manage, when do you lead? What’s the intersection of those? So, our focus today is we’re just going to dive into that and peel that back a little bit. Mark, maybe I’ll turn it over to you just to share some of your initial thoughts and we’ll take the conversation from there.

[00:01:23] MW: I’m going to start with an example that just jumps out at me, Alex, and that’s the difference between managing and leading during this last year. We’ve all experienced it so we had the same basis of knowledge about what those challenges were and lived through it. When I think about management, I think of developing protocols for working back in the office. How do you reserve a spot? What do you do in the office? What’s in bounds or out of bounds in terms of how you behave or wear masks in the office? Great management function, it’s about things.

The leadership piece is about how, and why. So, when I think about that, I think about a video I saw from a senior leader, who I know to be someone who’s maybe a little bit more buttoned down. You wouldn’t really expect a lot of the emotional side to be very logical in that. He’s close to retirement and, in his video to a couple thousand people, he said, “You know, I really thought I’d be taking a victory lap at this point in my career, and instead, I’m picking Cheerios out of the car seat in my backseat, because my daughter and her family moved back in our house. I didn’t sign up for this. I was thinking about why does this happen to me? But then another question came to me, why not me?” Then that set me on a trajectory.

He went into kind of a facilitated discussion with the small subgroup and the thing that just blew me away was the authenticity. He also made it okay to say, “Yeah, this is tough. This is a difficult time. I’ve never expected it.” Whereas someone with that same audience and opportunity could have done a rah-rah speech, happy talk, all that kind of stuff. But it was the authenticity that made it impactful.

To me, those are two examples. There’s of managing something and leading something, and they’re both important. I think you need both types of skills.

[00:03:33] AD: Let’s dig into that a little bit. We talk about management, as I’m hearing you, management in COVID is a great example around this, right? So, managing is figuring out the protocols for how people are going to come back to work, how that’s going to function, or how people are going to work remotely, kind of how we’re getting things done in terms of the steps or the rules that we’re following, the procedures, the process, those types of things. Is that a fair assumption or fair reply?

[00:04:03] MW: Wait, I’m just going to add logistics to that, you know, classic management function. Yeah.

[00:04:08] AD:. Now, on the opposite side of this, and where leadership really comes in, is taking that how and explaining the why and moving people towards, “Okay, this is why we’re doing it.” And a key component of that is really understanding people being worried about people, thinking about people, focusing on people, right?

[00:04:30] MW: It is and and starting with themselves. So, think about the definition of emotional intelligence. The first step is self-awareness, not self-reflection. That’s the classic navel gazing approach. That’s a trap. But self-reflection, what’s going on with me. Empathy, what’s going on with others, and being very practical and mindful when you’re dealing with others about where they’re at.

That might have been more of motherhood and apple pie statement. But I think in the COVID, everyone all of a sudden had the same base of experience. So, it was a pretty good bet that if you were feeling some of those things, so were the people that were working with you or for you or that you’re working for.

[00:05:17] AD: So, is it fair to say, I’m going to put on my manager hat for a minute, and Mark, you and I are working together, I am your leader/manager and wearing my manager hat. I say, “Mark, do you have all of the right equipment to work at home? Here’s the projects that need to be done and here’s how we’re going to communicate as a team.”

As a leader, I say, “Mark, how are you doing? How are things going for you? Is there any way that I can be helpful? Do you understand why we’re communicating the way we are? Why we’re working from home? Why we’re doing what we are? Are you understanding the mission, the things that me a manager is helping or telling you to do? Do you understand those things?” That’s my leadership pat. Is that a good way to think about it?

[00:06:01] MW: Yeah, Alex, that’s a great way to think about it. And again, it’s both important. Both are important because the logistics and getting set up to work from home, knowing how to do it, to some extent, you want it to be so good up front, that you don’t have to think about it anymore. You know, it’s all laid out. It’s all programmed. Charlie Parker, the jazz sax player used to say, “So, you know, first you learn the music, then you learn the chords, and then you forget all that stuff and you just play.” That’s part of the role, I think, in the manager role, and especially I see this on projects, the M&A projects, change projects. If you have a good change manager, and I think that is a good title, they’re making it possible for people to show their skills and their wisdom and all those good things, because they’ve nailed down all those steps that have to happen. But if people focus on it, they missed a leadership opportunity.

[00:06:57] AD: Missed the leadership opportunity, because of focusing too much on the management side. Not discounting the importance of good management, but being too focused there.

[00:07:08] MW: And that’s something I often see too, just in companies with senior leadership teams. It’s not necessarily about the person at the top, it’s about the team and where they supplement each other. So, the typical, if you think about a stereotype for a CEO, might be someone who’s very sales driven, very charismatic, brand ambassador type. Then, when you couple that with a COO, or CFO, who has the ability to keep things moving in a way that’s not only effective that day, but it’s also how the business is changing. Again, I think this goes back to the COVID piece. It’s so important to lock down those things as well and that’s where the team comes in. Not everyone has an equal dose of the same skills. I remember working with a client once and he had a sign on his desk that said, “Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.”

I thought, you know, maybe I wouldn’t have put it the same way, but there’s some wisdom in that. If you know what your job is, you’re in the right role, you know what you have to do in the situation, then there’ll be certain types of skills that are required. That’s, again, on the right team, you’ve got the right people with the right skills in the right roles, and they’ve got a good compass, because these things are not as programmatic on the direction of the business side.

[00:08:34] AD: Mark, you said something there I though was insightful, part of leadership and part of really being impactful and effective as a team is understanding how the team supplements and supports one another. How do different skill sets come to play and how do you know those? I think you’d said earlier, self-awareness and empathy is a key component to authentic leadership and to really being a good leader. I believe that self-awareness and empathy is really a big route to understanding how a team works together, right?

There’s having the conversations around different skill sets and bringing awareness to those but knowing myself, knowing my own self-awareness, my own skill sets, and being aware of where my strengths and weaknesses are, but then also having empathy for others that maybe don’t have the same strengths, and still appreciating and valuing the strengths they bring to the table. What are some of your thoughts around how to think through that as a team and as a leader?

[00:09:25] MW: Yeah, so for a team, there’s a model, it’s an oldie but goodie: storming, forming norming, and performing. That is just understanding upfront that when you bring people together in a room that don’t know each other, maybe they’re not clear on the task and there may be a lot of egos there and uncertainty. Okay, now I’m on this team. I’m very visible and I want to be sure to get it right because I don’t want to blow my chance. So, when I mentioned those four things, I think they account for that that natural flow of, okay, now I’ve got to get to know the other people on the team. The forming part is what are the roles that we need to play on the team?

Storming is just the human part of trying to get it right, and then, as some of those issues come up, and an emotionally intelligent team is going to get through that phase pretty quickly, because they’re going to understand the dynamic, then it goes to performing. Then, once the team starts to perform, then it’s like that self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. “Oh, we had a win as a team. Okay, let’s go get the next one.” It is that confidence that, “Yeah, this thing is going to work out. So, maybe I need to relax a little bit and just contribute and not worry about some of these other things.”

[00:10:47] AD: Let’s make sure I have this right. Forming, storming, performing, norming. Is that the right order?

[00:10:52] MW: Switch three and four: forming, norming, storming and performing. So first, they get together, the norming is they reach that balance. storming is now kind of the human part of it and then performing.

[00:11:06] AD: Let’s hone in on the storming because I think that’s the critical element, right? The others are the natural progression, and we want to get to performing. But everything else is part of that flow. The storming is the important part of this model that we’re talking through. And this is this idea that, as a leader of a team and as a team and just humans in general, humans inevitably will hit some kind of friction. When you put two humans in a room long enough together, they will hit friction. Anyone who is married knows that. That is a part of human to human relationships. Now, we talk about in the workplace and when you’re, as a leader and as a manager and how you effectively navigate your way through all this, inevitably, there’s going to be storming.

There’s going to be friction that’s created. There’s going to be challenges that are created amongst a team. And COVID, in particular, opened up a lot of opportunities, I’m sure for storms to happen. How does a leader or a team, if I’m the leader of a team, how do I, one, identify what’s causing the storming and, two, work past that?

[00:12:13] MW: The first step as a leader is to talk about it, to acknowledge it, that this is a natural phase. When it happens, it’s not a reason to worry or be concerned. This is part of how a team becomes effective. The other piece I’d add to that, and I definitely see this accelerated in the last year and really by the business environment going forward, is resilience and leading change. So, now you have this team together, you’re normalizing the idea there’s going to be some conflict. So then how do you help people understand what those conflicts look like and what to expect?

When I’m working with a team, I generally raise the concepts of change and transition. And I’ll take it back, you mentioned if you’re in a relationship with someone, so there’s a change. The change might be when you got married, it might be the first date, might be any of those things. But that’s a point in time. The transition is what happens next. In other the words, I’ll just talk about the birth of the child, right? There’s a date when the child was born. But if you’re a parent, that transition is going to be the rest of your life and their life.

Now, teams aren’t going to form and stay together that long, obviously, but some of the same principles are that you want to look at, well, what’s ending for people? What’s the new beginning look like? And this period in between, some people call it the neutral zone, I like to call it wandering in the wilderness, is that path to get there. I think that happens with a team is there’s a definite start date. If the team has clear deliverables and outcomes, there’s a clear end date. And then there’s that whole muddy middle. I think that’s where the storming occurs.

I think then there’s certain activities in that middle period, like prototyping and testing, getting feedback from customers, lessons learned, making that a formal type of a process, and that discovery of people’s strengths under pressure. When we talk about company culture, it’s generally how people work together to get work done with internal or external customers, then the change aspect hits it. It’s how do they react to change? Some people step up, some people fold up.

There are things when you’re working with a team, where you can help them understand their own change readiness and resilience and, again, make sure you’re getting the right balance of what a person’s role is and their capability.

[00:15:02] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast.

[00:15:12] AD: Mark, first part of that was talk about it, and I think that’s really important. I want to hone in on that for a minute that, when inevitably you hit the stormy patches, when inevitably you hit challenges, which is, as a leader, that’s your job is to help overcome those challenges, and you will inevitably run into those challenges. When you do, talking about it in both before, during, and after. Well, let’s talk about, we know that we’re going to – if things may sound great today, but I promise you, there’ll be some challenges we’re coming down the road, and here is – we think it’s really important that we’re constantly looking for these challenges and how to overcome them as a team. So, that’s talking about it before.

Then, during, “Hey, this is normal. These challenges, this is very much a part of being a team. Make sure that everyone around the table feels and knows that this is comfortable that this is normal.” I shouldn’t say it’s comfortable. It’s going to have some level of discomfort for people that’s inevitable. Your objective as a leader is to – I don’t – normalize isn’t necessarily the word I want to use, but to talk about it in a way that people are looking and saying, “Okay, I know I feel discomfort. I know that this is challenging, but that’s okay because others are also feeling the same way, and we know this is good. My leader is telling me this is good.” Me as a leader, I’m telling people, this is good, we’re moving our way towards the right direction.

Then, afterwards, we’re still talking about it, because we want to learn from it, we want to reflect from it, we want to talk about what went well and where we could have improved, so that, when we hit similar challenges in the future, we are able to overcome them faster. The key theme there is talk about it. Don’t sweep it under the rug, don’t act like it’s not happening. I know it can be wildly discomforting to be in that position, especially as a leader, when you have to have those tense conversations and lead people through that, but I think that’s a critical element of really being able to overcome those challenges. Would you agree with that, Mark?

[00:17:01] MW: I would, and I would add the word authenticity back in there, in the talk about it. Because, as I’ve heard people talk about it, I’ve heard things like, “Well, we’ve got to do this until we get back to the new normal.” That to me is a is a delayer or derailer of really being affected with a change leadership. Because it kind of sets the mindset, well, you know, we’re not doing anything transformation, or that maybe it’s more of a manager thought as I’m thinking about it. “We’re going to do this thing now and then we’ll get back to the new normal, and then we’ll do other stuff.” Well, I think history tells us that’s not going to happen.

[00:17:38] AD: Face the realities.

[00:17:41] MW: It is, and I think that’s, in leading a team today, it’s approaching it that building change leadership skills is really part of the objective of the team. Because how do people grow? 10% formal training, 20% they learn from each other peers, mentors, podcasts, and then the 70%, and that’s what matters, is they’ve just done stuff. So, the next time they do it, they can see patterns. The next time they do it, maybe they can look around the corner and get a jump on something before it gets there. So, that’s why I think this whole notion of team formation and leading change and being an effective leader of change with yourself and others, those are really key skills that I believe aren’t going to go away. If you give people the opportunity to really practice those and learn those, at the same time you’re really helping your business. Now, you’ve got the what to do and how to do it, but you’ve also got the outcome and, if the outcome is positive, people are more likely to do it the second time.

[00:18:48] MW: It’s a great point there. What hit me when you were talking about that is, as a leader, we talked about the importance of talking about of it, of talking about potential challenges, talking about what we may be facing as team, and talking about it before it actually is a challenge in your discussion around how people learn and some of the real learning, the real growth comes from that experiential side. That’s where leading a team to growth, leading yourself to growth and talking about growth, not revenue growth, but professional growth really becoming a better version of a leader, becoming a more effective and cohesive team. Those things generally happen through experience, not as much through sitting in a specific classroom or program or reading a book.

However, all of that said, the important factor is talking about it and putting that time in, to learn to listen to that podcast, to read that book, ahead of those challenges, so that you are equipped with the right tools so that, when you find yourself in those challenges, you can navigate your way through it more effectively, and learn more in the process. That’s where I think it can be really challenging as a leader to really lead yourself and lead a team to growth is because you sit back and say, “Well, this isn’t a challenge for me. Why am I reading this? I don’t have this problem today?” Well, no, you don’t. But you should certainly equip yourself with the tools to know how to deal with it, because you’re probably going to hit it at some point. What’s your thought on that?

[00:20:10] MW: Yeah. So, I think that wisdom and intelligence are two different things. But they’re both important, and that 10% formal training and the other things, you’re gaining intelligence, once you’re experiencing it, now you’re seeing patterns, now you’re much more effective. So, it is that balance. You’re right. And also, there are some things that pure brain power can’t overcome and there’s other things that effective leaders may not be the person who’s going to be able to put together that protocol to bring people back to the office. So, both those dimensions are important, wisdom and intelligence.

[00:20:50] AD: I like that. Okay, let’s circle back a little bit. So, we said, we talk about it, but the other thing that you pointed out, we look for change. We understand that change is really difficult for everyone. No one likes change, right? I don’t think it changes. It’s part of growth, it’s inevitable that you will go through change, and I think change brings opportunity but, at the same time, change is something I think that we all have a distaste for in one way or another.

If I heard you right, as a leader, one of my objectives is partially prepare my team to be ready for that change and equip them with the right tools to be resilient and overcome those challenges when that change happens. But the other side of it is, if I’m leading the team and I’m starting to sense that tension, or some of that – I’m sensing challenges that my team is hitting, I need to be thinking about what changes have occurred that may be causing that? Knowing that that underlying change is what’s likely to be fueling some of those challenges. Is that a right way to look at that?

[00:21:50] MW: It is. I would build on it something maybe that’s a management tool that works when you’re managing a team or you’re advising a team. It’s looking at the team members, from the perspectives of their can do and will do factors and where they are on that continuum of commitment. So, let me tell you what that could look like. I’m a consultant, so four-box matrix, that’s like having a sandwich in your lunch bucket, you know. But anyway, if you think about that, and then you think about mapping out, where’s the person’s actual hard skills for this? That goes to where I have in the right role, then where are they in terms of those soft skills, those leadership skills, and where do I need them, and where’s the gap?

It may be sometimes, I just have someone in the wrong role. But I find that, when I look at it that way, or when I’ve looked at it that way, or when I help leadership teams do that, there are people who can make a great contribution but they’re up in the grandstands somewhere because no one’s really tapped him. They’re an undiscovered resource. There’s others who may be really good at face time, I don’t mean the technology, I mean, getting face time and presenting themselves well, they may be in a key role but this is just something that you can’t finesse your way around in that sense. I know I’m taking the negative part of that.

One of the tools on the team then is to look at those contributions and look at that role, and then feel free to make changes, ideally within the team, but sometimes you need to bring in a resource and sometimes you need to move them off. People can’t help you when they’re coming on to the team or leaving the team. But that gets into really managing the group well, to be sure you’ve got the right mix, and they’re motivated the right way.

[00:23:48] AD: Part of that is recognizing that it’s important and important leadership capability. So, tying this back to beginning. As a manager, part of my capability as a manager is to understand what needs to get done, create a plan, create the system, the accountability, and figure out the logistics of accomplishing the project at hand. My leadership side, my leadership hat says, “I have to make sure I have the right people around the table working on it.” In really assessing both the current capabilities of those around me, but also be looking out into as you said, the grandstands and saying, “Okay, where else might there be untapped potential that can help me work my way through this?”

[00:24:30] MW: Yeah, absolutely. So, I can think of a merger integration that I was working on a few years ago. Part of the job was doing some management interviews. At a location, we talked to maybe seven or eight senior leaders and there was one that wasn’t on any teams. He was in a kind of a gray niche role. I forget what the name of the role was, but he was that person. He’s the ex-person. He’s the only one that knows it. But in the conversation, we learned he’d run a division before, he’d been an entrepreneur, he’d had his own company, and he was just out there doing his little thing and, when he was put in a position to contribute, first of all, he had visibility he hadn’t had before to the acquiring company. He did a great job. But it was one of those situations where you had the right person for the team doing something that was less important at that time.

[00:25:27] AD: Think about the value, if you as a leader help uncover that, not only do you create value for the organization by uplifting a talented individual that can be a greater contributor towards the organization’s goals and objectives, but you also take that individual and give them greater responsibility, greater challenges, greater opportunity for improvement in their own career in their own life. The outcome of that is, in those instances, when you highlight that, it’s a win win for everyone around the table.

[00:25:59] MW: It is. A short-term and long-term win. And I think, you know, if we think about team formation, whether it’s an organization structure or specific team that’s chartered to do something for a specific objective or a particular length of time, there may be a tendency to find the best available person locally. But that may be someone who’s not working a lot of other things, because they don’t bring particular value, as opposed to the best person available. Now, and I think that goes to why organization structure, organization design, and team formation has to have an enterprise or company perspective.

I may have the greatest team in my department, but if I’m not getting them out there learning other areas, so they can be more effective at connecting the dots and see how things come together – eell, I’m doing what’s right, perhaps for my own group, but I’m part of the enterprise and in the sense that the enterprise comes to me and says, “Hey, Mark, you’ve got the best project manager on your team, but we’re pulling her and we’re going to put her somewhere else, because she needs to learn a new area. This is a chance for one of your less experienced people to step up.” Well, my first reaction is, “What’s in it for me? Sounds like all loss at that point.” But if I step back, I’ve got to think, “Yeah, this is the way it should be.” It’s not silos, it’s the best available person plays their best available spot.

[00:27:39] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle market professionals.

[00:27:47] AD: That’s a really tough place to be. So, I agree 100% of the sediment, the sediment, make sure I get this right. It’s really saying not saying what’s good for me, and rather saying what’s good for us or what’s good for we. What’s good for the bigger picture in the team, the organization, the company, however, you look at this. Again, I think in your example, this is specifically around intercompany within a team and where to place an individual, but I think leadership as a whole versus that the management side of things, right? When we’re talking specifically around my role as a leader, I have to really be stepping back and asking what’s right for the mission, the organization, the team, us, we, the bigger picture, not what’s right for me, right?

[00:28:34] MW: Yes, and there’s a term that might be helpful here too, about stakeholders. So, sometimes if I’m, again, in an organization working on something, I’ll look at the stakeholders, that might be the C suite, it might be the technology group, and whatever. I think about, “Well, what do I need from them? What do they need from me? And how can I help them be successful?” Because it’s only in helping them be successful that I’m going to be successful. I think that’s a classic leadership approach and an emotional intelligence approach as well, because it doesn’t begin and end at my desk. I’m using that broader perspective. One, the stakeholders are my own team members. So, what’s best for them that they know everything possible about this little silo? Or is it about them becoming better people, better business people, because they’ve seen a lot of different things?

So, it’s the how do I serve the stakeholder perspective versus how do I necessarily get my project done at 98%? Well, maybe what I need to do is 80%, because, all these things connect. It’s not one thing.

[00:29:53] AD: That’s the difficult part of leadership at the end of the day is that, one, there’s no clear answer. There’s no clearly defined, here’s the exact way to do something. I think it’s very situational and I think there’s in many times more than one right way or one proper way, a successful way that you can approach things. But at the core of it, the root of it, really is that recognition that it’s not your own objectives. Your objectives, as a leader, is for the team or the mission to succeed, those around you to succeed.

By definition, your role as a leader is that grander success, which means that it’s not about you personally, as an individual, what you want to accomplish, it’s what the bigger picture is. That all becomes an outward looking approach. Again, it comes back to where the empathy is a really important component of that understanding different strengths and skill sets, understanding your own strengths, but really asking those around you and looking at those around you to figure out how to help them succeed the most.

[00:30:53] MW: Yeah, it is. I think then, when you think about, well, what’s a leadership skill? That’s where the influencing skills come in as well. If it’s a managerial process, it may not need input. I mean, when you’re doing COVID protocols to come back to the office, you don’t need to get 20 people together and have a brainstorming session. There’s going to be kind of a way to do it right, and a way to avoid. So, again, the influencing skills of, “Well, here’s what I think it should be.” It can be counterproductive. But as a leader, again, you’re typically influencing a result rather than anything else. Then, I think, Alex, that goes to another skill, that may be something that’s a little hard to learn or accept, and that’s sometimes your goal is to serve the stakeholder rather than please the stakeholder.

If you’re pleasing the stakeholder, yeah, you can reflect back what they said, create something that seems to fit their vision, the classic is, “Well, the boss wants it this way. So, I’m going to design it that way.” But if you’re really serving, you’ve got to ask tough questions and you’ve got to look at things in a different way. If you’re in the right environment and you have influencing skills, that can work. If it’s confrontational or things of that nature, there’s constructive advocacy, and then there’s destructive, only an idiot would look at if that perspective.

I think that’s another thing on the team is, how ready are you to disagree and advocate your position in a positive way? Again, go back to the protocol guy or person, there’s not going to be a whole lot of experts telling them how they should do it. They’re probably his best, closest as an expert as there would be.

[00:32:52] AD: I like the, it’s serve your team versus please your team, and understand that part of that is as long as you are authentic in your approach, and you are genuinely looking to do what’s best for the team, what’s best for the organization, what’s best for the mission. As long as that’s truly core to the way you’re thinking and the way you’re acting, then you need to be able to positively stand behind challenge and defend your positions and also know that, as a leader, your thoughts will evolve, your positions will evolve over time. But you have to look and listen and understand to those around you if you truly want to serve them and not necessarily just make everyone happy, not just bring everyone together and please them.

I like your reference to influence around all of that, because you’re right, at the end of the day, leadership is really just influence, right? There’s a measurement of influence underneath that, that if my goal is to influence people to accomplish the mission, the goal, and whatever we as a team are trying to do. If I’m doing that in a servant mindset versus just pleasing people, I will get much, much farther in success and have greater impact.

[00:33:56] MW: If you end the project and people feel pleased, you’re probably not going to get another leadership position. Because they’re not willing to –

[00:34:06] AD: Yeah, they want to be served, not pleased.

[00:34:09] MW: That’s exactly right. I’ve heard a lot you’ve probably heard it a lot, “That was really painful, but I’m glad we did it that way.” Or, “That was really challenging, but now we don’t have to go through that again.” I think – so what does a leader need to focus on to make some of these things more tangible, right? Communications is key. We talked about stakeholders, communications up down and around the organization about why it’s important, what the situation is now, and what the plan is. There’s plenty of space in those blanks.

The communication piece is, again, I said up, down, and around, but it’s also not one and done. It’s a cadence and that cadence could include phone calls, it could include emails, web-based events, those are all ways to communicate, and there’s a guideline.

I do a lot of communications in the merger situations or change situations is tell people what they need to know six times in six ways, and about the time you’re tired of telling them is when they’re finally starting to get it. Capabilities, I’ve talked about a little bit, developing others on the team, that’s kind of a what’s in it for them tight, but also for the organization. Then change, looking at things like on your project team, what’s going to change for whom as a result of this, what’s ending for people? What’s starting for people? How can we accelerate their adoption of the things they need to do?

Then finally, culture. So, when I look at culture, again, I’m looking at how people treat each other and customers during the normal course of business and in change. There are certain things around there about accountability, about training, about responsibilities, et cetera. Those are all drivers that you can use to influence and help your own success as a leader.

[00:36:12] AD: Mark, that was well said. I’m going to actually use that as a little bit of a beginning of our summary to wind down our episode, because I think it was a great point there of really what to focus on. So, I’m going to recap that in a minute, but I’m going to take us back for a minute. We talked about leading versus managing and really the focus of our topic today is being a leader and what it really means to be a leader. In the example being if we’re talking about bringing people back to the office in COVID. Just it’s an easy example, I think we can all relate to at this point.

As a manager, it’s figuring out the logistics, the plan, the policies, the procedures, where people are going to sit all of those things. As a leader, it’s worrying about the people, the actual, how are people doing? How are they going to adapt to this? What can I do to support them? It is really knowing that me, as a leader, my job leading the team is to look for those challenges that people are going to have and help them overcome it. We talked about it being storming, right? Being the stormy part of this, and part of this is talking about it, communicating, and making sure that people know these challenges are normal, they’re going to happen, and working to make it common to conversate around it. Then, outside of that, though, I have to really look for what change are other people hitting. What do I know? Because the change that other people are going through is where I’m going to start understanding some of the challenges.

Now, as I’m working through those challenges, another role that I have as a leader is to assess the talent around me, looking in the grandstands was one of the comments that was said that I thought was really good. And it’s saying, “Okay, how can I look around it? Who I have? And who’s here? How can I elevate the right people to meet the challenges, to meet the goals and the objectives of the team, the organization, the mission that we’re going towards?” That, again, that’s my job as a leader. Part of that mentality is, what’s good for me versus what’s good for we, right? Again, empathizing the “we”. As a leader, I’m not focused on what’s good for me, I’m focused on what’s good for we, and you called this the stakeholder mentality. I like this a lot. And you’d said, the three questions to ask yourself: I’m a leader, I’m approaching this, I’m leading a team, leading an organization, leading a group and I say, “What do I need from them? What do they need from me? And how can I help them succeed?” I like that framework.

Again, we’re starting with what do I need? So, I understand the the goals to meet the objectives of the organization but, really, what I need to do is understand what do they need from me, right? Because I know what I need from them. Now, what do they need from me and then how do I help them succeed? All of that is really based on this mentality of, as a leader, it’s your job to serve, not please, and you want to be looking for ways to serve your team, serve and accomplish the mission, not necessarily please everyone. That means, you still are working to build your influence and use the influence that you have within the organization and with your team, to be able to move people in that way forward, and a servant-based mindset is such an easier way to get there.

Finally, you brought up in the points to focus on as a leader. Number one, communication being by far the most important aspect of this. We need to communicate, communicate, communicate, up, down, and around, not one and done. Up, down, and around, not one and done. You said six times in six ways six. I’m going to say it six different times and six different ways. By the time I’m done with that, I might be sick of saying it, but they’ll finally actually understand what I’m saying behind all of that.

Now, as a leader, I’m focusing on my communication, but I’m also focusing on developing others. What’s in it for them? My mindset is, what’s in it for them? How am I helping others? I want to develop others and make sure that they’re going to continue to grow. In addition to that, I’m thinking about change. I’m thinking about what’s going to change for people. When I make big decisions or when organizations are making and moving forward towards their mission, their goal, there’s going to inevitably be changes that come and your job as a leader to be thinking about that and thinking about what’s changed for those around me and my team, so that I can be thinking about how to help them overcome some of the challenges that are inevitably going to come with that change.

All of that really leads to the focus on culture, and knowing that at the culture, how people treat each other, both internally and externally, the way you do things, the way you think, the way you act. It’s my job as leader to have a pulse on that, but to also be consciously focused on making it a priority to build the right culture, to weed out bad cultural behaviors. I’m a believer, and there’s a lot more to culture than this at the core. But I’m a believer that if a good leader who truly does everything we’re talking about, stakeholder mentality, looking to serve, communicates well, seeks to develop others, looks for change, and to help people overcome that, that’s going to develop the culture that is successful. Those are the skill sets of success and, if you as the leader are demonstrating that and embodying those and leading your team with those principle traits, and how you approach things, it will find its way into the culture.

Mark, anything I missed? What a great conversation there. But any summary that I missed there?

[00:41:20] MW: A wonderful summary.

[00:41:22] AD: I just read the notes, the notes from what you said. No, that was great. I appreciate it, Mark. That was a heck of a conversation there. So, for a call to action this week and for everyone listening, I want to just say that everyone is in some form of a leadership position. I know many times people want to say, “Well, I’m not a leader. So, this doesn’t apply to me,” and I totally disagree with that. Everybody is a leader. Everyone has influence in one way or another. For everyone listening, know that you are in some form of a leadership role.

Now, again, if you have a leadership title, or you’re in a more traditional leadership role, it makes it a little bit easier to identify this, but I want you to look and think about a place in your life where you are a leader, and I want you to find 30 minutes to sit down and write down what changes have occurred in the last six months and what changes might occur in the next six months, and think about the challenges that come with it. Again, just 30 minutes. Just take 30 minutes of space to think about those. I think you’d be shocked at the ideas you come up with and the insights that you will have to better lead your team by doing that.

[00:42:26] MW: I just want to add one more thing. We didn’t use this word in the conversation explicitly, but I think it’s time to make it explicit. And that’s explicit and that’s listening,

[00:42:35] AD: Listening. I like it.

[00:42:35] MW: Just the importance of that listening skill. I have an example of that, you know, in executive development. It isn’t typically something the executive doesn’t know that causes them to stumble. It’s something they know well, or they do well that they overdo. So, it’s not the weaknesses that get you, it’s the overused strengths.

[00:42:56] AD: The only way you’ll figure that out is by listening and understanding to those around you.

[00:43:01] MW: Sometimes you have to take the feedback. I was speaking with someone yesterday, again, another senior executive, and he was talking about what his development plan for this year was. He said, “You know, I’ve kind of focused on always demonstrating how smart I was, because I can improve any anything. I can improve anything from 95% to 99% right away. But what I’ve realized is that when I do that, I’m only 50% effective, because that’s when people go back up into the grandstand and say, ‘Well, I’m not going to bring anything up because I may be embarrassed, because it’s a smart person.’ But then that just shuts down all of those things.”

As someone else once told me, Mark, resist the temptation to tell people everything you know. I think that’s very true with the executives as well. That’s why it’s important to focus on the stakeholders, then it’s about them. It’s not, let me tell you everything I know because –

[00:44:00] AD: Let me learn from you. Let me listen.

[00:44:01] MW: – a lot of it that’s irrelevant or you don’t care, and it comes across as someone who doesn’t listen, but it’s a whole different thing.

[00:44:09] AD: Mark, it sounds like it’s a teaser for another episode that we’ll have to do in the future. Talk about listening and the skills of listening. So, I appreciate you being on here. This has been a great conversation. I’m sure that our listeners will find value. For our listeners, how do they get ahold of you? What’s the best way to get in touch?

[00:44:25] MW: Yeah, LinkedIn profile is the best.

[00:44:27] AD: Awesome.

[00:44:27] MW: I actively check my messages, my email address is there in the contact information, and there’s also some other things that I’ve posted with interviews and articles and things that you might find of interest.

[00:44:40] AD: Awesome. Well, again, thank you so much for being here, Mark. We’ll make sure to link your LinkedIn in the show notes below and everybody reached out to Mark and have a great conversation. Mark, appreciate you being on here and looking forward to doing this again soon.

[00:44:53] MW: Yeah, terrific. Thank you very much out, Alex.


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