John Mattone: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

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John Mattone is known among leaders of Fortune 500 companies as a cutting-edge thinker in the areas of leadership and talent management. He is recognized by the Thinkers 50 as one of the world’s leading management thinkers and by Leadership Excellence magazine as one of the top independent leadership consultants, executive coaches and speakers in the world. His work is featured in The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, The Huffington Post, CEO Magazine, CLO Magazine, CIO Magazine, and other respected global news outlets. He is a trusted advisor and coach to some of the world’s leading organizations and brands, including The CIA, The EPA, FedEx, AgFirst Farm Credit Bank, KPMG, Columbia University, and Navy Federal Credit Union.

John is President of JohnMattonePartners, Inc., a global leadership consulting firm that specializes in executive assessment, development, and coaching. He is a powerful keynote, having addressed more than 500,000 people in over 2000 speeches and seminars throughout the world. He holds a B.S. Degree in Management and Organizational Behavior from Babson College and an M.S. Degree in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the University of Central Florida.

His best-selling books include Talent Leadership: A Proven Method for Identifying & Developing High-Potential Employees and, more recently, Intelligent Leadership: What You Need to Know to Unlock Your Full Potential.

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Morris: Before discussing Intelligent Leadership (in Part 2), a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Mattone: My family starting with my parents who are no longer with us. My Dad, Dominic Mattone was a tough, hard-working man who grew up in Brooklyn and my Mother, Jane was a beautiful person and a wonderful mother. They taught me all the right values and principles. My wife of 35 years, Gayle has had a profound impact on my personal growth. She is the “love of my life” and has been since we met in high school at age 16. Gayle is the both the toughest and most sensitive person on earth. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor who had to endure hundreds of radiation treatments and drug treatments while raising four children and keeping our family together during her most difficult time. Gayle is also a respected registered nurse who has taken her talents to the ICU to Hospice to her present role as a psychiatric nurse working with younger people who are trying to cope with the challenges of life. I have learned resilience, perseverance, toughness, and sensitivity from Gayle.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Mattone: Many, many people. But, perhaps the late Lou Larsen who gave me my first professional job after grad school. He took a risk on a young 25 year old. My first job was with Stone and Webster Engineering Corporation in Boston. S & W back then was one of the premier architectural engineering firms in the world that designed many of our world’s power plants. I was hired as an internal management consultant working with a team of 5 other internal consultants all of whom were ivy league MBA’s and much older than me. My job was to teach many of the leadership courses to engineers and managers at our home office in Boston but also our other locations in Denver, Houston and New Jersey. Looking back on it now, Lou took a risk but he saw something in me. I loved what I did. I loved teaching and impacting much older people. I believe that my speaking and teaching style was born at S & W. I had to know that material and had to come across with passion as everyone knew I had no experience to back up my messages!

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Mattone: Yes, actually there have been two. At age 29 I was the Manager of Training at a company in Rochester NY. This role gave me the chance to train managers all over the world at the company’s various locations. I was getting a lot of feedback from people who said “you should start your own company”, “you are really good at what you do”, etc. I started to think. I love to speak….and I think that I am really good at it. So, I went to see a legend speak….the late Zig Ziglar as he was speaking in Rochester, NY. I left his speech and when I got home I informed my wife Gayle that I was giving up my salary to start my own speaking and training business. She wasn’t happy….we had two young kids and we needed my salary!! But, I did it. My first company was a speaking and training company called Human Resources International. The company lasted 10 years and I was moderately successful but my intense travel schedule caught up to me with four kids and a family so I went back in the corporate world at age 40.

The second came 2.5 years ago. My wife was in Boston taking care of her ill mother and I was doing an exercise program running along a lake in the greater Orlando area where we now live. At the time I was senior executive at a large respected leadership development consulting firm. I had a great salary and benefits. In my role I had the chance to work alongside some of the top executive coaches and trainers in the world. I was not doing a lot of this kind of work at the time only “filling in” when they needed help on various assignments. I was the firm’s VP of Assessments. But, as I was doing my speaking and executive coaching work I “re-connected” with my passion and love for helping people become the best they can be. I received a lot of great feedback from clients and I knew I was making a real difference. At the risk of sounding “egotistical”, I also quietly came to realize that I was perhaps doing my work at a higher-level than were the respected coaches and consultants (some of whom have worldwide reputations) who were employed by this firm.

So, long story short…as I was running the lake, I literally had a “calling.” It was a very clear and powerful message from above that literally sent chills through every fiber of my being. The message was: GO BACK and DO WHAT YOU WERE PUT ON THE EARTH TO DO. Go speak, coach people and write. I made the decision to launch JohnMattonePartners, Inc. in December of 2010. It was a great decision. My path of actually spending 14 years in the corporate world prior to re-launching my business, no doubt, has helped me succeed. I like to think that I bring a lot of credibility to my coaching assignments by virtue of my experience in the business world as a partner in two well-known consulting firms, as President of Executive Development Associates, Inc., and as a VP of sales at a large outplacement firm. These experiences have strengthened my philosophies and beliefs about people, leadership, success, and what companies must do to successfully navigate business challenges…..it’s all about people!

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Mattone: My undergraduate education at Babson College was outstanding. Challenging school. No easy A’s at Babson. I also have an MS in Industrial Psychology from the University of Central Florida…also a great school and one of the top programs anywhere. Did my PHD at Old Dominion in Virginia as well but left there after one semester because we needed to start making money. There is no way I would be doing what I am doing without my formal education. I have a lot of credibility with my educational background.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

There is a difference between having a “cognitive” understanding of what is going to unfold and actually going through it. Yes, in many respects, the business world has turned out to be much more challenging, difficult, and in many respects “ruthless” than what I ever envisioned starting out at age 25. I guess if I had had a better understanding of what was before me I probably would have had a better strategy for navigating. On the other hand, there is so much you learn from the “surprises” and getting “knocked in the head”, that I am not sure if I could turn back the clock if I would have wanted it any other way.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Mattone: Great leaders unleash people and talent.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Mattone: The pursuit of truth, honesty and being centered is a noble pursuit. It is the only worthwhile pursuit. However, be prepared to come to grips with what you find in your pursuit.

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Mattone: It’s what I coach to….everyone has incredible gifts and strengths that need to be discovered, nurtured and unleashed. If I can help executives and future executives discover who they are and all that they can become, they can now have a unique imprint in the work they do and a unique imprint in the personal lives.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Mattone: Great leaders, great people execute to the best of their abilities at the time they execute. However, they are vigilant to impact and reflect, everyday. What went well? What didn’t go well? They then commit the next day to course correct with revitalized wisdom and spirit. Oh, the best leaders alter their thinking from the benefit of reaching out to their stakeholders, mentors and “board of directors”. Younger leaders need to do a better job in this area!

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Mattone: Effectiveness is doing the RIGHT THINGS RIGHT.

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”:  organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Mattone: Yes, I agree. But, the decision must rest with the leader who must muster the guts to make the call and the guts to be held accountable and responsible for making the call. You can see why we have so few great leaders….it takes guts, every day to be a leader. But, there is no more noble profession than leadership as it offers one the opportunity to cultivate their heart, mind and soul and to do the same for their people. Is there anything else?

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Mattone: Large Ego.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Mattone: Yes, I tell senior executives all the time that they can enrich the development of their high-potential leaders and emerging leaders by telling them your own stories…about what you have been through, the challenges you have faced, the setbacks you have been through, the failures you have experienced, the successes you have enjoyed and how those successes happened. Creating detailed, compelling pictures for younger leaders often creates a rich vicarious experience that then gives the “seed of belief” that they can do what you have done.

Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?

Mattone: People associate “pleasure” with comfort. We all operate with what I call “pain/pleasure” ratios. We do what we do at a particular point in time because we associate that we are going to do is going to yield more pleasure than pain. We make a guess based on experience. Getting people to change and getting leaders to change won’t happen until they realize both cognitively and viscerally that there is in fact more pain associated with what they have chosen to do (comfort zone) than any other alternative that they see. So, it is so important as a coach for me to help the executive see that whatever they are doing is not creating the positive results they might think they are creating. I use stakeholder feedback and multi-rater surveys to help me do this. But, you must also work with people to help them create compelling alternatives….other strategies that are winning strategies…that offer more pleasure and reward. Then people must execute and start to experience….yes, this is a much better way to go!!

Morris: In recent years, there has been criticism, sometimes severe criticism of M.B.A. programs, even those offered by the most prestigious business schools. In your opinion, in which area is there the greatest need for immediate improvement? Any suggestions?

Mattone: Yes, there needs to be much more emphasis on teaching leadership. Offering coaching in EMBA programs is now commonplace. That was a big move and an important one. We need leaders….

Morris: Looking ahead (let’s say) 3-5 years, what do you think will be the greatest challenge that CEOs will face? Any Advice?

Mattone: My own research on this and other studies clearly points to the #1 challenge faced by CEO’s and Boards is dealing with the fact that 40-70% of any company’s management team is getting ready to retire in the next 5-10 years. This is a worldwide demographic challenge. Every CEO and every Board in the world is concerned with this issue unless their company is in India, various countries in Africa or South America. Combined with the aging baby boomer challenge, is the fact that the Gen X population (born between 1965-1985) is in short supply and the Gen Y population (born between 1985-2005) are too young to take the place of the managers leaving. Plus, Gen X and Gen Y are in general not excited about becoming managers! My advice is the same advice senior teams are giving themselves and have been for the past 10 years….”we need to strengthen our leadership pipelines”. The problem is that most companies frankly have not and are not doing a great job identifying and accelerating the development of their future leaders. There is massive leadership talent in most organizations…the problem is most of that talent is hidden!

Originally published on BobMorris.biz

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