Michael McKinney is the president of Leadership Now and M2 Communications (a multi-media manufacturing and production company) since 1980. The Leading Blog began in March 2006 and can be found at LeadershipNow.com (https://www.leadershipnow.com/) You can follow him on Twitter @LeadershipNow and Instagram @leaderworks.
QUESTION: You provided a leadership quote here on my Blog in 2013, when I asked for one piece of advice for new leaders: “The biggest thing leaders must remember is that it is not about you. The implications are many, but it keeps your focus on what it should be focused on.” What does that quote mean to you today, 8 years later?
(Post referenced: https://debbielaskey.blogspot.com/2013/05/leadership-insights-for-new-leaders.html)
MICHAEL MCKINNEY: A leader’s focus should be on a mission outside of themselves. As a leader, you are enlisting others to help you fulfill that mission. As such, your focus is on enabling the people on your team. Of course, you can take that too far, and then leadership looks more like babysitting. Leaders who placate or pander to their constituents or followers aren’t leading at all; they’re simply making a place for themselves. They like their position, and they want to keep it. Any relationship that doesn’t have personal responsibility as part of the foundation is doomed to dysfunction. In addition, if you look at others as leaders in their own right, you raise their game, acknowledge them, and create ownership. “Not about you” builds others up, and people empower themselves.
TWEET THIS: A leader’s focus should be on a mission outside of themselves. As a leader, you are enlisting others to help you fulfill that mission. ~@LeadershipNow #Leadership
QUESTION: How can a CEO be an effective brand ambassador?
MICHAEL MCKINNEY: Today, when we talk about being a brand ambassador, we think of social media. And when done right, that works for some CEOs. But I think being an effective brand ambassador means being the poster child for whatever your organization represents. A leader should not just represent the product or service but should also embody the culture they feel is crucial to the organization’s success and the success of the people in that culture. The brand and what it stands for is personified in the life of the leader(s) both in and out of the office. In short, they walk the talk in all that they do.
TWEET THIS: A leader should not just represent the product or service but should also embody the culture they feel is crucial to the organization’s success. ~@LeadershipNow #brandexperience
QUESTION: Have any Presidents/CEOs impressed you by their leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic? If yes, how?
MICHAEL MCKINNEY: The crisis created by the response to the pandemic was a difficult situation for any leader to navigate. I think any leader that managed the fear factor by sticking to the facts was a success. It has been such a fluid situation of conflicting information that it made you feel that you knew nothing about anything.
One example that I am aware of is the leadership at High Point University in North Carolina. University president Nido Qubein and staff ran a test over the summer of 2020 with all of the recommended safety protocols and procedures in place with a small group of summer students in both virtual and in-person classes. The success of that allowed them to safely open in the Fall of 2020 in the same manner.
For the class of 2020 that was denied a final semester and proper graduation ceremony, they offered them a tuition-free master’s degree in Communication and Business Leadership. The lengths they went to care for their students, staff, and faculty speaks volumes about their concern and effort to understand the people they serve.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite leadership book, and why?
MICHAEL MCKINNEY: I read about 2 to 3 books a week. Almost all are leadership or business-related titles. However, I like to throw in a good novel and something historical or from the social sciences. So, I have a lot of favorites. There is a lot of great content being produced today that is of great value.
But if I am to narrow it down to one title, I would have to go with The Unconscious Conspiracy: Why Leaders Can’t Lead by Warren Bennis. That book got me seriously thinking about leadership back in the late seventies. I read everything I could from Bennis, Drucker, and other notable authors in that decade. Bennis argued that leaders aren’t leading. They were (and are today) doing everything but leading. It is what prompted me to start a company called LeadershipNow.
QUESTION: You feature a Leadership Quiz on your website: “The answer depends on some pretty subjective variables. However, this quiz will help give you a rough idea as to whether or not you have the attributes of a good leader.” Can you provide an overview of the quiz and who should take it?
(Link referenced: https://www.leadershipnow.com/quiz.html)
MICHAEL MCKINNEY: I think everyone has the potential to lead; it is a matter of breathing life into that potential. No one is born a great leader or has the combination of traits that make a great leader. We all have qualities that must be developed and strengths that need to be managed. As we grow and learn how our mindsets and the behaviors they create affect others, we learn where we need to grow. And it can change depending on those we are interacting with or the mission we are on. It is a lifelong process. The quiz is made up of phrases that reflect qualities of leadership that we can all develop (and no doubt have, to one degree or another). The point of the quiz is to get anyone inclined to believe that they can’t lead that they have to potential to lead from where they are.
QUESTION: One of my favorite quotes about leadership is from author and consultant Mark Herbert (@NewParadigmer): “Leadership is a gift, not a position. It doesn’t require you to be the smartest person in the room. It requires you to trust and be trusted – and block and tackle for others.” What does this quote mean to you?
MICHAEL MCKINNEY: As the late former Secretary of State George Schultz said on the occasion of his 100th birthday last December, “trust is the coin of the realm.” Trust is built not by just being truthful but also by not being deceptive. Trust also involves a vulnerability—the humility to recognize a certain uncertainty and an understanding that I don’t know everything. Often, we must defer to others. Uncertainty means we even need to reassess what we think we know. A leader with that mindset can be trusted. Without that, we even become rigid in our dealings with others. More than a gift, leadership is taking responsibility for something that needs attending to. It is stewardship. It is not a position. It can be practiced effectively by anyone in any context.
TWEET THIS: Leadership is taking responsibility for something that needs attending to. It is stewardship. It is not a position. ~@LeadershipNow #Leadership #brandexperience
My gratitude to Michael for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring leadership insights.
Image Credit: Debbie Laskey.