Ep #12: From Management Mess to Leadership Success with Scott Miller
Scott Miller is the Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership at FranklinCovey where he has been for 24 years. In his best selling books, From Management Mess to Leadership Success and Everyone Deserves a Great Manager he provides valuable insight and practical tools on how you can begin to lead with authenticity and vulnerability and become the manager that people want to follow.
He is the host of On Leadership, one of the top rated podcasts in the leadership space and in our interview today he shares with you insights and strategies that he gained not only from his career but also from the over 100 interviews with some of the greatest authors on leadership.
He found true success as a leader by embracing his vulnerability, by not being afraid of his mistakes and now he is sharing that message with you. In today's episode you will learn how to balance authenticity with oversharing, you'll know how to solicit feedback, how to use thought leadership to be seen as an expert, uncover your blindspots, create self awareness, know when to speak up or not speak up and you'll walk away with an arsenal of motivation to get you to the next level of leadership.
It's a fun and inspiring interview and I know you are going to love it.
What You'll Learn:
- How you can use thought leadership to be seen as an expert
- How to balance authenticity with oversharing
- How to not only solicit feedback but to insist on it
- The problem with thick skin
- Plus, you'll walk away with an arsenal of motivation and practical tools to get you to the next level of leadership
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- My 4-Step Leadership Approach to Being Seen as a Thought Leader at Your Organization Today
- Scott's Best Selling Books: From Management Success to Leadership Success and Everyone Deserves a Great Manager
- On Leadership - Top rated leadership podcast
- The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey
- Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
- Viola Davis
- How Will You Measure Your Life? by Karen Dillon and Clayton Christensen
- Seth's Blog
- Disrupt Yourself by Whitney Johnson
- The Law of the Harvest
- Sign up for a free discovery call at stacymayer.com/apply
Stacy: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer. I am here with Scott Miller. A very exciting interview. Scott is the executive vice president of Thought Leadership at FranklinCovey. And I originally found Scott because he was promoting his latest book, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager. And I emphasize the word great because I know Scott was also the chief marketing officer so he may have had something to do with the book cover. But the reason that it really stood out to me is because there's this blue box, and you'll have to look at the book. I'll highlight it in the show notes, and it actually looks like it changed the word good to great. That's where my mind goes. I guess you could insert any other word behind the word great, but the idea being that we could all become and aspire to become a great manager. So that book really stood out to me. The other thing and the reason why I really wanted to have Scott on the podcast today is because he is taking the social media world by storm [laughter]. He is all over LinkedIn, and he is really-- he just started this new interview series called Mess with the Millers which is-- he gets his children on there, his wife on, a cup of wine. And this whole concept of thought leadership-- if you've been following me for a while, you know that I advocate thought leadership as a way to actually advance your career. If you can really, truly be seen as someone who has a very specific point of view, a very specific leadership style, then that's another way that you can help get ahead so that people can really recognize you as a leader and that you really, really stand for something. So Scott, let's just start with that, the idea of thought leadership and what in particular does that mean to you and it's the name of the organization that you're now the executive vice president of. So tell us a little more about that.
Scott: Well, Stacy, nice to be with you. Thank you for the platform. Look forward to our conversation. So as you mentioned, I've been in the FranklinCovey company for 24 years. That, of course, is the company co-founded by Stephen R. Covey, right, of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame. That book has now sold 40 million copies, unbelievable. He kind of raised me from an early professional to where I am now. He has since passed. I was the chief marketing officer for about 10 years. Prior to that, 10 years in sales and sales leadership. About two years ago I transitioned out of that role by my own choice and became the executive vice president of thought leadership. We hear that word so much right now. Thought leadership in simplicity is actually public relations, right? Gone are the days where your company issued press releases or tried to get a reporter on the phone from the Morning Herald. Those people don't work there anymore, right? There's no more press releases. I mean, there are but not really. Thought leadership now is really how any organization promotes their point of view, their expertise, how they get their word out, whether it be through books or speeches or TED talks or-
Stacy: Oh, oh, oh, oh. Yeah. So now and the reason I interrupt you is that is what I'm saying that people can do for themselves, right?
Stacy: So you're talking about promoting an organization through books and talks and things like that?
Stacy: So tell me how do you think thought leadership can apply to a leader?
Scott: Well, I was just going to go there. I think all those same principles for a company can apply to a individual. I mean, look at me, right? I was a corporate officer fairly behind the scenes for the last 22 years, made a bold, somewhat controversial step out. I still am very much in the firm, but I'm maximizing my LinkedIn profile and my Instagram and my Facebook. i write a weekly column for Inc. magazine. I'm the author of two books now. So there's no question that everybody in their career deliberately, appropriately can think of themselves as
their own thought leader. I don't think anybody calls themselves a thought leader. You don't call yourself an expert. But you can definitely engage in thought leadership and that is your own public relations. What is your point of view? What is your experience? What is your opinion based in experience, right? I'm very careful. I have strong political opinions, but I don't tend to share them online. I'm using my social media and my thought leadership platforms to share, "I saw this. I did this. I failed at this. I sucked at this. Here's what I have learned. And here's what I think-- how you might benefit from it as well, too." So I think everyone can manage their own thought leadership to promote their career and their influence without calling themselves a thought leader.
Stacy: Yeah. I love it. I love it so much. And there is an implication that there's a level of authenticity. So let's talk for a minute about your first book, From Management Mess to Leadership Success. Now, I absolutely love this idea of being very open and speaking openly about your messes in a very authentic way. But I think that it's difficult for leaders to know. So in my case, I'm working with people who want to advance. So they want to be seen in a good way. So they want to put themselves out there in this good or appropriate or successful way, but the interesting thing is that the more authentic and vulnerable that they can be, then the more approachable they became, ending in-- can be a more accepted leader. So tell me a little bit more about that process for you and that vulnerability for you.
Scott: Well, in honor of Ash Wednesday and being a Catholic, what I would say is that it doesn't mean you become a walking confessional. I don't think it makes sense to just walk around and blurt out all your problems and all your mistakes because we've met some people like that over disclose, right? We're not advocating that. What we are advocating-- what I'm advocating is that you know your culture and you know your audience. Not every culture is as accepting as the next might be. But the general premise is there's great power in being a vulnerable person, right? Some people will weaponize it against you. So I don't go into this naive. As the more vulnerable you become, you need to make sure that you understand that some less secure people will try to use your vulnerability, your admissions, your authenticity, your transparency, your translucency against you. Most won't. Most people will cleave to it and find it very refreshing. The premise of the book that I wrote, the first book, Management Mess to Leadership Success, is all based on the fact that even as an executive officer, and the world's most, really, legitimate global leadership development firm, I've got tons of messes, right?
I mean, leadership of people, it's not easy. It's very hard. It's sloppy. It's unrelenting. It's often unrewarding in the short term. Not everyone should be a leader of people. In fact, I'm pretty unpopular in some of areas of the leadership industry because I don't buy into this idea that everybody has leadership skills. Now, maybe lead yourself and lead a project, but I don't believe everyone should be a leader of people. I do think some of the best leaders of people, however, are the people that have enough confidence, enough humility to admit their mistakes. And admit it in a way that's helpful to other people, right? To acknowledge the fact that we all have messes in our lives. I mean, I've got a resume and a curricula vitae a mile long of successes. I've got one two miles long of messes, right? Anybody you talk to that's had big success in life, they will tell you, "Oh, no, no. This was a lot of challenge. A lot of mistakes. A lot of being fired." I read last week where Harrison Ford was in an interview about his long-term marriage to Calista Flockhart. I think it's his third marriage. And he said that for 15 years he toiled as an actor with no recognition, right? There's no such thing as bursting on the scene or being overnight sensation. I think there is enormous power especially now with a younger generation sweeping into the marketplace. They want to work with and for relatable people, people they're going to have real conversations with. It doesn't mean there's a formality. There's not a pecking order because there is in most organizations. But I want to be able to talk to my leader in a real and authentic and vulnerable way my fears, my concerns, my passions, my own insecurities. And so I think there's a nice balance of not-- like I said being just a walking confessional, but being a person that's not someone with thick skin, but someone with vulnerable skin, someone with translucent skin, stuff comes in stuff comes out. And you're confident enough in who you are that you can both be humble and vulnerable. That's a magnetizing person.
Stacy: Now you were more on the thick-skin side for most of your career. And I would say that a lot of my clients tend to fall on that thin-skin side, I guess. I don't ever hear anyone say that term. But I think that it would be more, that they're given feedback that they need to speak up more, that they need to advocate for themselves more, that they need to be more outspoken, right? So you were on the thick-skin side and you found that level of vulnerability. I'm not touting your age here, but I've heard you say in other interviews that you founded this out in your 50s. So tell us what happened, what shifted, that allowed that level of vulnerability in for you?
Scott: This is a three-hour podcast, right [laughter]?
Scott: That's exactly right. Like you, I host a podcast. It's a pretty substantial podcast for FranklinCovey called On Leadership. And I'm privileged like you to interview influential people. Not sure how I got on your podcast, but I'm delighted to be here. But I was preparing for an interview with the famed actress and producer, director Viola Davis. And as I read her story in a book that Brene Brown wrote. She shared this compelling discussion around how she was raised in abject poverty in the south. And as she transitioned out of this life of poverty and insecurity-- that as she moved to Hollywood her friend said, "Viola Davis, when you get to Hollywood, you got to have thick skin because people are going to come at you." And when I read that I thought I was so validating because, as I share my whole life-- I'm 51. I moved to Utah when I was 26. I'm from Orlando, Florida. I share very abundantly that I'm a member of the Catholic Church. I'm not a zealot, but I'm very proud of that faith. And it has been great for me and my boys and for my wife. And when I came to Utah, there weren't a lot of Catholics, right? Back in the 90s, it was like the local priest and myself. So that was about it. And as everyone knows here-- the dominant faith in Utah is that of Mormons, latter-day saints, lovely people. I love them, and I valued their right to believe what they want to. They're also a very evangelizing faith, which is great for some people. I'm not used to that. So when I came to Utah, I took on this persona of being really thick-skinned . And I'm really confident, and I'm firm in my faith, and kind of buyer beware, so to speak. And so it worked to kind of be my shield against this evangelizing culture. And I hope I don't offend anyone. I joke that I had the largest ever Mormon wedding in a Catholic church because most of my friends are Mormons, right?
Stacy: Yeah. Yeah. You live there.
Scott: I love these people of which I'm not a member of their faith. So when I read Viola's statement around the value of having a thick skin, I really resonated. And then I read the next line, where she said, "The power or the problem if you will have thick skin is nothing gets in but nothing gets out." And it was prophetic. It was an epiphany for me. And she said, "Instead of thick skin, instead of thin skin, have translucent skin-- stuff comes in, stuff comes out, transparent skin. You decide what is valuable. You don't hold anything in. It kind of comes in and comes out. And that was a profound prophetic experience for me reading that because I think I lived too long with thick skin, kind of nothing got in but nothing got out. And as I became more self-aware , more open to feedback, more vulnerable, I started to become more deliberate in the types of feedback I solicited and from who. Like you, I'm a fairly public figure now. There are blogs dedicated to my eyeglasses and my hair, and people have vitriolic posts.
Stacy: You do have nice hair.
Scott: That's nice of you. That's nice. That's crazy. That's crazy. But I mean, there is no shortage of feedback coming my way, the more public I get. And I have had to be very deliberate now around the circle of people who I really trust to tell me what I am doing right and what I'm doing wrong or off. And that has been enormously valuable to me. It's a lesson, I honestly didn't really learn in my 50s, the whole thick skin versus thin skin thing and which feedback and from whom to really source and action on or say, "Thank you, but I'm not going to change that. I'm okay with that."
Stacy: Right. They talk in a strengths-based approach about fatal flaws. And I think that this intimidating approach that you started to realize after a while, it can become a fatal flaw in both your career and your mental headspace and everything that you do, and at some point, you have to say, "Okay, how do I want to proceed?"
Scott: Yeah. To that point Stacy, it was also in my 50s, where I interviewed Karen Dillon. Karen Dillon is the former editor of the Harvard Business Review, and she's coauthored many books with the famed Professor Clayton Christensen from Harvard. He passed away about three weeks ago. They cowrote a book called How Will You Measure Your Life, an instrumental book. I highly recommend it. It takes business principles and applies them to your personal life. And in this book they talk about how-- it's confident people that can be humble people, arrogant people are incapable of being humble, but humility flows from confidence. And there's this nice balance-- this nice tension of being vulnerable and being confident, and being humble and being open to change, right? I think it's an art. And the more mature we get, the more comfortable we are with our strengths and with our weaknesses because any strength can become a weakness if overplayed. And I've learned a lot from Karen about this just delicate tension in all of our lives of balancing humility and confidence. And I think if someone-- someone asked me recently, "How to define leadership?" And that's no problem. I've been in that space. But I defined leadership as a balance of vulnerability and confidence.
Stacy: Oh, that's wonderful. I love that. So speaking of confidence-- I guess, I'm not too presumptuous to say this but I was thinking about you in the leadership style that you described in management mess before you had this shift. And I think that some of my clients would describe you as maybe not their favorite boss or intimidating. You using words like that. So, in terms of the person having to deal with you, and maybe from like we all-- what is the thing that we leave a company-- we leave our boss, we don't leave [inaudible]--
Scott: You quit your boss, not your job, right?
Stacy: Yes. Exactly, exactly. So if you have somebody in your organization or if you had anybody surprise you along the way, who really was able to advocate for themselves to meet you where you are. Not to be intimidated by you, but to really use that authentic side of themselves, to speak up to say, "Scott, I want this opportunity or whatever that particular thing is." Do you have any stories like that you could share?
Scott: I do. Another dear friend of mine is Seth Godin, the famed marketing author. And Seth's been very generous to me in my life. I've learned more from him than probably anybody else other than my parents. Seth taught me the value of understanding the difference between being fearless and being reckless. And that may sound like a duh to you and to all your audience, but I'm telling you it was into my 40s until I realized, "Oh, I've spent so much time being reckless when I thought it was being fearless." Not reckless as in unethical stuff or with drugs or alcohol, right, just with people's feelings, with my brand, with my reputation, with my interpersonal relationships. So as it works to building your brand and working with your boss and your leader, make sure you have a good check on are you being reckless? Are you being fearless? I think strong leaders like strong team members. Strong meaning to, in a delicate way but in a firm way, ask, question. I mean, I'm a very strong personality. You can feel this. You can hear it. In fact, you can see it on your camera. It doesn't always work to my advantage, but I tend to gravitate towards other strong people.
Stacy: So would you say even if somebody didn't have the same leadership style that you had, if they asked, if they approached you in a direct way, you would respond to that?
Scott: Oh, it happens all the time. It happened a few weeks ago, I had an individual who reports to me, a female, happens to be in her 60s, she's very competent, and she approached me about something that she wanted to do. And initially, I was thinking, "Well, no, because that isn't your job." And the more that she pushed on me, articulated kind of her business case, if you will, and her passion around it and her reason, I continued to listen. I didn't come on board right away. It took actually a couple of days for me to kind of keep revisiting it. I thought about it, and I thought, "You know what, I came out of the gate kind of strong against it. And why am I so resistant to that? And people have given me opportunities that maybe I didn't deserve, maybe I should pass it on to her." And actually, after about two weeks of kind of coming full circle, I'm actually not just accommodating her, I'm championing her in it. Because I was proud of her boldness.
Scott: And so I think it's all in the way you do it, right, balance your courage with diplomacy, right. Meet the person where they are. Think about what's in it for them as well as what's in it for you. Most people will help you, they just need to know how. And so don't be afraid to ask for help. People can't help you if they don't know how to. So I would say, no one gets fired for being bold. No one gets passed over for being bold. Just balance that boldness with diplomacy and with a reputation of delivering. Because I think that's an issue where too few professionals looking to advance their career do not live the law of the harvest. This is a principle. And the principle comes from the farming industry of living the law of the harvest and that is that I'll use a potato farmer as an example. Potato farmers every several years, in addition to rotating their crops, they will in fact plant a money losing crop like alfalfa or something where they won't make nearly as much money as they would in potatoes, but the nutrients that the alfalfa puts back in the soil allows them to grow bigger potatoes next year that yield more money. It's a great metaphor for your career. I think too many people try to harvest too soon. Plant, fertilize, water, mow, plant some more, fertilize some more. I don't mean don't ask for a job every five years or a promotion, but make sure that you are planting and not always harvesting, because I think in the younger generation as well, they like to harvest a lot faster than their plant is reaping them a great crop. So just balance that. Should you be harvesting or should you be planting?
Stacy: I love it. Oh, that's great metaphor. So what is next up for you? One of the themes that I've heard in some of your interviews is this idea that you are a very hardworking individual. You work 60, 80 hours a week maybe, I don't know. So I don't know if work-life integration is a thing for you. Basically, what is your next level of growth? What are you working on right now?
Scott: I'll answer that kind of backwards. So there's no such thing as your personal life and your work life anymore. That's gone, right. That was something in the '80s or '70s or '50s, I don't even know, right. It's your whole life. We have just one life right now. I am 51 years old. I am a named executive officer at a public company. I am wearing tennis shoes and a pair of jeans, sitting in my sunroom. I have my 5 -year -old son sitting out about four feet from me playing with a kid from school, and any minute my wife's going to leave and go pick up the other two boys. And I've got a series of conference calls all day long, right. This was unheard of 20 years ago. But I'm working from home. And this morning, I took my boys to Ash Wednesday service, and dropped them off at school at 9:30, and I also was on the phone at 5:00 on a call with London, right. So my day has been in and out all day long, personal and professional, personal, professional. And I will go until probably late this evening, both personal, professional. So for me, life balance is balancing my roles in life, right. I was up at 5:00 working for my company, and I also was at Mass and at school for two hours mid-morning, right. So not all of us have that luxury, but I think more and more, that's more the norm. And people want flexibility. People want to be a parent. They want to have a life, right. They don't want to burn out. And 3.6% unemployment shows everybody we've got options. So organizations, leaders are going to have to be more accommodating to people wanting to flex throughout the day in their work life and their professional life because it's now one. What's next for me is a lot. I'm on the rise I'm told thanks to people like you.
Stacy: I think you are. I'm glad I found you when.
Scott: Well, thanks to people like you. But better to be on the rise, then to be on the decline, right? But watch, I'll be on the decline soon. I'm writing a lot. I'm writing a weekly ink column. The podcast that I'm hosting has now become the world's largest subscribed to podcast in the leadership space. I'm writing more books in the management mess space. I just co-wrote a book for the company called Everyone Deserves a Great Manager. It debuted on the Wall Street Journal list at number three. So I'm just trying to perfect my own vulnerability and share the lessons that I have learned, the many messes as freely and abundantly as possible. The days of me putting on a good front are over, and just trying to be really authentic about my mistakes my fears, my wins, my losses and try to impact as many people coming behind me as possible on the lessons that I've learned that are immense. So I'm embarrassed that I said I'm on the rise. I'm on the climb. How about that? I'm trying to climb up right now. That was arrogant of me. I'm sorry.
Stacy: I didn't find it arrogant at all. I was very pleased to hear you say that [laughter]. So Scott, thank you so much for being here with me today. I much, much appreciate it. As we close out, so you read about 100 books a year, 100 leadership books, I guess. I'm sure you must read other books as well. On Leadership is actually an interview series with authors on leadership books. You have to look at this online. It is a podcast as well. But look at the visuals and it's pretty incredible. He has every book that is-- I have about half of them on my bookshelf too.
Scott: Yeah. Good. Good. Good.
Stacy: It's pretty exciting. But he's got a lot of books behind them. It's very inspiring just to even look at. But anything fun that has come up for you, any really great interviews, anything that we should look at and think about?
Scott: Yeah, thank you for the compliment on our set. I love turning books face out. I do not turn my books even at home. I like books turning face out. In my boys' bedrooms, we built libraries in the wall where all the books are face out. And I find that the amount they read has exponentially increased if they can see the face of the books. They're reading three and four books a night before bedtime versus one or two. You create a book cover for a reason. So I'd encourage everybody. Turn your books face out. Build some more bookcases. I've interviewed about 100 people. Some great interviews coming up. I interviewed a woman named Whitney Johnson. She wrote several books including one called Building an A-Team , another one called Disrupt Yourself. And I've had the privilege to have interviewed some amazing people. I could go for hours on them. Whitney Johnson wrote this book called Disrupt Yourself. And it talks of the power of about every three years, the average professional gets a bit anxious in their job and they like to change. And it's increasingly less with a younger generation. And that book has had a transformative impact on how I disrupt myself out of my own comfort zone. I got three kids to provide for and a wife that's very competent but full-time stay-at-home mom. So I have a lot of pressure on me. So I can't just quit my job and go seek my fortune. But I do like to disrupt myself in my comfort level. I've always been kind of one year, one week ahead of the boot. No one is firing me because I'm firing myself a lot. I've had eight jobs, maybe nine inside FranklinCovey. And I've always moved myself out of them. So I think there's great power in this insight of disrupting yourself before you are disrupted. And let me end on this thought, one of my coaches said to me something really profound. She said, "There comes a time in everyone's life where they've given 90% of what they have to give to their employer. And they've taken 90% from their employer, what they can take from them. And the last 10% either way, just isn't worth it." So I would ask all your listeners, "Where are you on that 90% giving and taking? Are you at 40%? Are you at 140%? Because once you hit that 90% something goes off on you and you ought to disrupt yourself. And with unemployment where it is, there's so much opportunity. Go host your own podcast. Write your own article. Tape your own blog or whatever it is. Don't just consume them. Get out there and take control of yourself.
Stacy: Oh, yes [laughter]. I love it. That is so fantastic. Scott, thank you so much. Anything else you want to add before we go?
Scott: I'm always asked what I learn most from Stephen Covey.
Stacy: Oh, yes.
Scott: His book, as you know, has sold 40 million copies. And Dr. Covey taught me the power that with people slow is fast and fast is slow. So as people are looking to build their careers, move up in organizations, remember that relationships are everything. This idea that people are a company's most valuable asset is not true. It's bunk. People are not a company's most valuable asset. It is the relationships between people that are a company's most valuable asset. Because Stacy can be a Rhodes scholar and Scott can be a Black Belt Master Six Sigma expert, but if we can't get along, complement each other, forgive each other, pre-forgive each other, work together, the company doesn't need us. So I'd say to everybody, as you're looking to build relationships, not just laterally, but with your leaders that get promoted, your ability to collaborate, forgive, compliment, work well together, defuse conflict, it's everything in your career. You will get promoted, not because of your technical skills. You will get promoted because of your self-awareness , your ability to apologize, your ability to seek consensus, to defuse conflict, to admit your mistakes, and to collaborate with people when you can't admit and address your own blind spots and everyone has them, that is what will get you promoted into a leadership role. Mark my words.
Stacy: Yes. What did you say? You're working on your vulnerability?
Scott: Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah. It's a work in progress, right. Everyone's got blind spots. And if you want to exponentiate your career trajectory, walk into your boss and say, "I've been thinking a lot. You know what, I talk too much in meetings, or I make too many declarative statements, or I don't know that I spent enough time lifting people up." Your boss will fall off her chair. Every leader wants their people to be more self-aware. To not just be open to feedback, but crave it. Walk into your boss and admit your worst mistake and say, "I really want to get your feedback on-- why do you think I do that? Are there any tips you could give me on how to avoid that?" Your leader will fall in love with you and you will get promoted so fast. Your head will spin. Sit down and ask your boss, "What is it like to have me working for you? What's it like to work on a project with me? What's it like to be in a relationship? What's it like to be married to me?" Go home to your partner. Go home to your spouse and say, "What's it like to be married to me?" Build your self-awareness . Conquer your blind spots in your career. [Well, no?]. No limits.
Stacy: Scott, thank you. Thank you so much.
Scott: My pleasure, Stacy, thank you for the platform.
Stacy: I'm going to link to all of your books and your podcasts and everything in the show notes. Please look for Scott Miller. He is on the rise [laughter]. Thank you.
Scott: From your lips to my ears [laughter]. Thank you, Stacy. What an honor
Stacy: Thank you
About Your Host
Hi, I’m Stacy Mayer, a Leadership Coach for emerging executives who are ready to take their career to the next level or seeking more fulfillment in their current organizational roles.
I help corporate managers reposition themselves to advance their careers, build confidence in their ability to solve problems in real-time, and step into their higher leadership potential so they can make a bigger impact in their organizations.
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