Ahead of the 11th CFO Strategies Forum MENA, we caught up with John Mattone – #1 authority on intelligent leadership, best-selling author and famously known as Steve Jobs’ former coach.
A topic you discuss often is how important it is for leaders to be willing to be vulnerable in order to transform their organisations. Why is this important and what do you mean by vulnerable? A C-level executive could push back and say ‘Where is the line between showing people you have a soft spot and still being respected and taken seriously’?
That is an excellent point. You have got to be strong, have conviction and diligence about yourself, all these things are really non-negotiable for a leader today. Ultimately, we do need leaders to think differently and think big, which is something I learned from my work with Steve Jobs, back in 2010 (John coached Steve Jobs’ for a few years*). A big mantra of his was that, if you want to make a difference as a human being and in your business, you have got to think differently and think big. But you have to counterbalance this ego with diligence, conviction, vulnerability and openness. Being vulnerable is a decision that people make – it is a decision of courage – and what I have seen in my work is that if you are not vulnerable and open for feedback, if you are not willing to raise your hand when needed, there is no way you can instigate growth and become the best you can be as a human being. Not all leaders are willing to embrace that, but if they do express this vulnerability, it turns out to be the most courageous decision they can make. In my opinion, this is the foundation for agility and learning.
You have worked with some of the world’s greatest leaders. What have you found to be a common attribute or trait that drove them to the top?
There are actually so many attributes, but I would say there is a higher correlation between people who have a strong, vibrant, mature inner core. What I mean by that is to have a great character, value system that is consistent with the 4 A’s, positive thinking patterns, good emotional make up and balanced self-image. All of those things will tend to spill to the outer core and the individual will exhibit good strategic thinking skills and strong team leadership skills. I would say there is a higher relationship between maturity on the inner core and greatness on the outer core. In my experience, the commonality between great leaders is not that they wake up every single day and think about the person or leader they want to become. It is much more about waking up every day and committing to being this person or leader they must become. There is a big difference between must become and want to become, which I will talk about in November at the CFO Forum.
What would you say can be the most damaging mistake a leader can make?
There are many, but the big one that stands out to me is the ego. If the ego – which is, in essence, thinking differently and thinking big – becomes overactive and dominates everything in the behavior of that leader, it becomes an issue. I call that a derailleur. It would probably end up derailing this individual in their personal lives too. Another mistake leaders do is what I call the ‘bad cholesterol’ or the artist trait, which by the way was Steve Jobs’ predominant trait: his creativity, innovation and outside-the-box thinking. The problem is that when bad cholesterol levels increase, the body reacts a certain way. With a leader, what ends up happening is they may become very self-absorbed, individualistic and they stop being collaborative. Every big organisation wants collaboration. If you are a leader and you are not exhibiting enough of that artist trait in a mature way, how are you going to create a culture of innovation? It is impossible.
You mentioned earlier that the ego can be a big issue for a leader. Do you think this is what they struggle with the most and what can they do about it?
No matter who you are, there is so much happening in our personal or business live. For me, the potential derailleur for most executives is the inability to balance their life and focus on what is important. There is a saying that I like to use “The disciplined pursuit of less will give us more”. The problem is that we live in a world of more. People always want more – and you have to have that compass to remind you what the essential things in life are.
Do you believe that we all have this compass and we sometimes decide to bury it?
It comes down to what your core purpose is. Asking that question, “Why do I exist on the Earth” is a big question. It makes you think about your purpose in life, your legacy and how you want your life to be remembered. As I ask that question to successful people and senior executives, I realize many of them have never even asked themselves that question. We all have a compass and the capability to tap into that, but we have to work on ourselves and be willing to look inside. There is an exercise I do which enables leaders to connect with their core purpose. If you think from a company’s perspective, all companies have purpose statements, vision and mission, right? In this line of thought, if you have one, it simplifies life because everything that you do is aligned with your core purpose, which makes it easier to navigate life.
John will be speaking at the 11th CFO Strategies Forum MENA in Dubai this November. He will host a private executive breakfast and deliver an hour-long keynote address providing practical insights into intelligent leadership, culture and productivity. John is represented by Right Selection in the region.