Transcript of Jack McGuinness' Guest Appearance on Millennial Mastermind Podcast
Jack McGuinness: So very simply put, the leader's role is to provide the structure for the team to operate within but most importantly the leader's role is to model a few critical behaviors that enable the teams to build towards those characteristics.
Brad: Hello friends, before we get started today with an amazing guest I wanted to take a quick minute to mention that we are going to be launching a new mastermind group this winter. We've had a ton of success with the first group so I decided to open the door to give another handful of participants the opportunity to experience the truly transformational experience of surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who are invested in your success.
Brad: So who is this group for? It's for entrepreneurial individuals who either have a business or would like to eventually launch one. It's for someone who's looking to surround themselves with a motivated team of supporters and advocates. It's for anyone who would like a quality dose of positive accountability in their life, and it's for people who like to help others achieve their dreams while chasing their own. And just as importantly, if not more so, who's this group not for? It's not for idea leeches who are looking to intercept somebody else's success. It's not for energy vampires who are going to bring down the overall enthusiasm of the group, and it is definitely not for anyone who is not willing to put in the hard work required to achieve their dreams.
Brad: In the last year we've seen members of our current group launch businesses, break company's sales records, land their dream jobs, launch a podcast, and reach many other milestone achievements in their individual journeys. All of this while developing deep and meaningful relationships with the other members of the group. We've shared laughs, tears, moments of complete amazement. So if this is something you're looking to add into your life please shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line mastermind group, and we'll get you some additional information. All right guys, enjoy the show.
Brad: Hello folks, welcome to the millennial mastermind podcast, the show for entrepreneurial millennials looking for the tools, tactics, and inspiration to take your business and your life to the next level. Today I'm very excited to introduce Jack McGuinness. Jack has over 25 years of experience working with leadership teams to unlock their potential. He's a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as an airborne ranger in the US Army's prestigious 10th Mountain Division. Jack went on to fill CEO and COO roles and has since co-founded Relationship Impact, a consulting firm focused on working with CEOs to unlock the potential of their leadership teams. He also serves as the senior professional instructor at the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business where he teaches courses on strategic management and human capital and is a contributing writer for Chief Executive Magazine. And now that I am officially intimidated by that background, Jack, hey, welcome to the show.
Jack McGuinness: Please, intimidation is not what I seek. Thanks so much for having me, Brad. I'm really looking forward to our dialogue and getting going here.
Brad: Yeah, it's just really an impressive background so I'm excited to dive into some of your experience and then some of what you've learned how that might apply to some of the entrepreneurial folks who are listening to this show and may be in the process of building leadership teams or may be looking to do so in the coming years. I think this conversation will help give people an idea of what they need to be looking for as they're going through that process.
Jack McGuinness: Great.
Brad: I would love to start a little bit earlier in your journey though and talk briefly about how that experience in the military has contributed to your ability to take on these different leadership roles as well as coaching other leaders.
Jack McGuinness: Sure, so yeah, obviously the military is a great breeding ground for leaders and I certainly benefited by my experience as a platoon leader and as an executive officer of an infantry unit. I think most foundationally what the military does for you it gives you two perspectives. One will be obvious the other maybe not so. The first perspective is that there's a level of discipline that is involved in being a good leader. It's self discipline, discipline in terms of how you learn, and how you train, and that mindset around having a disciplined, structured way to learn and develop yourself and then help others learn and develop was very foundational in my early years of learning how to be a more effective leader. That's on the one side, the discipline and the structure and the organization are really, really important.
Jack McGuinness: I think the other thing though that I learned right out of the starting gate is leadership is a long journey, and while I went through four years of West Point, and I was told that I was getting set up to be a great leader, and I was going to get in a position at 22 years old I was going to be leading 35 troops, and that I would know how to do it, I had no idea what I was doing when I first started.
Jack McGuinness: And so some leadership is about instinct, no question about it, but I think what I learned right out of the starting gate I had a platoon sergeant who was probably 15 years older than me. I was 22, he was probably 35 or so, and what I learned right away is that you don't know everything and it's important to recognize that you don't know everything, and that you're not necessarily expected to know everything, and that part of building your leadership capability is about having a learning orientation or a mindset that's an open mindset towards, okay, I don't know it now but how am I going to learn it. When I fail, how am I going to react to failure? If I look stupid, how am I going to handle looking stupid? Those kind of things.
Jack McGuinness: I got both of those things pretty early. I got smacked on the arm a couple times for assuming that I knew too much, and I learned at an early age that there's a lot to learn. There's always a lot to learn and I'm still learning.
Brad: Yeah, no, I think that's an awesome call out because especially for anybody who's looking to start a business, there's no chance you're going to know everything right out the gate. You're going to fail early. You're going to learn a lot. There's going to be lessons that you pick up along the way. Having that mindset is huge, just to be able to roll with some of those punches and treat all of that as a learning experience as you're going through I think is going to be vital for anybody's success as a leader and as an entrepreneur.
Jack McGuinness: And I think, Brad, that that's even become in my career ... I graduated from college in '87 so I got to work right away as a platoon leader and then I had a long and fun journey in a couple different careers, and the ability to be curious, and to adapt to hurdles, and to be open to other's perspectives. Did I do that perfectly all throughout my career? No, I didn't, but I certainly learned when I didn't and I learned that it doesn't work very well. So I think it's really important to have that kind of learning orientation mindset.
Brad: Sure, so let's get into some of the leadership stuff then. What from what you've seen and what you've learned makes really great leaders effective at leading teams and leading their organizations to a successful point?
Jack McGuinness: Let me start by talking about what we see at Relationship Impact as what makes up a great team and then I'll talk to you a little bit about what we think the leader's role in helping with that is.
Jack McGuinness: A great team has a whole host of characteristics but we sort of boil them down to four key characteristics. The first is obviously any team is in the business of getting some sort of result. If it's a nonprofit, if it's an association, if it's a start-up with a technology. Whatever it is, there's a result that the organization is in business of getting. And the leadership team, obviously, has to be the champion of that performance or those goals or objectives. That's critical. Leadership teams are in the business of getting results, that's number one.
Jack McGuinness: Number two, the best leadership teams we've seen are the ones that serve as force multipliers for the organization. What I mean by that is that collectively the six, seven people on the leadership team are much better than they are as just individual contributors. There's a sense that we have each other's backs, that together we're much more effective than we are as individuals.
Jack McGuinness: The third thing is real important that's related to that is great leadership teams have the capability to get better at dealing with complex problems as they grow as a team. So they're more able to take on broader, more complex, more complex situations in a more efficient and effective way over time. When you're starting out, that's harder to do because people aren't sure of each other, they're not sure of each other's skills and capabilities, but as teams grow they're definitely able to take on harder and more complex challenges.
Jack McGuinness: And finally, this might be the most important one is that great teams have an ability to get back on the horse when they fall off. Simply put, great teams are resilient. Any team is going to face challenges, obstacles, hurdles, setbacks. Those that handle those setbacks productively, and are able to get right back at it, I think that's a key characteristic of a great team.
Jack McGuinness: So those four: results, resilience, handling more complex challenges over time, and that force multiplier effect are sort of what we see as the characteristics of a great team that we work with and help executive teams build to. Go ahead, go ahead.
Brad: No, no, you were beating me there. I was going to say, what is the leader's role then in making sure that they have a team in place that is accomplishing those four things, and getting those results, acting as the force multiplier, as a resilient team, and has the capability to deal with those complex issues?
Jack McGuinness: Very simply put, the leader's role is obviously, and we'll talk probably a little bit more about this in a few minutes from now, but is to provide the structure for the team to operate within but most importantly the leader's role is to model a few critical behaviors that enable the teams to build towards those characteristics. And those few important behaviors are number one. In any of the engagements we work in we work with the CEO first to help them receive feedback well. Feedback is a critical component of any leadership team being effective and if the leader of the team, the CEO, the general manager, whoever that leader might be doesn't receive feedback well, they get defensive, they rationalize, they get mad, they are passive aggressive, whatever the characteristic might be then the team, almost out of the starting gate, has a tough time giving each other feedback and clearly giving the leader feedback.
Jack McGuinness: So the leader's role number one behavior is their ability to model, receiving feedback, and then giving feedback in a constructive way. Foundationally, those are the number one thing that a leader can do is provide the environment where feedback can be given and received well. Go ahead.
Brad: I would love to dive in to that concept a little bit because I think that's something that anybody listening can implement right away because we're all constantly receiving feedback, maybe not even formally but some level of feedback, or response from an audience, or things like that. So what are the things that you talk about when you're trying to implement that when say you're coaching a leader on how to do that well?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, so first we talk about those characteristics and we get the CEO to think through, what is it that you're trying to build here and why? And inevitably it's some discussion around those characteristics that we talked about earlier. And if those are the types of characteristics that you're trying to build towards as a team it's almost an obvious or a natural ... What do you call it? An obvious point that in order to be able to get there people have to give and receive feedback well.
Jack McGuinness: Probably the most important thing that we work on with the CEOs, and then with the rest of the team as we move forward in the work that we do, is helping leaders gain a deeper sense of self awareness. That's a fairly simple concept, right? The more self aware we are about how we see ourselves, what we think we're good at, and what we think we need to work on, and then we validate that or correlate that with the people that work around us, and how they see us, and what they see as our strengths and challenges, that provides a lot of insight into a leader's ability to step back and say, "Hmm, when I get defensive about getting certain types of feedback from certain type of people, what am I doing to contribute to that? What are some of the challenges that I'm working on? Am I just a really aggressive fast-paced guy that I don't listen a lot all the time so when I get feedback like that I kind of find it more of an annoyance than constructive."
Jack McGuinness: So the first thing is really helping a leader dig a little bit deeper into what are they good at and what are they not so good at and how do others see them. Go ahead.
Brad: And with that self-awareness, are there specific tools or strategies that you typically give somebody to help them improve on that or is it enough just to say, "You need to be more self aware," and then they start working on that? I'm just curious if there's some specific methodology that you usually approach that with with somebody who typically hasn't practiced self awareness and that hasn't needed to be a strength to get to that leadership role but now is in order to really exceed their expectations in that position.
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, so there's some pretty simple ways of doing it. There's a whole bunch of psychometric instruments that are out there like Myers Briggs, or DISC, or Insights, or Strength Deployment, a lot of books written about this stuff, but there's some simple assessment instruments that give individuals a sense for what am I most motivated by. If you look at ... We work with an instrument called Strength Deployment Inventory and there's three parts of the results of a Strength Deployment Inventory. You can be a more assertive aggressive type person, you can be more of an altruistic nurturing type person, you can be more analytical, or you can sort of be a combination of those.
Jack McGuinness: Where you fall on that psychometric scale gives you some insights into what's gotten you to where you are today, and what are all the good things around being an assertive aggressive person as the new CEO of a company, but it also gives you some insight into when I overdo those strengths I can get myself into some trouble. Assertive aggressive is great but when I overdo that I can be arrogant, or not caring, or not compassionate and not think about the impacts on people and things.
Jack McGuinness: We do use a bunch of psychometric instruments to help individuals uncover what their motivational profile is and then give them a sense for how that can be really helpful and how that can sometimes get in the way particularly as it relates to others who have different types of profiles.
Brad: Very nice. And so we started with the leaders needing to be able to receive feedback well in order to help develop their teams to be great teams. Were there any other key attributes for the leaders that are important to focus on?
Jack McGuinness: Absolutely. The other one that we talked about for a little bit was structure. And I'm not talking about an organizational hierarchy structure. I'm talking about things like, what do we want this team to do? What's the purpose behind this leadership team? Is it simply the five direct reports that I have working for me and having them report back to me and exchange information with each other or is it a decision making body? Or is it a consultative body to help me evaluate, as the CEO, what decisions I need to make? So it's really important to define for the executive team what is its role? Is it a consultative body, a decision-making body, or an informational exchange body? That's part of structure.
Jack McGuinness: The second part is once you identify what that is it's then thinking through what is our natural rhythm of how we're going to work with each other? How are we going to deal with operational day to day issues around how we execute versus longer-term strategic issues? What we often see is that strategic discussions [inaudible 00:22:05] very quickly particularly with young organizations into operational firefighting discussions and very little time is then left for sort of the growth discussions. So really sort of building some discipline around how we organize ourselves and when we meet on what, and then this will sound like a very trivial one, but it's one that gets in the way of a lot of teams we work with, even well established organizations, teams and well established organizations, meeting management.
Jack McGuinness: A lot of people will complain that they can't stand going to all the meetings they go to. Well the reason mostly is because they're managed very inefficiently. There are not simple constructs like we have an agenda, do we keep track of action items that we have to follow up on and do we follow up on them at the next meeting? I know that sounds very trivial and probably like meeting management or leadership 101 but it is the one thing that does get in the way of teams because it causes a lot of inefficiency. So those structural elements are really important, and the leader does play a strong role in helping the team structure itself appropriately.
Brad: Yeah, I'm sure anybody listening who has any experience in the corporate world is just rolling their eyes when they hear the meeting talk because we've all sat through those just painstaking meetings that could've been a couple sentence email that just doesn't need to be there so that's pretty interesting. I would love to also dive into what makes a great team in terms of the type of people who are parts of that leadership team. When you go into an organization, is it typically more that you're working with what you've got or you're trying to create a team and maybe find new pieces to step into those key roles?
Jack McGuinness: It's really the former. We typically are working with organizations that are beyond the start-up stage that have a leadership team that is not doing the programming, or doing the engineering, and doing all the selling. They actually have people doing that for them and their job is to lead and manage. And so we're working with teams that are mostly already in existence, so our job is to help that team identify how well the system that the team is working from a structural perspective and a relational perspective. Are we structured appropriately? Is it a decision-making body and how well do we do at making decisions, for example.
Jack McGuinness: And on a relational side, are we confronting each other and debating each other well, and challenging each other well, and holding each other accountable as a team beyond just natural power authority. So really helping a team assess where it's at and what's getting in the way. There are structural things that get in the way and there are some relational stuff that gets in the way. So there's people that are ... Like I talked about the psychometric assessment work, right? People are different, and people come from different experience and backgrounds, and some people are more analytical, some people are more results and action oriented, and those types of people can sometimes butt heads with each other.
Jack McGuinness: It's really important to identify, number one, how the team views itself, what's working and what's not, and then how the individuals are contributing both positively and potentially negatively to the working dynamics of that team. And so, is there a perfect profile for a team? Not really, from our perspective. There are some people you would call more team players, more collaborative, more interested in hearing what other people have to think. But we've also worked with organizations with executive teams that have those sort of they're not team players on them that learn how to become better team players by learning how to be more self aware, learning what the impact they have on other people on the team. Sometimes they recognize what they've been doing that's been getting in the way of the way being as effective as it could be and sometimes they don't because they haven't gotten the feedback that they should be getting, either from the leader or from their teammates.
Jack McGuinness: To answer your question, a long-winded way of answering your question is we typically work with teams that are in existence and there's no perfect profile or no perfect individual profile that makes up a great teammate from our perspective.
Brad: That makes sense, oh go ahead, continue.
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, and if you're building a team, if you're building a new team I would argue that you'd want to do the same type of work and give people ... Maybe not get into spending all sorts of time on assessments but definitely as the leader taking a step back and getting an understanding of the four or five people that you're thinking about forming this team around.
Jack McGuinness: Typically, it's formed around functional areas. We have a CFO role, we have the head engineering, we have the head of sales, whatever, and so those are the folks you want to be on your team but what are they going to contribute that's going to help the team work together to build those characteristics that we talked about earlier and what are their potential challenges in helping build the capabilities.
Jack McGuinness: And so before just putting people and throwing them on a team and saying this is our new executive team, really thinking through how those dynamics are potentially going to play out and as the leader facilitating some dialogue with each team member individually and then collectively about how they're actually going to work together.
Brad: Yeah, I think that's really smart. Don't just go in and throw your brother, and your best friend, and your sister's friend onto this team together. Have that strategy behind it, and have those individual and collective conversations leading into that that are really going to set expectations and set everybody up for success.
Jack McGuinness: Right, right.
Brad: So, speaking of setting the team up for success, are there other things that as a leader we can do to make sure that our teams are set up for success?
Jack McGuinness: Honestly, just to recap, and I think we'll probably recap most of what I said but in a sort of concise way is first they have to model the feedback giving and taking piece. It's foundational for a team to work effectively together. Secondly, they have to provide the environment where the team can structure itself well. And thirdly, they have to build the capability of the team to be able to confront each other well, challenge each other and debate well. And obviously, all those three things I mentioned kind of build on each other but, in our opinion, those are the most important things that a leader can do to set up his or her team for success.
Jack McGuinness: A couple of things they can't do, in our opinion, that we see that gets in the way, number one, they have to model the team as the entity for running the organization versus individual back office discussions. And what I mean by that is, often times we'll see an important topic talked about in an executive team meeting, everyone nods their heads or has some agreement around what was said or agreed to, and then as soon as you leave the meeting people are lobbying the CEO in his or her office. The CEO needs to put the roadblock up right away when that type of behavior happens and say, "Hey look, we just talked about this. We talk about it but we're going to talk about this as a team." You see what I'm saying, Brad?
Brad: Yeah, so making sure that that communication is all upfront with the team and isn't happening in those back channels between one or two individuals who might disagree with it. Am I following it right?
Jack McGuinness: That's exactly right, and the CEO, when he or she lets that happen, that has a way of spiraling way out of whack.
Brad: Yeah, and I'm sure in start ups that that's a common thing, too, especially when you're working closely with co-founders and people who ... Some might be newer to the organization where somebody's been in the trenches with you. However you have that team structured you have to make sure that the voices are heard that are meant to be heard on that executive team. So I think that's a really important point.
Jack McGuinness: Otherwise, it's not a team. Otherwise, it's a communication body, which is fine. You can manage like that and sometimes you have to, but just don't call it something it's not I guess is what I'm saying.
Jack McGuinness: That's a really important ... And I think the other thing too is related to that whole concept is holding people accountable to the norms and behaviors that you've agreed to as a team, meaning we said we were going to get something done by X date and one of the leaders on the team continues not to follow through and meet their commitments and even communicate on them and nothing happens. There has to be accountability built into how you manage a team. The best teams are the ones that actually get to a point where they hold each other accountable without just the leader, but in the beginning the leader really has to set the foundation for holding the team accountable for meeting its commitments and holding the individuals accountable for meeting their commitments. And when they don't, as the organization grows accountability suffers throughout the organization.
Brad: That's just a great words to the wise and warning of things to avoid and things to really follow in order to set your team up for success. Jack, one question I love to ask guests as they come on this show is if you could hop in a time machine and talk to yourself, that 22 year old version of yourself who is just coming out of West Point, taking on your first leadership role, is there one thing that you've learned throughout your career and these different opportunities that you've had to lead that you would give to yourself at that early stage in the game?
Jack McGuinness: Yes, two things. First, is be open to many perspectives, be open to many perspectives, and related to that is don't be afraid to be wrong. Don't be afraid to mess things up. Don't mess them up consistently, and don't think you have to have all the answers because you can't.
Brad: When you say to be open to many perspectives, can you dive into that a little bit?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, of course.
Brad: Maybe an example of where that would have helped you or did help you to be able to actually look at those different perspectives or world views?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah, absolutely. On any team, you have to ... I'll give you an example. I was the chief operating officer of a management consulting firm for about 13 years. I was in charge of all the project managers, and profitability, and that type of thing. We were really profitable and we were very efficient, and effective at how we managed our projects but sometimes I didn't always listen to other people's points of views and perspectives on how we managed a project so it could become even more efficient, for example, and I'd say, "Well this is the way we've done it here so far. It's working for us. Let's keep doing it." So I had this steamroll effect sometimes rather than being open to saying, "Okay, let's step back and even though it's working what could we do better?" And so sometimes because of my type A go get it done approach I got myself in trouble because I didn't listen very well.
Brad: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah, I could see how that could definitely lead to some issues. I think those are great pieces of advice to close it up on. Be open to many perspectives and don't be afraid to be wrong and mess things up. With the asterisk there, just don't do it too often.
Jack McGuinness: Exactly, right, right, right.
Brad: So Jack, for anybody who's interested in learning more about you and what you guys are doing over there at Relationship Impact are there any resources that you would mention, or websites, or places you would point people?
Jack McGuinness: Yeah sure, particularly for your audience, there's a couple ... I'm looking at my bookshelf right now. There's a couple books that I think are really good for founders that are thinking about ... they're getting to a point where they need to put a team together. The first one is called 'Insight' and it's by a young organizational psychologist named Tasha Eurich, E-U-R-I-C-H, and it really provides very practical view and a bunch of stories, case examples, on the topic of self awareness, really good stuff. And then the second one that I think is really good is a book called 'The Founder's Mentality' that sort of gives a founder some insights into how to transition from a product company to an organization and what are some of the things you have to evolve in your own leadership capability to make that transition work well. It's a really good book. So those are two books that I would recommend.
Jack McGuinness: And then for more information on my firm, we are at relationship-impact.com. We hold a monthly webinar on the third Wednesday of each month on a topic related to building great leadership teams, and we also have a complimentary leadership team assessment on our website under our services page as well.
Brad: That's awesome. Well we'll make sure to have all of those things including some links to those different books that you mentioned, 'Insight' and 'The Founder's Mentality' in the show notes so everybody can find those either on your podcasting app or at millennialmm.com/podcast. Jack, I just want to thank you for taking the time out of your day to share some of what you've learned and some of your expertise in this management team space. I think that it's something that can get overlooked when people are putting together their organizations in terms of the strategy behind it. Everybody thinks about how to build their team but it's not necessarily always the most strategic approach so I love the information that you've shared here so thank you so much for the impact that you're making and for everything that you shared.
Jack McGuinness: My pleasure, Brad, and I really appreciate the opportunity to talk to your audience, too.