Transcript of Jack McGuinness' Guest Appearance on Master Leadership Podcast

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John Lee Dumas:           Hey, this is John Lee Dumas of EO Fire, and welcome to Master Leadership. Great leaders ask great questions, and this podcast takes you on a journey to master leadership with questions that matter to leaders who matter with your host, Lily Synabria.

Lily Synabria:                Hi, this is Lily, and today we are speaking with Jack McGuinness. Jack has 25 years of experience working with leadership teams at organizations big and small across multiple industries. After serving as an airborne ranger with the US Army's prestigious 10th Mountain Division, he helped build a successful boutique management consulting firm where he served as COO for 13 years. Jack also served as CEO of a contract packing company where he developed a passion for unleashing the leadership capacity of teams throughout an organization.

Lily Synabria:                In 2009, Jack joined forces with a West Point classmate to form Relationship Impact, a consulting firm focused on working with CEOs to unlock the potential of their leadership teams. He also serves as a Senior Professional Instructor at the Johns Hopkins Carey School of Business where he teaches courses on Strategic Management and Human Capital. He is a contributing writer to Chief Executive Magazine.

Lily Synabria:                Jack holds an MBA from the Hagan school of Business at Iona College and a BS in Engineering Management from the United States Military Academy at West Point.

Lily Synabria:                Welcome, Jack McGuinness. How are you?

Jack McGuinness:          I'm great. Thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it, Lily.

Lily Synabria:                Well Jack, we're so happy to have you on our podcast. Now, are you ready to pour into our listeners?

Jack McGuinness:          I am. Can't wait.

Lily Synabria:                Awesome. So Jack, can you tell us a bit about your path to leadership and what you're doing now?

Jack McGuinness:          Sure. I will start out by saying that I was sort of very goal-oriented at a very young age. I had two older brothers and an older sister, and they all played basketball and by the time I was like in seventh or eighth grade, my whole mission in life was to figure out how to play basketball in college, and I wanted to go to a really good school to do it.

Jack McGuinness:          I guess from the time I hit the ground in eighth grade, I had that goal in mind. Knew I wanted to go to a good school, knew my parents wouldn't let me go to anything but a good school, so I sort of was very goal-oriented, and because of that goal, tapped into some organizing skills around getting other kids to play basketball almost every day.

Jack McGuinness:          I had an individual workout camp that I did early in high school, and even before that, where I organized kids and we worked out every day, basketball skills, strength and conditioning, and all that kind of stuff. Long story short, those skills kind of paid off; I got an appointment to West Point going into my senior year in high school.

Jack McGuinness:          Even though I was 5'9" and probably not the best player in the world, I got myself in a position where I got recruited to play basketball there, so it demonstrated to me that you can have a goal, and you organize around that goal, a lot of good things can happen.

Lily Synabria:                Yeah, if you're persistent as well.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, and I was persistent, and I had a lot of support from parents, family, so that really helped. And so I think that was foundational for me, in seeing that having a goal could work. Fast-forward to a short career in the military, and a long career as a management consultant, helping to start a firm when I was about 26 years old with a partner from Deloitte. He was starting a firm, I was his first employee, so I had the benefit of learning how to be a consultant, and learning how to grow a business, very early in my career.

Jack McGuinness:          And fast forward to now, and what I'm doing is helping small to mid-sized companies, and primarily with their executives teams to help them work collectively to be the greatest leadership team they can be to grow their companies.

Lily Synabria:                That's a tall order.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, it is a tall order. There's a lot of challenge in that. It's easy to talk about being a team, it's a harder concept in practice.

Lily Synabria:                So first of all, I want to thank you for your service.

Jack McGuinness:          Wow, thank you.

Lily Synabria:                I like that you brought that up, about having goals, and I know that as a coach for leadership that's extremely important because if you don't have any goals you're always going to hit nothing, right?

Lily Synabria:                Now Jack, how would you describer your leadership style?

Jack McGuinness:          Evolving. So I'm a much different leader now than I was when I was in high school, any scenario I would describe. Even as a platoon leader, I would say that I'm much more empathetic, compassionate. I'm very goal oriented still and very results oriented. But I have a partner right now, right? So it's just the two of us. We don't have a lot of staff, so I view my leadership as a influencing leadership style, and helping others get the results they're looking to get.

Lily Synabria:                Now, you mentioned that you have a partner, or you have an organization. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Jack McGuinness:          The name of our company is called Relationship Impact, and we started in 2009. I started this company with a classmate of mine from college. We met when we were about 17 years old, and have been very, very close friends from that point.

Jack McGuinness:          And in about 2009, we were both going through a mini mid-life evolutions, and we put our heads together and said "What do you really want to do for the balance of your career?" And it morphed into the work that we do now, is working with the executive teams and growing companies to help them get themselves in shape, both structurally and relationally, so that they can be the best teams they need to be for their organizations to be as effective as they can be.

Lily Synabria:                So you're a leadership organization, or a leadership development organization, correct?

Jack McGuinness:          We're executive team development organization.

Lily Synabria:                Why name it Relationship Impact?

Jack McGuinness:          Because from our experience relationships are either the key, or the blocker, to teams working as effective as they can.

Lily Synabria:                I absolutely agree, and I'm reading your description, and "it's a consulting firm focused on working with CEOs to unlock the potential of their leadership teams," and that's so spot on.

Jack McGuinness:          That's right, but it's not just with the CEOs, it's with their executive teams.

Lily Synabria:                Yeah, you have to operate with your team-

Jack McGuinness:          Exactly.

Lily Synabria:                ... that's really important. So thank you so much for sharing that. Now, if our listeners wanted to connect with you, what's the best way to do that?

Jack McGuinness:          It would be

Lily Synabria:                Perfect. Thank you. Now Jack, which quote or quotes about leadership speak to you and why?

Jack McGuinness:          So there are a whole bunch of them, right? But my brother played basketball at West Point as well, and he played for a guy who went on to be probably the best coach maybe ever, a guy name Mike Krzyzewski, and one of his quotes I use quite a bit in the work that we do is, he says "To me, teamwork is the beauty of our sport. When you have five acting as one, you become selfless," and so for us it gets to both the structural side of things in terms of organizing a team, and training a team, and doing the blocking and tackling stuff, but then the selfless part of it is sort of the relational dynamics part of it, for me. So that's a quote that I often turn to.

Lily Synabria:                A great quote. Now what's the first thing you may do if someone were to hire you as a consultant in an organization?

Jack McGuinness:          So the first thing we do is work with the CEO to help prepare them to receive feedback in a constructive way from the individuals on their team and the team as a whole. Because what we've seen is CEOs go into engagements like this where they recognize there's some disfunction on the team that's getting the way of them getting to results they need, but they sometimes don't recognize that they're a part of that challenge, or part of the problem.

Jack McGuinness:          And so what we're getting at is helping them get feedback, input, from those who they work with on what they're doing well to help the team and what they're doing that's getting in the way potentially of the team being as effective as it can be. And if they don't take feedback well, you really can't make much progress.

Lily Synabria:                That certainly is the case, but people can shift. It's just a matter of having that desire to do that.

Jack McGuinness:          I agree.

Lily Synabria:                All right. So Jack, what type of leader are you inspired by? And why?

Jack McGuinness:          I'm inspired by someone who is a empathetic leader, who has humility. So that's one side of the coin, on the other side of the coin they're passionate about getting the results they need to get for their organization, so I see that as two sides of the same coin.

Jack McGuinness:          There's no question that organizations, and teams, and CEOs need to be in the business of getting tangible business results, but the way they do that over time we believe is really important, and doing that in a way that inspires confidence, inspires trust, inspires a feeling of support is very important.

Lily Synabria:                Yeah, I absolutely agree. You've mentioned empathy, humility, compassion. That's a type of leader you are, and the type of leader that inspires you. Was there a time where you weren't that and you shifted?

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, no question about it. I wound up becoming Chief Operating Officer of a boutique management consulting firm. I think at our peak we had about 50 people. I was their first employee, as I mentioned earlier. I became the Chief Operating Officer so my responsibilities were make sure our projects were run effectively and efficiently, and we provided great service, and we did it in an efficient way so we made money doing it.

Jack McGuinness:          We had some consistency in how we deliver our projects. All those kind of things that Chief Operating Officers are in the business of doing. I was pretty good at it, but sometimes I overdid my strengths of organizing and being results focused, and being project oriented, and you know profitability oriented. Sometimes I didn't listen as much as I should have, and sometimes I barreled through people and left a trail of dust behind me.

Jack McGuinness:          You know, and I look back at that experience, you know I did some good things, but I also was not as effect as I could have been if I had been tapped into some more empathetic skills.

Lily Synabria:                So, you created results but, you didn't build the capacity of your leaders, or the people you led?

Jack McGuinness:          Not as much as I could have, yeah. We did get good results and it wasn't just because of me, but we probably ... I could have done a better job of inspiring more confidence and capability in the folks that worked for me and with me.

Lily Synabria:                I have to honor you because the fact that you shifted is a big deal. A lot of people won't see this, and a lot of people stay stuck in their space of just managing and getting results. But, what caused you to shift? It's typically something that happens, a pivotal moment.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, bankruptcy.

Lily Synabria:                Okay.

Jack McGuinness:          So, after I left that consulting firm and, bought a business with two partners in 2005, contract packaging company where we package products for Brosse, Godiva. We did a lot of club store displays and stuff for Walmart and Costco. We were very aggressive. You know, we did a good job turning the company around. It's a family run business.

Jack McGuinness:          Then, we got hit by the financial crisis pretty severely. And, it wasn't just a day we got destroyed. It was over a period of a year or so. And so, I had a great CFO and, he really helped me tap into the right way of doing things when you're failing.

Lily Synabria:                And that's important.

Jack McGuinness:          Not cutting corners, treating people with respect. Not that I necessarily wouldn't have.

Lily Synabria:                Right.

Jack McGuinness:          Just little things like ... they were big things back then, but every Friday we would have a call with our creditors to tell them where we were, and we would sit and get yelled at. Rightly so. Just little things like that, and keeping my management team apprised of where we were and what we were doing. Recognizing that we had the lives of a lot of people at our fingertips. We did job fairs, and outreach to get some of our managers jobs at other places.

Jack McGuinness:          And, you know, we weren't successful in all cases, but we did try. We worked very hard. So, I think even in failure we did it the right way. Now, our creditors would argue that we didn't, but ...

Lily Synabria:                Right, right.

Jack McGuinness:          Which I totally understand, but we tried to do the best we could in an awful situation.

Lily Synabria:                Yeah, and how you respond in failure and challenges like that says a lot about your leadership, and it certainly teaches us a lot about who we are. So, thank you for sharing that.

Jack McGuinness:          Sure.

Lily Synabria:                Now Jack, what's the best advice you've ever received?

Jack McGuinness:          Gotten a lot of it. I guess it's from my dad. I use quite a bit, and I parent like this. I hope I lead like this. He often would say unsolicited advice ain't worth nothing. That has stuck with me, and it's hard, particularly as a parent, it's hard not to give advice when you see a pattern that from your experience you recognize is not going to work out.

Jack McGuinness:          But, you know I think letting your kids fail too, and letting them surprise you and not fail. You know, even though you thought maybe what they were going to do wasn't the right path. So, I try to do that with my clients as well, even when they ask for advice I will say, "This is what I'm observing. This is what I see. But, I could be wrong."

Lily Synabria:                I love that as an educator. I guess it was the training too, and it's part character, where you just want to fix things.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah. Absolutely.

Lily Synabria:                So, this is really good advice, and I've learned to say, "Would you like my input?"

Jack McGuinness:          That's a good phrase. I need that one. Sometimes I give it and I say, wait. I shouldn't have said that. I could be wrong, that's just what I'm thinking and what I'm seeing.

Lily Synabria:                Right, and I love that one too. I could be wrong. So, learning to ask. I have to be really conscious of doing that. It causes me to also listen a lot more.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, that's right.

Lily Synabria:                So, great advice. So, Jack what does it mean to you to have a good team, and how do you build and sustain one?

Jack McGuinness:          So, those are two big questions, right? They're two separate questions. One is from our perspective, what is a great team look like, and then how do you get there?

Jack McGuinness:          So, I'll start with the first one. You know, we view the characteristics of a great team as four things. One is they get the results they're looking for, right, that they're in business or organized to get.

Jack McGuinness:          Number two, their success ... it's a force multiplier type of success that the individual contributions of any one team member aren't as great as the collective power of the team. That's a hard thing to define. That's a hard thing to measure, but you kind of know it when you get there, for sure.

Jack McGuinness:          Then, the third thing is that their ability to deal with more complex, and sophisticated challenges overtime increases. So, they get things thrown at them, as any organization does, and their ability to deal with them over time increases. They become more reliant on each other. They become more in tune with each other. And, there's a lot underlying that of course, but great teams are able to deal with more complex challenges over time.

Jack McGuinness:          Then, finally we think that great teams are resilient as well, in that they're able to get back in sync after inevitable periods of time when they're not in sync. Things get thrown at you, people get mad at each other. Whatever those situations are, but they don't let those things define them. They get back on the horse, and focused on their mission, goal of why they're in business to begin with.

Jack McGuinness:          So, that's what a great team looks like. Building a great team, or repairing a great team, it's not simple. It's hard work, and it requires a commitment to a few things. It requires a commitment to individual self awareness and collective self awareness. It requires a commitment to defining what a team thinks how they should be operating, and what they think a great team looks like, and what they want to do to get there. A commitment to understanding what's getting in the way of them being as effective as they could be.

Jack McGuinness:          Finally, it requires a commitment to persevere and to learn, and to fail, and get back on the horse when you fall down. As you can imagine, those three things are not easy. A lot of people might talk about it as being a soft science or, it's the least soft thing I think I've ever done is to build a team.

Lily Synabria:                I agree.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, so that's a 50,000 foot view of what we think it takes. Underlying all of that is it takes a leader that's willing to model how to behave as a great leader.

Lily Synabria:                All of this requires what you speak into. Relationships. Good relationships, where the anchor has to be trust.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah. No question about it, yeah.

Lily Synabria:                Hey leaders, stay tuned for the rest of the interview following this brief message.

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Lily Synabria:                So, go to and find out how to bring the leadership game to your organization.

Lily Synabria:                Now, how do you develop trust?

Jack McGuinness:          I just did a webinar last week on great leadership teams can't thrive without trust. You know, again, it's hard, right? Trust is really hard to rebuild and it requires patience when individuals or groups encounter difficulty. It requires an ability for those individuals to not jump to lack of trust, but to jump to maybe disappointment first, right?

Jack McGuinness:          I think a lot of people jump to, well I just can't trust them because they don't follow through on their commitments, whatever it might be. Rather than just be maybe disappointed and maybe being curious and explore a little bit with the other party when you jump to lack of trust.

Jack McGuinness:          I think assumptions get in the way, right? People make assumptions about each other's behaviors, versus you have an understanding of what they're intentions and their motivations are. People lack patience with each other. People lack the ability to forgive each other. And, all those things conspire to chipping away at trust. It's hard to rebuild.

Jack McGuinness:          Again, I think to rebuild trust, the first thing that's needed is a strong dose of leadership. That doesn't need to necessarily come from the formal leader of a team, but it does require someone to step forward and say, "Hey look, we have some trust issues on this team. We got to tack them."

Lily Synabria:                It's certainly not an easy thing to do, but it is doable and it is necessary. So, it requires work. Now, you mentioned a webinar. Is that still available?

Jack McGuinness:          The webinar results are up on my website, again So, we have a page that has a transcript of the webinar. It has a video and audio recording of the webinar. It has some highlights.

Lily Synabria:                Perfect.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah. And has the slides deck, chalked full of information.

Lily Synabria:                Okay, and people can have access to that?

Jack McGuinness:          Absolutely. Yeah, people can have free access to the webinar. Again, It's under resources, webinar series.

Lily Synabria:                That's great. Now Jack, can you tell us about one of your greatest success?

Jack McGuinness:          This may sound corny but my kids are in really good shape right now. My wife and I feel like we've done a pretty good job with them. You know, we've done everything right now, but we have three kids that care about each other. That care about us. That are doing well socially, academically, professionally, and they're good citizens. We feel really good about that. So, [crosstalk 00:21:17].

Lily Synabria:                Let me tell you, as a parent, and a teacher that's not corny at all.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, they're not perfect at all. Neither are we, but they're doing well and we're proud of them.

Lily Synabria:                That's pretty important so, I appreciate you saying that because we're speaking and we're training, and we're teaching and we're empowering our future.

Jack McGuinness:          Thanks.

Lily Synabria:                Yeah. All right, so Jack many leaders describe themselves as life long learners. What does that mean to you, and what are you learning now?

Jack McGuinness:          Well, first of all I don't think you can really be a great leader without being a learner. So, what am I learning now? My partner and I talk about this quite a bit, is that we can only have so much impact, and that's kind of hard to say as a consultant that's trying to run a business. But, you can lead the horse to water, but you can't make them swim kind of scenario.

Lily Synabria:                But you can make them thirsty.

Jack McGuinness:          You can! So, we debate quite a bit. Can you really discern upfront whether a leader, a CEO is really committed to evolving and building a great team, or is he or she really in the position of asking you to fix their team with them on the outside? My position is that we can do better discerning that upfront, the two of us in the engagements we work on.

Jack McGuinness:          His argument is that people may believe that they want to do something, and then they don't really understand the work that's involved, even if you tell them. So, you have to be patient with yourself about the ability of someone to recognize that they want to, and can change.

Lily Synabria:                All right, so thank you so much for sharing that Jack. Now, if there were something you could change in education, what would that be?

Jack McGuinness:          That's a great question. I don't know how I would do this, but it's something that I think about quite a bit, particularly on Sunday when I'm reading the paper. Change the discourse, particularly in high school, so that there's more of an open debate rather than a right and wrong. You know, politics today has polarized the classroom, and I feel like no matter what side of an issue you're on the ability to learn from each other is almost getting lost.

Jack McGuinness:          I don't know if that's true, necessarily, but it feels like it to me. The ability of educators to create an environment where people are listening to each other rather than digging in.

Lily Synabria:                You're right. That responsibility falls on the community as well.

Jack McGuinness:          I agree.

Lily Synabria:                On all of us.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah, I'd love to change it but I think that's a hard one to change.

Lily Synabria:                It's vision, it's [inaudible 00:23:55] division. That's why we do what we do, is having those conversations and that's why we bring people of different disciplines, and different viewpoints so that we can entertain those important perspectives, and think about, and having those conversations.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah.

Lily Synabria:                So, I appreciate you coming on, and pouring into us. So, Jack, what have you read, watched or listened to that our listeners should as well, and why?

Jack McGuinness:          So, there's a great book I've been sharing with clients. It's called Insight. It's by a young organizational psychologist name Tasha Eurich, E-U-R-I-C-H. The title is Insight: Why We're Not as Self Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and In Life.

Lily Synabria:                Wow, that's important.

Jack McGuinness:          Yeah. It's a really practical, easy to read, good stories on her research and her work with clients. It gets to the heart at the two sides of self awareness. One is the internal self awareness, you know how do I see myself? Then, the other side is how do others see me, and how do those two things jive with each other? It's pretty powerful for the work that we do because a lot of the work that we do is getting people to be introspective, and to seek feedback from others.

Lily Synabria:                That's a foundational characteristic of a good leader.

Jack McGuinness:          It is, yeah. That's a great book. I really recommend it highly. Love it.

Lily Synabria:                I'm going to write it on my list. I appreciate that. Now Jack, you have a lot of responsibilities. What do you do on a daily basis to set your mind?

Jack McGuinness:          Not as much as I should. I would say that one thing I do is I exercise every night. I have two kids in college and, one 16 year old at home that's pretty self sufficient. So, my wife works until 8:30 every night. So, I go to the gym at 7:00/7:30 and that does clear my mind. I did practice some mindfulness stuff over the summer, and it was good but I struggled to concentrate. And, I'll wait to get back to that again.

Jack McGuinness:          But, I have a to-do list. I'm very focused on my calendar and my schedule. The three blocks of my life that I have to take care of, my personal life, building my business life, and my executing on the work that I do life.

Lily Synabria:                Pretty important. So, thank you for sharing that. Jack, if you were to go back in time, what advice would you give the younger you about leadership?

Jack McGuinness:          Have what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. I think very earlier on I had a very fixed mindset, and through life experiences I gained more a growth mindset, which simply means I like to learn. I don't think I'm right all the time, and I don't think there's only one way of doing things. Sometimes I do, but I generally think I've evolved. My partner, Gil, has been instrumental in helping me with that.

Lily Synabria:                So, selecting a partner, Jack, is really important.

Jack McGuinness:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Lily Synabria:                What's an advice you can give us about selecting the right partner?

Jack McGuinness:          Trust implicitly. Never a question of what their intentions are, and that's-

Lily Synabria:                So, it has to be someone that you trust implicitly?

Jack McGuinness:          In my opinion. In my opinion. You know, I had another partnership that didn't work so well. I had one before that that worked very well. So, the differentiator was lack of trust. On my humble opinion it's, do you have someone that has character? Are they confident? And, are they dependable? If you have someone on the other side of a relationship that has those things, you have a good start.

Lily Synabria:                Great. Now Jack, is there anything else you'd like to share with our listeners?

Jack McGuinness:          You know, you asked the question about if there's something you'd change in education, and I just wanted to go back to the fact that both in my own academic life, and the academics lives of my children, you know you could point to a bunch of folks that have been instrumental in helping me, and helping my children be the people they are today. Several of them are educators.

Jack McGuinness:          My son is a computer science guy. He's a senior at Notre Dame, and he's already got a job at a hedge fund next year. He's on the course to be a very successful citizen, and I could point to junior year at Gonzaga High School in DC. He had a great computer science teacher, his first computer science class, and he sparked an interest that has changed my son's life. So, educators don't get enough attention for that.

Jack McGuinness:          And, he changed my son's world. So, it's sort of an amazing thing. So, thank you for all the work you guys do.

Lily Synabria:                Great. And Jack, I want to thank you so much for adding value to me, and to our listeners.

Lily Synabria:                Hello leaders! In closing here's a quick message. Coaching is the art of influence that underpins leadership in the 21st Century. It is the very thing that can get you from being stuck to being extraordinary. So, go to and sign up to get a free coaching session.

Lily Synabria:                Until next time, continue to ignite that leader in you.