Leadership accountability is a critical business issue, yet only 15% of senior executives say they are extremely satisfied with their leaders’ degree of accountability.
My guest on The Widest Net Podcast, Vince Molinaro, PhD., is a Strategic Leadership Advisor, Speaker and Researcher on Leadership Accountability. He’s here to share his insight on the importance of leadership accountability and his unique system to implement it deeply inside organizations.
Welcome to another episode of the Widest Net podcast. I’m your host, Pamela Slim. And I am joined today by my guest, Vince Molinaro. Vince Molinaro, PhD. Is a Strategic Leadership Advisor, speaker and researcher on leadership accountability. As the founder and CEO of Leadership Contract, Inc. Dr. Molinaro travels the world, helping organizations build vibrant leadership cultures with truly accountable leaders. He is a New York Times bestselling author and has published several books, including Accountable Leaders in 2020, The Leadership Contract 2018, and The Leadership Contract Field Guide Also in 2018, he’s also co-authored two other books Leadership Solutions and The Leadership Gap. His ideas serve as the foundation of leadership development programs in leading companies around the world. And because I know him, Vince really does live leadership accountability every day as an entrepreneur and global executive. His research and writing on leadership accountability are featured in some of the world’s leading business publications. He also shares his insight on his Gut Check for Leaders blog and through the Accountable Leaders App available from Apple and Google app stores. Vince, thanks so much for joining me today.
Thanks so much for having me, Pamela. I’m very excited to chat with you. Thanks for the opportunity.
Me too. So your longer bio hints to a work story that sounds like it nudged you toward this work of leadership accountability. So to frame us up, what was that and what is leadership accountability?
Well, the story dates back to my early 20s when I started my first job out of my undergraduate program and I worked for a large public sector organization that did really important work. It helped some of the neediest and marginalized people in our society, kind of help them get their lives back on track. So we provided financial assistance, access to education and training programs and whatnot. So the purpose of the organization was compelling. But as I joined, I was struck in my early days in the office, by the day to day work environment, there were just these old desks and beige walls and ceilings and the people kind of resembled that environment. Nice people showed up every day really committed to the clients they served, but they just came in almost like zombies day in and day out. And I kind of remember there being in my early 20s going, is this it? Is this what the world of work is going to be like? And all I need to do is stick around for 40 years and maybe at the end they’ll give me a little farewell party. And I realized that I already had higher expectations of it. But I kind of put those ideas aside, started focusing on my job and was there for a period of time, got a promotion. Now I was doing kind of career counseling, which was I felt now I was really helping people kind of find their meaning and purpose in their lives, which was great. And then a senior manager saw something in me, kind of took me under her wing and started giving me opportunities to really kind of lead and impact the organization. And under her leadership, I got to see that she was able to make changes in that environment. We didn’t swap out the desks, we didn’t paint the walls. It was all the same environment. But people started having more enthusiasm. And I remember thinking, wow, this is the kind of impact a manager can have on a place. Fast forward a little bit. She leaves the organization because they had diagnosed lung cancer. And as she left, I began to see things revert back to the way they were ever so slowly. And I became quite frustrated at that moment in time. And then as I heard, as the months went by that she wasn’t doing well, I felt compelled to go visit her, which I did. And in that visit, she opened up talking to me about her experience as a senior manager in the organization. And she described a highly toxic culture. And she said that the experience of her living in that environment for most of her career, she believed that’s what contributed to her disease. Back then, I didn’t quite know whether that was the case. Now we have the research that clearly shows that connection between our work lives, toxicity and stress and well being. Two weeks after that visit, she sent me a letter when people still used to write letters to each other. And she challenged me, what was I going to do with my life and two weeks after I got that letter, she passed away. And I knew that organization died with her. And so I had a glimmer of what it was like to work for a great leader early in my career. And I decided that I needed to leave that organization on a bit of a mission to work with other leaders who were like Zinta, who in spite of her environment, the toxic work environment, she was still trying to create something compelling for the employees. And that inspired me and it inspires me to this day, and it’s what’s driven my work. So leadership accountability, how did that come up? So I left that organization, started doing career counseling, and my customer base was largely middle managers who were trying to figure out how to get to the next level. And then they brought me into organizations to work with their teams. That got me into the training stuff. And I began to see always the impact that a good manager or leader had on his or her team. It was just so clearly evident. And then that led me to a number of roles, internal roles, consulting roles. But after the great financial crisis, this is when the work of leadership accountability really started to happen, like we’ve experienced in the last two years. Anytime we go through a significant crisis like at that time, the great financial crisis. I found organizations rethinking a lot of their practices, and what they were rethinking was a lot of what they were doing in leadership development. And so I remember one conversation in particular that really sparked my curiosity. I went in to see the head of HR and OD for a financial services company, and she was clearly flustered as I was about to meet her. And she said, I thought we did everything we were supposed to do when it comes to developing our leaders. And she started to explain what was happening. They invested heavily. They promoted these leaders. They gave them big titles, big compensation. And then she said, now we’re waiting for them. And I said, what are you waiting for? We’re waiting for them to lead, and they’re not. They look to the executive team for direction on everything. We’ve got big problems that we expect they’re going to roll up their sleeves to tackle, and they think someone else is going to magically come in and do that for them. And then she said the words that really kind of got me going. She said it’s like they don’t understand what it means to be a leader. And that was the first time I heard the problem couched in that way. And then I said, there’s something that we’re missing in the whole leadership field that we haven’t kind of figured out yet. And then what ends up happening in our work is whenever you see a new problem defined in a new way, all of a sudden it starts cropping up everywhere.
I find the same thing myself, people.
Using slightly different language, but they’re all getting to this point of we have people in leadership roles and they’re not stepping up to the expectations we have for them. And that led to, after quite a bit of thinking, led to the leadership contract and realizing that what companies were facing was a gap in leadership accountability. Putting people in leadership roles who don’t fully understand what it means to be a leader, and as a result, they’re not accountable, they’re not stepping up to expectations. So that was the starting point of that work.
It reminds me so much of my management consulting days and actually the end days of my time as an employee where I had like, you amazing, direct leader and VP, which I’m so thankful for in my 20s, that I was able to see that modeled effectively. When they left the organization, it felt literally from one week to the next, like it was a totally different place, which was so amazing to me to just recognize what a powerful role that those leaders had played. I know when I would first walk into places, it’s a little game that I play with myself. I don’t tell anybody usually, but I love to walk in and get a sense and a vibe right away. The first time I visit a company, you talked before about beige walls, old desks, clearly here at the learning Lab with bright turquoise walls and art everywhere. We don’t ascribe to that. Is there anything that you notice or you look for that gives you clues as to the existence of leadership accountability in the culture or the lack thereof? And I just mean before you’ve really gone in to begin to work with.
Companies, well, and that’s kind of what we learned. So when I first published Leadership Contract book in 2013, that was really about helping leaders understand that when you take on a leadership role, you’ve actually signed up for something important. And we as human beings do that naturally. We hold anyone we deem to be a leader to a higher standard of behavior, right, and accountability. We expect them to lead, to find a way forward, to lead the future, to create a compelling work environment, to lead a city, lead a town, lead a country, lead a sports team. It doesn’t matter what the leadership role is. I believe that Contract has always been there, but it’s been largely implicit. And the leadership contract book helped make that more explicit. Now, this is not to blame leaders because when I’ve gone around the world talking to leaders, I’ve always asked there’s two questions. I’ll come to the next one, the second one in a bit, but the first one was always around. How did you get into a leadership role in the first place? Can you tell me how that happened for you? And it is startling that the most common answer is, I got in by accident. I was very, very good at something usually technical. I was the best engineer, the best salesperson, the best analyst, the best HR practitioner. It doesn’t matter what the area of expertise is. When you excel, you stand out relative to all the other employees. Your performance is what gets that attention. And we’ve had a history of going to those people and saying, you’re so good at give you this completely different job, give you a really cool title, and then give you some more money, some more prestige. Good luck with that. We won’t support you. And then you’re left figuring it out on your own. Some people get it and figure it out. Some people struggle. And so that’s been the predominant story for a lot of people and how they got into leadership roles. So that point of, okay, so what does it look like when it’s strong? Well, it’s exactly what you would expect. People really define themselves in their leadership roles. In the book, I share a story of Earl. We were doing a leadership program, and I was talking about the leadership contract in the first term that says leadership is a decision. And in the session he said, just blurted out, I never got to make that decision. And I was like, okay, Earl, what’s going on? I’m sure you’ve been in rooms when people have that kind of a visceral emotional reaction. So there’s a curiosity of what happened. And he told about told us his story he was an engineer, great engineer. The same thing happened to him. Got promoted and every few years he got a new leadership role, bigger job, bigger title, more money. And he just kept saying yes and yes and yes and yes. And he never said I never really deliberately decided to take on a leadership role. And then what he said next was I think the real powerful thing. He said if I’m really honest, I still think of myself as an engineer first and a leader second. In fact, I think of my leadership job as my part time job. And when those words came out, I realized that’s what’s going on in organizations. So leaders who are accountable see leadership as their main thing. It doesn’t discount the technical expertise we all bring, but that’s your main thing. Leaders who fail to step up don’t see leadership as their main thing. They see it as something that’s optional. So invariably they’re not going to be good at it. They’re not going to take time coaching their people, developing their people, paying attention to culture, having difficult conversations when they need to have them rolling up their sleeves to tackle tough issues. They don’t tend to kind of do that as much.
Yeah, that’s so powerful. And it’s interesting listening with both ears in different ways. One of them is that, as you said, often we can have the experience for people who are employees or people who work with leaders to really not have great experiences and to be extremely frustrated with that, which is a valid situation where you hear people who just feel like their leader doesn’t have their back. They’re not paying attention to what they’re doing. They’re not looking out for them as a whole person. They’re not helping them figure out their development path. All of these things that a leader would do. But the other part of it, as you said, is where there hasn’t been real clarity in terms of defining what it really means. What are the verbs around leadership, what do people do that those are the things that can make a difference? And I find in my work as well, if people don’t know marketing or they’re just trying stuff because somebody said they should do it and it looks cool as opposed to really understanding and making a decision about how they can be approaching that work in a deliberate way. And I think that is the thing where they still need to pun intended, have accountability for behavior that is impacting the folks who work with them. But definitely to me it does open up a new, more positive developmental channel in which to change the culture.
Yeah. As the story unfolded, the leadership contract book comes out and it immediately resonates with organizations. And so we built an initial one day program off of it to really help leaders internalize the ideas. And we started getting great feedback and then we started to say, okay, is there something more fundamental going on here than what we’re experienced anecdotally across these organizations? So then we started to do some formal research. And when we did that, we realized there was a leadership accountability gap. Now we had the data right. We found a survey of over 2000 senior executives globally. 72% of them said leadership accountability was a critical business issue and only 15% were extremely satisfied with the degree of accountability demonstrated by leaders. We ask questions like, well, think about the leaders in your company who you would say are truly accountable. What would they represent from a percentage standpoint? And it’s just about 49%. So we got about half of leaders deemed to be accountable and the other half not. So how can you be successful as a company when that’s kind of an issue? We began to see the data support this, what we were seeing anecdotally and and it made perfect sense. We also started to understand the connection between accountability and company performance. So firms like ours ask questions. Usually there’s a question that says think about your company performance over the last three years. And relative to competitors, are you an industry leader? Above average, performer average, below average, or a laggard a poor performer? And when we really analyze the data against those groupings, the industry leaders completely set themselves apart from the rest. Everyone thought leadership accountability was critical, but the industry leading companies had more satisfaction with the degree of accountability over two times more than the average of the other groupings. And we also asked, we said, think about the behaviors that accountable leaders demonstrate every day. And we saw a significant difference in the net difference between how the industry leading companies demonstrated that. It was five behaviors that were evident in 2015 when we did the research. Number one, they hold themselves accountable to high standards of performance in their teams. They have the courage to tackle tough issues and make difficult decisions. Three, they’re very good at communicating the strategy to the rest of the organization. Which is clarity is a foundation of accountability. If I’m unclear or you as my manager, don’t bring that clarity, well, what do I do? Right? Number four, I bring optimism to my team. I’m optimistic about the company and its future. And number five, I display clarity about drivers in my business environment. In our most recent, we’ve just done some new research showing there’s been a subtle shift in that list where what were the bottom three have now become the top three. And what’s been added in is the need of leaders to act in the interest of the whole organization and leaders to actively break down silos, to collaborate across the organization to drive the execution of the strategy. It’s not that the other two holding others accountable and tackling tough issues are not important. They just drop down to the list and now are six and seven on the list as opposed to being one and two. And all of it makes sense, right? Given what we’ve gone through the last few years, we need leaders to be more externally focused so they can anticipate what’s coming at them. It kind of makes sense. We’re just kind of going through that research. So we had both the anecdotal experience and the research that really kind of paved the way for what we were then to build coming out of that.
Do you find knowing you do work with some quite large organizations, is it the same dynamics for really small firms that just have small teams? Do you see any difference in the specific behaviors of an accountable leader that hopefully would be setting a culture in which people could really be successful as the company grows?
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to work with and speak with founders, whether it’s in startup phase or further on in their journey. And in many ways it’s the same thing, right? Like we need to set a tone of accountability for our teams. I think the real advantage in smaller organizations is there’s less complexity. You think of an organization with 50,000 employees trying to get those messages through, trying to get everyone on the same page is going to take some effort. Right. When you’ve got a smaller company of 100, 200 employees, it’s much easier to kind of do it. I also found because I’ve been in that startup mode a few times in my career, where what ends up happening is because of the purpose and the vision of the organization, it tends to attract, early on, a lot of like minded people. So right off the bat, you generally find everyone’s wired the same way. Right. So a lot of the things that big companies need to do to kind of instill a set of values, drive them deep into the organization isn’t necessary. The challenge I’ve seen there is in the smaller organizations, as they grow, can they retain some of those things that made them successful? From a value standpoint and a leadership standpoint? That tends to be sort of the challenge. I just this week talked with a client who’s in an organization where they’re realizing, okay, we’ve had the startup phase, the innovation. Now in order to really leverage growth, we need to start bringing in more discipline, more process and that’s attention with all the employees that love that kind of startup. Innovative growth, early growth phase.
For sure, I know I saw that a lot and lived it in Silicon Valley being there for so long. So you’ve talked about the origins of really looking at this issue, specifically some of the research, the update I’ve been lucky to peek in a little bit as you’ve really been building your body of work and building an entire system, a leadership accountability system. Walk us through that. Just what is it? What are the different components, and how do they work together?
Yeah, we’re lucky that we have the opportunity to work with you, because, Pamela, you were pivotal in shaping our thinking around that. That is really important. And it’s important that folks that are listening to this know about just how extraordinary you and your team are in supporting your customers around that. Well, I think part of that is, in terms of building a system, really what it’s about is a few things. Right. There’s something around how do you build scale through a number of facets. Right. And I lived this years ago. It was sort of really my first crack at it, because in the professional services and consulting world, it’s a lot about who is that consultant, who is that partner, who is that person bringing deep expertise, and everybody wants to work with them. And no matter how high you bring your fees, you’re still only 24 hours in the day, and you’re not working 24 hours. So at that time, I was leading the leadership practice at a company called Knightsbridge, and there were big expectations of the kind of growth we were being asked to drive. And if Vince and a few of my really senior people who were exceptional, exceptional practitioners, if we were all working 40 hours a week, we would not hit our target. So we needed to figure out scale. And we did that in a way that is a couple of things. Number one is we also worked with a large organization who expected us, because of our size and scale, to bring in proven approaches, things that are repeatable and things that work. There were two objectives. One is, in order for us to grow, we needed to build scale in our methodology so that others could sell it. We had a roster of people certified in it who could deliver it. And then we knew we could really uphold our obligation to our customers by bringing them best in class solutions and products and whatnot. So that was that experience. So as I started, really what we were finding is it wasn’t just building it for the sake of building it. It was really thinking about what was the customer problem that we had gotten some insight on that they needed help in. And what we find, where we focus our energy, is we work with CEOs and CHROs when their companies are at a critical inflection point that really now challenges their leaders to step up. And it’s really a step change in how they’re leading. And that usually means not that what the leaders were doing before was necessarily bad or ineffective, but it was like, our world has changed. Right. So examples are we’re dealing with digital transformation, well, that’s a significant transformation for any company. What it means to lead in a pre digital world, to a digital world is very different. We get things of companies that have an opportunity to drive global growth and international expansion. Well, if all you’ve been doing is leading in a localized market, a country, a region, and now you’re having to pay attention to multiple markets, different cultures and languages, time zones, a more complex leadership challenge, and on and on, right. Our recent research reveals that companies aren’t just dealing with one major challenge. There are multiple challenges that they’re dealing with at once. And so it’s raising the bar on the expectations of leaders. So it was really like, what does a company need at that moment in time? So when we go in and talk to CEOs and CHROs, they understand they can’t do it alone. They’re not scalable. They have to build scale from a leadership standpoint in their organizations. They have to support their leaders to make that transition. And the question is, how can we unlock that leadership potential in the fastest possible way? And it turns out all that work we were doing on leadership accountability provided the answer is it’s leadership accountability that is the fastest way to unlock leadership potential, full stop. And then what we’ve learned is when you need to support your leaders, you don’t need a program, you need a system. And that was really then us building our leadership accountability system. So when an organization engages with us, there are sort of three phases of the work, and we capture that through the imagery of a set of gears. Because what we have found is when you pay attention to each of those gears in a deliberate way and they start turning, they all amplify one another, and you really start getting some exciting things happening within a company. So the first step that we do is, in that moment in time, we have to really define a number of things. We got to define the business context, the emerging business context. So we go in and interview the executives to understand, okay, as you look out over the next three years, what are the opportunities, what are the big risks, what are the threats? And get real clarity on what that context is. And from there we say, so what’s that going to mean in terms of how your leaders need to step up? That’s sort of the second part. And we take all of that, put it into our magical blender, and we create a set of clear leadership expectations for the organization in the form of a leadership contract that clearly outlines, here’s what we expect and it’s usually four or five or six clear expectations. We define it in the language of the organization, and we identify a set of aligned behaviors. So here’s what it looks like, what this expectation looks like when leaders are demonstrating it well. But we’ve learned that you have to go the next step. You also have to identify the misaligned behaviors so that we kind of say, well, this is what it looks like when you’re not stepping up. In fact, one organization that we worked with said, here’s what we expect, here’s what we will not tolerate. And that is all about setting clear expectations of leaders. And that becomes important. Then we take all that under that define and create what I call a strategic story that now connects the dots between the business context and the leadership expectations. So leaders kind of understand, okay, this is where we’re going. I kind of get it now. This is how I need to step up. It’s not a criticism of them. It’s like we just got to take our game to this next level. And that’s kind of that first foundational work. Now, from a process standpoint, we have spent a lot of time with your help as well, building out kind of what is that process so we can train others to be able to deliver on that work, so that there’s scale. It’s not enough for me or two or three other members of my team to do that work. We can teach others to do it, and we have. And so that’s the other element. So you got to really, in a very deliberate way, deconstruct what’s the process? What are all the steps, and how do you then build the tools to help people get there? So that’s kind of the defined phase. The next phase is then, okay, now we’ve got to get leaders to start embracing this stuff. And we do that primarily through a development process that we have. And that involves ensuring that the executives are clear on their accountability for setting the tone. We do that before we work with any other leaders. We have found that when that’s not clear or the leaders aren’t fully bought in, everyone else knows it, and there’s just a subtle erosion of impact is what we have found. Sometimes it’s subtle, sometimes it’s more overt. Then through our development experience, we make sure we focus on two other things. There we get at the mindset and tie to that the behaviors that they need to demonstrate so they have an opportunity to kind of start internalizing the new ways of thinking and the behaviors. And then ultimately then it’s like, okay, now we got to put it into practice. And we kind of say, what are your leader routines that you need to evolve? And what are the routines you have with your teams that you need to evolve? So very quickly we move from kind of thinking about these behaviors and actually implementing them day to day at an individual level and at a team level. So that’s awesome. That’s great. And we have seen when we kind of do our pre-post measures on accountability, we find on average a 20% increase where leaders say, when I started this experience, here’s how I rated myself as an accountable leader. And now that I’ve gone through this, here’s where I am now. And on average, we’re seeing a 20%, 20% to 25%, increase across our customers. Sometimes it’s up as high as 40%, and that happens over a ten week period. So it’s a pretty good bump up in that period of time. Now we could stop there, but it’s not enough. The third gear is now how do you really embed these new expectations into how your organization operates and into your culture? So we have found that there are sort of three components to think about. So think about three overarching gears, define a line embed, and each one has three other smaller gears. So what we have found is that the third idea that we’ve learned over the years is number one was leadership accountability is the fastest way to unlock leadership potential. Two, you don’t need a program, you need a system. And three is that a community of leaders is the biggest missed opportunity in an organization. We still have too many leaders isolated from one another, feeling lonely, feeling disconnected. And if you can bring them together and really start building a sense of community, it’s a powerful lever that you use in your company. And so there we have a mechanism to ensure leaders keep coming together. And a lot of that work the organization can do on its own. Don’t need us to do it. Some engage us, but they can do it on their own. Then we work with the HR team to identify where do those leadership expectations need to be embedded further in organizational practices. So some create like a recruitment profile, so in that early stages, they’re bringing in new leaders. They’re using their expectations and their leadership contract as the lens on which to evaluate, which candidate to bring on board, and which candidates to ignore career profiles. So that as you have employees who might be thinking about going into a leadership role. They now know exactly what it means to be a leader in that company and they can start kind of developing themselves through that performance management. All the typical ones. What we’ve learned is you don’t have to do it everywhere. That’s a bit more specialized where we work with the HR team to help them think about that over time. And I know this is your word and you’re a big fan of it, is we already had customers saying, do you have toolkits that can help us with this? And that’s something that we’re looking to build over time. Right now, the ask is primarily us helping them figure it out so they can implement and that’s working. But over time, I suspect we’ll have toolkits as well. And then the final piece is making sure you’ve got impact measures in place, right, so you can kind of track how you’re doing. We use a lot of assessment through our methodology as well, so we’ve got a lot of pre-post. So for example, on the community of leaders, that’s where we’re actually having the biggest impact pre-post measures. When you started this, where was the community of leaders in this company? Where is it now? We’re there, we’re seeing an average of 40% to 45% increase and sometimes that’s been up to 70% in some organizations. We encourage our customers to do what we have a community of leader survey on our website. If someone’s interested, they can go and actually complete it for their company and they get an automated report generated to them. We have some clients that maybe do it twice a year, some do it quarterly as they bring their extended leadership team together, which is usually the executive team in the next level. And they’re just tracking this to see how we’re doing. Let’s keep our strength strong and if there’s other areas we got to pay attention to, at least we have a tangible way of addressing those sorts of things. So that’s the leadership accountability system on the whole and it takes time to build that. I worked with actually I talked just last fall with who would have been the very first leadership contract client many years ago. And I was having a chat with who was my primary customer, he was the head of strategy and leadership and I was talking about the work that he had done, he and his team had done over the years. And he had said I’ve really come to realize this is about a system. And I sort of said, Andrew, here, let me show you a slide that I kind of showed our system and he said oh my goodness, that’s exactly it, right? So in many ways we’ve built the system so organizations don’t have to because it’s going to take you a ton of time to do it. Now, the great companies that are really focusing on leadership accountability, they will have defined it themselves and built it themselves. But others who are starting out, it’s going to take time and you don’t have to worry about it. We built it and we’ve implemented it in a ton of places with good success.
One of the things I appreciate of watching the process over an extended period of time, we talk a lot about productized services which include things like developing really sophisticated and yet not overwhelming models in the consulting world, you and I have lived in a long time. There’s actually often praise heaped upon us the more complex we make the models amongst ourselves. For the people who are in the organizations, it is just consultant mumbo jumbo and I think in managing this product market fit. One of the things that I just want to reflect and I appreciate about you is you are first and foremost always true to the work. So looking at because you work with organizations day in and day out, what really works in the context of real people running real organizations and taking the time and doing the tweaks to create a model that actually will be delivering results. And I know to the “unconsultant” ear it sounds like, well, of course that’s what you should do. But in the industry, I feel like it’s actually an anomaly that for most people it’s just, what can I create that sounds really cool and the hope that I can sell it? Because in the product market fit I have watched you balance building a solution that you feel truly does address the core problem and challenge that your ideal customers face. And then you have to make sure that you can communicate it in a way they understand it, that you can sell it in a way that gives you a healthy and profitable business. And sometimes it’s hard to get those two things coming together. So I’m just curious, having watched you do both of those things over extended period of time, what have been some of the highs and what have been some of the lows of now where you can happily show your polished slide to the client and they’re like, of course, that’s the most obvious things ever. And you’re like, yes, years of my life have been spent to get to this level of simplicity.
Well, it’s a great question and I’ll come at it from a few angles. I think the first one is there’s a bit of a wiring that I figured out I kind of had, right? And I remember when I got recruited into kind of a mid-sized consulting company after I had my internal stint in a pharmaceutical company heading up the learning and leadership function. And we had there one of the partners was an extremely well known thought leader in the HR space and had a very, very successful book. And when I came in and looked at the book, I sort of said, well, where are the ten one day programs that align with each of these chapters because I can see them. And I then said, I’ll build them. Right. And that started that work because again, it was a classic model where he was the guru, but it was limited in terms of if we had him working 60 hours a week at the rate he built, it still wasn’t enough for the aspirations we had as a company. So that’s number one. Number two is sometimes in consulting, we’re practitioners, we love the work, we love to do the work. And I see that that’s a barrier to kind of building that scale and building that kind of methodology. I remember the first scalable kind of one day program we had built years back was a coaching skills program for leaders and built that in conjunction with a customer. And then, as it turned out, other customers were finding they wanted the same thing. And we kind of shared that and said it was awesome, let’s bring it in. And I did the initial deliveries and I got good results and that’s fine. Right. The most exciting moment was when someone else on my team delivered it and got better results, better feedback than me. And I said, now we can scale this because at the end, I’m an entrepreneur and a business person first and the leadership stuff is kind of where I play. But that was that exciting moment and that’s the same thing here, right? So that’s what’s exciting, is when seeing others take kind of the work that you’ve done methodically to kind of get to that point and put that into place. Now, what’s hard? Well, when you’re in a larger firm, what can be hard is the practitioners are going to resist it because they love the magic in the room. I’ve had some exceptional team members basically show up with a flip chart and a marker and work magic in a room with a group of senior leaders and I would say, I can’t scale that. And we kept them. They just worked their magic because that was the value and the customers loved them and they were brilliant, brilliant individuals. But I can’t scale that, right? So that sometimes is a challenge. The next part of it is in the build. I think that’s ultimately the biggest challenge. If you talk to my team, many are very frustrated with me because, and you’ve warned me of this in conversations, but there is an intuitive aspect to it as well, where they want to lock down early, right, okay, I think we’re good. I think we’re good. We’re ready now. And I go, no, we’re not ready yet, not yet. And yet when I know we’re ready, then we lock down. Because I think the challenge is sometimes if you lock down too early.
Going to run into problems later on because the solution isn’t thought out completely. I think that’s the reason, in the end, you’re not going to be serving your customer, you’re not going to be doing right by your customer. So it’s also this unrelenting focus on adding value to the customer because they have choices on who to work with and who to spend their money with, and when they decide to spend their money with us, I take that very seriously, but I want to be completely confident, go in saying, Listen, this is bulletproof. We’ve tested it every which way and this is kind of what you got. And then we have the confidence to value price as well, because what we offer you really can’t find anywhere else. And so we need to also have that confidence to do it. And I think sometimes that’s a barrier for some folks, right? And then I think once you land it, stop tweaking it, then there is a point when you say, okay, we’re done, then you have to move into implementation mode, because if you’re constantly tweaking it, then you’re never going to get the growth that you can potentially garner by something that’s been well thought out, bought and replicable, repeatable and proven.
Yeah, it’s so true because just when things are tested, because the world’s changing and people change and there can be unexpected things, there always will be. I think in a well constructed model, the opportunity with such a strong framework to be addressing issues or nuance that comes up. I know I’ve been the person with a marker and loving to jump into a room and just make it happen. What’s interesting and I’ve noticed through the years is it actually as much as there can be a bit of a dopamine high that comes from that of always being able to, under pressure, figure things out over time. Even as an individual practitioner, I don’t feel as supported, I feel more depleted because there’s so much more at stake and having really strong models, frameworks, to work within. To me now, at this later stage of my career, it actually feels more liberating because there you can begin to get into some of the more interesting things and you have basic things like really beautiful, easy to understand models that help people to understand it. And you have well thought out exercises and all these things that I know as learning and development folks we love to nerd out on, but it really is I think sometimes people can feel as founders themselves, or even as practitioners of something that you’re locking down innovation or creativity if you’re creating something into a system or more. This productized service, I’ve really found it to be the opposite, where you are approaching it the way that you are, which is in a living laboratory with real people gathering feedback all along, doing research on the side. And that takes commitment, it takes investment of time and energy and money in order to do it. But I’m just really excited for where you are. And yes, speaking on behalf of the team, let’s hope they get that lockdown soon. I am curious now, looking forward, so we’re in the first quarter of 2023 at the time of this conversation. What do you look forward to for how it is that you are going to be growing your company and your practice?
Well, I think it’s now really being primarily in execution mode because we’ve been the last four years in startup mode and let’s throw a pandemic in there as well. And it’s very hard, and I’ve had this in the past as well, it’s very hard in our space to be running a business, building your solutions, doing all the things that a young, thriving, hopefully thriving company demands. And it’s so much easier once things have been built. And to your point, you now can kind of go this is what we bring to the market and the way we’ve positioned ourselves is really you pay attention to your customers. Right when I started back, kind of with leadership contracting and starting back my own company, leaving a large global role, first thing I did is someone in my network was a marketing leader. I was saying I always would go out and have my customers interviewed to get some qualitative feedback on how me and my team were doing and whatnot. And usually I’d have a third party or someone in my team do that. And she had said, I’d love to do those interviews for you, which was great. There we were able to already understand how customers saw us, what our value was, where we added our real unique value relative to competitors. And that kind of gave us that landscape of really where to focus on. Right. The other thing with that work you do, because this is as I said before, it’s really about adding value to your customer. The other thing we’ve done is when you’re really listening to the customer’s pain points and what they need, your system or what you productize, I have found it needs to reflect the language they use as well. So to your earlier point, it’s easy for you and I to geek out and come up with these four dimensional models of leadership and have a ton of fun with a couple of whiteboards and things like that. And I’ve had teams like that where they’d come back from a customer meeting and all of sudden, I’d see them huddling around all with this excitement. And once in particular they came in and said, we need to be doing this. And I said, really? Okay, well, why don’t we do this? Why don’t you sell one first, and then once you sell it, then we’ll talk. And then I’d never see them again because they couldn’t sell it. It was a brilliant conceptual model, but it didn’t deal with the practicalities of what real leaders deal with day in and day out. So I think if I would say, if there’s anything to take away for your audience and listeners on this, just stay close to understanding the pain points of your customers. Really pay attention to the language that they use. Sometimes they would be words that you wouldn’t, as an expert, wouldn’t necessarily use. But it doesn’t matter because when they see their language reflected, all of a sudden they immediately connect with what you’ve built. And that’s, I think, another important part. That’s a subtlety that sometimes is not always evident for folks.
Absolutely. Well, for folks who want to learn more about your work or participate in it, where can they find you?
Well, they can reach out on LinkedIn, so Vince Molinaro. You can find me. There’s actually quite a few Vince Molinaro. That’s why I put the doctor in front of it, to separate myself. Just happens to be a world of, it’s not a common name, but a lot of Vince Molinaro. And they all happen to be CEOs running their family businesses. So go figure. Dr. Vince Molinaro or our website, which is DrVinceMolinaro.com, where all the information is. And we’ve got a lot of resources there for folks that they can download and through that, they can reach out to my team and happy to have a chat with your audience.
I love that. Well, we will make sure to put links to all of the places where people can find you. So thank you so much for Vince, for sharing your time and stories with us today. For those of you who are listening, make sure to check out the show notes at pamelaslim.com for tips and resources. And I just want to thank my 31 Marketplace production team, La’Vista Jones, Tanika Lothery, Jose Arboleda and the award winning Voice of God narrator for our intro and outro Andia Winslow. Until next time, be sure to subscribe to the show and enjoy building partnerships, organizations and communities that grow our ecosystem.