Connie’s motivational quote for today is by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.”
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Recently, I had a conversation with my oldest son about good and bad bosses and how there is much to learn from both types. I also shared that in my 20 years in corporate before I started my buses 21 years ago, I had one amazing leader and six really bad bosses. Notice I used the word boss for the bad ones and leader for the good ones.
I believe that bosses think they are right because they are the boss. End of story! While leaders seek others’ opinions to gain a greater perspective of the situation, the organization’s strategic plan, etc., it starts with the leader at the top and works its way down. If good leadership is not demanded by the organizational culture, in my experience, bad bosses live and thrive.
About Hamish Thomson:
A New Zealander by birth, Hamish is a seasoned global leadership executive. In a 30-year career, he has been a successful CEO/Regional President and Global Brand head for Mars Incorporated (UK, Australia, and Chicago), a senior marketing and sales lead for Reebok International (England and the Netherlands), and a fresh-faced account executive in the London advertising scene.
A start-up adviser and investor, board director, and keynote speaker, he is the author of the Wiley-published international business book, It’s Not Always Right to Be Right –an autobiographical account of leadership and personal lessons relating to breakthrough and transformation. He currently resides in Sydney, Australia with his wife and three children.
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Hamish Thomson – Why Leaders Shouldn’t Be Right
I hope as every time you tune into the show, you feel my passion and mission to change the word sales, that icky, sleazy manipulation. We have to kick it to the curb. We have to approach sales from this place of love, compassion, care and respect. Respect is the biggest word for me. To help you with this mindset shift, get out of your head and get into the game here, I have a gift for you, my Communication Style Assessment.
You will get two reports. One is showing your superpower. It is going to discern and give you some information as to how people perceive you and your messaging. On the flip side, you will also get a report with your lowest style. Typically, it is your blind spot. That report will shine a light to hopefully help you navigate those that communicate differently than you. Please jump in, take it and I hope it helps you move the needle on that mindset shift.
My motivational quote to set the table for my conversation with my guest is by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. The quote says, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.” I had a conversation with my oldest son about what a good and a bad boss look like. On both sides, there is so much to learn from.
I also shared with him that in my 20-year corporate career, before I started my business several years ago, I had 1 amazing boss and 6 bad bosses. Notice I used the word boss. I should have said a leader for the good one. Mike Ficks was a leader. He led with greatness. The six bosses were bosses because they thought they were right and had all the answers but they weren’t very good at communicating.
I believe that bosses think they are right because they are the boss, end of the story. While leaders seek others’ opinions to hopefully gain a greater perspective on whatever the situation, the organizational culture and whatever is happening at that organizational level. It starts with the leader at the top and works its way down. If you have good leadership, what happens is that organizational culture trickles down and the people at the bottom hopefully can execute at a better or higher level of leading.
My guest is a New Zealander by birth and his name is Hamish Thomson. He is a seasoned global leadership executive. In a several-year career, he has been a successful CEO, Regional President and Global Brand Head for Mars Incorporated, a Senior Marketing and Sales Leader for Reebok International and a fresh face account executive in the London advertising scene.
He is a startup advisor, investor, board director and keynote speaker. He is also the author of the Wiley-published international business book called It’s Not Always Right to Be Right. It is an autobiographical account of leadership and personal lessons relating to breakthroughs and transformation. He resides in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and three children. Please help me welcome him to the show. Hamish, thank you so much for being on.
It is lovely to be with you, Connie. Thank you for the introduction.
You have done a lot.
I have had an enjoyable career. I’ve done a several-year corporate career. I’m an individual. I like new, different and what is around the corner. I get bored very easily. I got this thing called constant dissatisfaction, even when things were going well. I made a bold move, which my bosses within Mars and also my wife thought was a crazy move. I resigned from the corporate world. I started up and down. It is a start-up private equity. I got into this little bit of publishing within that.
It has been enjoyable but as long as you are pushing and thriving through, it is key. I loved the introduction that you talked about. “Remove the word sales.” I have always thought that the most exceptional sales leader is a business leader first and a functional leader second. It is a difficult mindset to get your head around but I resonated directly when you said that.The most exceptional sales leader is a business leader first and a functional leader second. Click To Tweet
I have been in sales for many years. When I started to talk about bad bosses, they were good in sales and brought the numbers in but had no business grooming, promoting, mentoring and teaching. It was horrifying by the way I was spoken to in the ‘80s by some of my sales managers. When I think now, it would not be tolerated. They would be an HR issue. At the time, you are a kid. What do you know? You roll with it. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you should lead. That is why this conversation is critical. The landscape of leadership has changed but at the core, it hasn’t.
We all know that a good leader unlocks the massive potential within you and your freedom and autonomy to explore. You don’t get massively situational leadership in regard to being directed. You get coached and supported along the way. I have always found this. I have had a few stints within the sales org over the years. With the results, orientation, drive and passion, this is often a short-term game unless you were probably more within a family oriented or a private business. The short-term pressures within that.
It often results in default styles that most people believe that to get the best out of people, you have to be very pragmatic, matter-of-fact and direct. In situational leadership, you direct and tell as opposed to coach and develop. It is a misnomer because you don’t get the most out of people. It is a different style of approach when you suddenly walk away from that transactional element. “How do I do this at a leadership level?” It is not right for everyone. You got to give yourself a break if it is not right for you. Some people are great individual contributors. Other people thrive and enjoy unlocking the potential within others. It is a nice balance needed.
You said something important. You said transactional. It is the same in sales. If you go in and do the transaction, there is no depth to it. There is no relationship piece of it. I made the sale move on and I’m off to the next person, where my career and the way I teach with my clients aren’t transactional. They are buying from you at the moment but it is that long-term relationship that you are building that becomes a profitable two-way connection. You can refer to them. They can refer to you as well as support each other and grow.
I love the word transactional. We need to look more into that relationship building, which translates over to leadership. I have a question for you. In the information that was sent, you put in your book that you believe that exceptional leaders are those that are not always right. I agree with it but how did you land on that?
It took me a while to appreciate it. Within your earlier career and let’s put a sales bent on this for your audience, you believe that you need to be right. It is something almost installed with you from an early age. That is what is required. The results can be transactional on that. I used to be one of those individuals that every debate, discussion and dialogue that I would have, they would always have to be, in my mind, a winner and a loser. The outcome would be transactional. Normally, I would do well out of it. I was quite as intellectual as sparring and I was okay at it. I thought that was a good format in regard to ongoing development.
When you sit back and reflect on it, I had three key insights that came through. When you think you are always right, you limit your thought diversity, openness and willingness to new ideas incredibly. I’m an insanely curious person but I was not opening my mindset to new possibilities. I had a boss with an Asia Pacific Chapter in China, Samson Su and he said, “Hamish, your mind works like a parachute best when open.” It hit the thing that if you are always right, you are going to have a closed-off mindset. That was number one.
The second one goes to what you were saying about the depth of relationships. In my experience, when you are always right, you will have one-off transactional relationships. I started looking back and every one of my breakthrough results and transformational results came when I had a depth and a quality of relationship that generally only happened after at least 2 or 3 interactions. Good leaders and I started to, after a while, measure my relationship variable ahead of a transactional number. They go hand in hand with that. I found that incredibly important. I turn it transactional versus transformational.
The last one was what we were talking about. I love unlocking talent. I get a real buzz out of it. It is selfish but it is a bloody good feeling to get that. However, when you are right, nobody develops under you. They don’t challenge you. They won’t go into a debate or a dialogue with you. Why would they? It is because they know they are going to lose. Those are those elements.
To me, good leaders are more than happy. They have an inner confidence that it is okay to be wrong. They show vulnerability, which goes to the next level of trust and relationship. In my case, I start to value the opinion of others before I value my own. You have a decision-making hierarchy at the end. We see it numerous times but I wish I earned until a little bit earlier in my career in the last several years as a CEO when I got to that position.
Isn’t that part of the journey of wisdom? Your kids are similar ages. They think they know everything. Sometimes, my husband and I look at them and I go, “How did I get to 60 without your insight?” I’m the blithering idiot. That is the mother. It is funny. We are very egocentric. It is a natural progression that when we are younger, the world revolves around us. As we get older, we realize how much we don’t know.
I will share a funny story. When COVID hit in 2020, all of my clients were corporate clients. I did everything live. I traveled. I spoke and networked live and the world shut down. I remember saying to my husband, “I have to come out of the dark ages and start to digitize my stuff.” I started networking online and via Zoom. I was working twelve-hour days because I realized how much I didn’t know, Hamish.
I remember the first day I was part of a program. It was like a weekend thing of learning. I came up for lunch. My husband was like, “How is it?” I looked at him and said, “I have been in business for several years. How did I survive? I don’t know anything.” It was at that moment that I was so curious because there was so much I didn’t know. It was a blind spot. I never looked over there. That comes with the wisdom that you were saying you were more open in the past several years because we start to reflect and think, “I didn’t know that.” That comes with age. I don’t know.
Insight and experience, whether it is lived experience or even observation. Let’s face it. It is underleveraged and undervalued but it is incredibly important. The challenge that I have placed back on a lot of people is, “How do you get to that insight and experience at an earlier age?” There is a great quote from an ex-Black rugby coach in the New Zealand chapter. He is Steve Hanson. He says, “You don’t need to lose to learn but it sure helps.”
I love that element. What I’m saying to people is, “How do you get in early? How do you control your agenda? Fix things before they break. Learn insights before you have to learn.” There are models. I have included them within some of my teaching and things around, “How do you document learnings? How do you look for context and insight earlier at this stage? How do you track those things that you observe that go against your core values in their own rights?”
There has to be almost a discipline at an early stage. As soon as you do that, suddenly, your perspective opens up incredibly. You opened your mindset and realized there is a benefit to saying, “I don’t know. I need to seek an external perspective first.” A lot of people talk externally and outside perspective. Few people act on it.There is a benefit to saying, “I don't know. I need to seek an external perspective first.” Click To Tweet
It is funny because we had no income coming in. I had one child, still in college. My husband lost his job. His company closed. We had no income coming in, Hamish. You sit and go, “What do I do?” I hired two coaches. They were a lot of money. Thank goodness we had money in the bank. In retrospect, it was the right thing.
Talk about scary moments. For my readers, we have these crossroads. It is like, “Do I do that? I know I need it but it costs whatever it is.” The cost of not doing it is almost another perspective when you start peeling back the onion that we have to look at. You used the word before. I’m curious. Constant dissatisfaction and always wanting to stay ahead of the curve. What does constant dissatisfaction mean? I find that phraseology fascinating.
I’m not saying it is a good condition. I have been told that there are two types of dissatisfaction. There is healthy dissatisfaction and there is constant. Unfortunately, I have the constant side. A healthy dissatisfaction is you are looking for opportunities and possibilities. You don’t have a limiting mindset and external perspectives where you view their opportunities.
I have constant dissatisfaction. This goes back to wanting new different exciting adventures. Even when things are going well, I want to look at opportunities that can take them to the next stage. The danger against that is that it can be very demanding on your team around you. You can often move at a pace and a cadence that can leave people behind. You can, if you are not careful. You need to surround yourself with good people if you have this. You can walk away from some strong core profit or revenue centers and try and chase new channels, new customers or opportunities. We know within sales that core is key.
That is how I look at it. I have always had Dr. Michael Watkins, who did The First 90 Days book. He has a model that talks about in four stages of business maturity and start-up turnaround, realignment and sustaining success. The sustaining success element is maintaining. Maintenance, to me, even the terminology of it, means decline. If you got a mindset of maintenance, the pressure valve goes off the people around you. You are not seeking out new opportunities. I look at any business situation that I go into around that constant dissatisfaction. How you get ahead of the curve is key.
I was interviewed by McKinsey or BCG a few years back but it was a CEO interview and 90% of global CEOs said they were nervous about a business model change that would disrupt their business in the next several years. However, they only invested 10% of their resources in getting ahead of that. Talk around wanting to get ahead of the curve. Individually like you, what were those capabilities that you needed in times of difficulty that you knew you would need within several years’ time? What do you do? You invest in regard to coaches to bring that out within you. Getting ahead of the curve and setting your agenda is incredibly important. You can’t be demanding with your team around you.
You are dissatisfied and constantly chasing and moving. You have people who, like my communication style, like to get into the weeds, perfect, reiterate and cross all the T’s. You are like, “Keep up with me.” The problem is you create the angst around you. You create a wake of stress. What happens is they shut down a little bit. They are afraid to come forward and share because they constantly feel like they are slowing us down if we are moving too fast.
This leadership thing, the way you described it, is a balancing act of your innate style and taking into account the team around you so that we can hit that curve and maximize time and profit because time is money. How do we maximize that time and profit by getting everybody on the same page? It is interesting because people can’t keep up with me, Hamish. I’m like, “Do I have to go over this again?” Yes, I do because I need them to make sure that what I’m bringing to market is correct and plausible. They have insights I can’t have because I’m moving a little faster than them.
The self-awareness side of that is key. The self-development is critical to that. As a leader, I used to get very frustrated and think, “Where’s the pace, boldness and risk-taking?” I was told very early on about this concept of psychological safety. You need to embrace those people below you. Failure is okay. Everyone talks about embracing failure.
To do that, you can’t direct your people or get them to do it your way. You have to accept less perfection. When there are mistakes and failures along the way because you are moving at such a pace and demanding, the only element you want to get out of them is what is the insight and what is the learning? You celebrate that as the result of that transaction that comes through.Failure is okay. You need to embrace it. To do that, you can't direct your people or get them to do it your way. You have to accept less perfection. Click To Tweet
The only other thing that we have talked about and I heard within your introduction is around bad bosses. It is amazing that over the year, fortunately, I have been in good companies but I have had a couple of bad bosses. You often learn because of a negativity bias more around what to do and what not to do than what to do with a bad boss.
Normally, when you have a bad boss, you try and run away. You get another promotion if you can. You look for an outside job. We know that through a lot of research. You leave your job not because of the job. You leave it because of the line manager. However, bad bosses, when you look at their values, behaviors and actions, you can ingrain and document those things that resonate directly against your leadership style and desire. You vow never to repeat those. I have found bad bosses, the context behind them and the grillings that are telling us, “There is always an insight that comes through it.” Even though it is hard to hear, it can be incredibly powerful if you seek out those insights in the first place.
Every time I have had a bad boss, I reached a point where I would say to my husband at the time or my parents when I was younger, “I’m not growing. They don’t care about me.” Every time I go and say, “I’m having trouble with this. What would be your recommendation,” while you are still learning, they would say things like, “I got enough on my plate. I can’t worry about you. Go figure it out.” I remember whoever was in my orbit, my family where I was living and I would say, “It is time for me to look for another job.” I’m asking for help. I’m being verbal here and they are squashing me. It is time to move on.
There is a Gallup poll from 2018 here in the United States. Seventy percent of Americans hate their job because of their bosses but they stay because of the finances. They have mortgages, kids in college and rent or car payments. They stay in that job because they feel a little trapped. With how I was raised, that was never my mindset. I never left a job without having another job. I wasn’t crazy but it was like, “I have run my course. I need to get out of here. It is interesting how people approach things.” I have learned more from my bad bosses than from the one good boss I had. I agree with that 100%.
It is ingrained within you. With any people that you have led over the years, you will know the importance of development. You will over-commit in regard to unlocking the potential with another. They can be invaluable lessons and hard lessons at the same time. Talking about that constant dissatisfaction, one thing I have always found great in regard to a sales environment is you can’t do this right across your whole portfolio but I always stretch my teams and I have a concept called the 30% rule.
This is setting a stretch objective that pushes people out of their comfort zone. The only way they can achieve it is to do something different from their current ways of working in methodologies. That forces their perspective on new ways of learning, risk, collaboration and relationship builds. You can’t do it on the main parts of your business because it is dangerous within that. If you are a leader wanting that pace agility and pace-setting, it is a great tactic on one part of your portfolio.
When you provide that ammunition, that one part of your portfolio suddenly opens up possibilities with insights that come almost a little bit of a norm. That is when these limiting mindsets of people are like, “No, it can’t be done.” Historically, if you have been successful in the past, it is harder to change because you think you know that you have done something well in the past. In my experience, it works to treat and keeps people like myself energized and paced but it doesn’t disrupt too much to the wider team.
That is the other thing too. We become bored quickly when whatever the job becomes routine. If you can have something on the side that is not going to impact your revenue producer but you can grow that skill and create another whole revenue stream, that energy becomes impactful within any organization. People are interested, curious, energized, coming and showing up with more to give you more from an organizational perspective.
It is almost like muscle memory and it expands within that. Those are the people you want within your team. They radiate energy throughout. It shows what is possible.
The thing is you could say, “Connie, I want you to do whatever if we worked together and you were my boss.” I would say, “I’m a little nervous. Can I do that? I don’t think I could do that.” The leader would say, “I know you can. You don’t know you can yet but I’m telling you, we are going to put pieces in place for you to have many successes for you to develop this skill. Trust me. A year from now, our conversation is going to be different.” Sometimes, when we have confidence in the employee, they don’t know they can do it yet but we know the capability of the individual. It is fascinating when they start to believe in themselves because you believe in them first.
I have a hiring philosophy I have followed for several years. C plus W is greater than me. Curiosity and willingness. In willingness, passion is greater than experience. It is not always the case because I have written a chapter on experience. I have to balance that. When you get somebody who is incredibly curious with a possibility mindset and they are willing and passionate to learn, they can overcome new areas. When you do set a challenge that is out of your comfort zone and functional technical knowledge, it expands an openness in that mindset.When you get somebody who is incredibly curious with a possibility mindset and who is willing and passionate to learn, they can overcome new areas. Click To Tweet
People always talk around a simple model of the comfort zone, stretch zone and panic zone. They say, “You should take people from comfort into a little bit of stretch but never into a panic.” My experience is if you are a good effective leader and you are providing that psychological safety, embracing failure and celebrating the insights that come with failure, it is not a bad thing every now and then to get people to go into a panic because it opens that comfort level up to a whole new area. If you are a leader who demands and it is done your way, total perfection won’t accept anything as opposed to a tangible number outcome. You will not get that person to expand, take risks or develop whatsoever.
The mindset shifts. It is tough. Our experiences sometimes validate that bad behavior. “I’ll do it my way. I don’t want to hear any other way.” It is locked inside of us. We talked so much about it but in corporate, those mindset shifts are becoming even more important and impactful to the bottom line. It is always about the bottom line but how can we get to the bottom line?
For me, it’s always faster, easier and makes more money. Let’s not say, “Let’s do all of these things.” Sometimes you do have to do the planning but how can we start that process ASAP and do it with as little angst as possible if possible? We are almost out of time but I have one more question for you. In the book, you have a relationship ahead of long logic. I am so curious about what you mean by that.
I have seen over the years so many incredibly gifted people who are academically, technically and functionally brilliant. Econometrics modeling that blows your way. Your sales heads are incredible in regard to their portfolio analysis and customer breakdowns. Unfortunately, their brilliance is incredibly limited because they believe that they can do this as a sole individual contributor. It is that old African proverb, “You can go fast alone but you won’t go far.” It is so true.
Many times I have seen wonderful innovations, creativity, ideas and concepts that unless you got a networking ability and the ability to integrate and connect people with you based on relationships, on the true depth of trust and in my view, being liked as a colleague or a leader as well as being respected, it falls short of that opportunity. The majority of sales is around functional and technical training. Very seldom is at around leadership and relationship variables and training. You learn how to be a good negotiator within sales but you don’t learn enough in regard to how to be a relationship-driven people person.
Going back, that is what creates that depth of trust, understanding and relationship that my experience leads to breakthrough. There are models and everything you have to follow but it is a discipline. It doesn’t happen enough in all the functions that I have led. Sales are probably the most guilty because they are transactional-driven. They are my favorite department because they are operational but it is that balance.
When I deal with my organizations, sales department and analytics, I teach coaching and they talk about the numbers. I say, “We have to measure. I get it. Numbers are important but when you coach the individual that is struggling or you know they have more, their numbers can be amplified. When you start talking about a number, I can’t manage a number. I have to manage behavior.” If I can have them get better on the phone, present more clearly, ask better questions or whatever it is in the sales process, as soon as I can figure out the deficit or the glitch they are having with the behavior, we turn that on and amplify it or turn up the volume on it, the numbers come.
Why are you over here managing a number when you are dealing with the human brain and you are asking them to do something differently? Make it tangible for them so that they at least know what the next step is. We get stuck in the numbers game versus the human game. We all want to see the numbers. It is a measurable and tangible thing, where behavior is like putting your hand around Jell-O. It is a much harder thing to do.
When setting your objectives, set leading and lagging indicators. Lagging indicators is the number. The leading indicator is celebration and measure. People based on their behaviors, actions and learnings along the way. That is where you get a nice balance and you get the short-term wins. You don’t have to wait until the end of the year and see if you are successful. Am I better as a presenter? Am I better on that phone? Is my depth, quality and trust in a relationship grown to another level?
It is all about the relationship with self, team and client. I live my life by this quote and I’m going to get it off. I’m not perfect but Roosevelt said, “As the tide rises so do the ships.” We all can work together and rise and lift each other. I believe that we need other people. I’m not the smartest person in the room and I’m okay with that. Thank you so much. Can everybody get your book on the website? Is the book there? Is there a separate link for the book?
It’s direct within the website. There is access within that and also Amazon.
The website is HamishRThomson.com. If you have a question for Hamish, please go to Hamish@HamishRThomson.com. If you are in sales or leadership, it doesn’t matter. This is an important book. With the summer being here, it is a good time to sit on the beach and read a book. I’m happy with that. Buy the book and go to the website. It Is Not Always Right To Be Right, I love that title. How did you pick that?
It was my wife’s, particularly. Within COVID, I have been told that more by the kids and my wife as opposed to a corporate sense. It is hard learning but it is a necessary one.
Behind every good man, there is a good woman. I love your place. Hamish, thank you so much for being on and sharing good concepts but also the application. Information is a beautiful thing. If we do nothing with it, it is information. You gave some nice tips and ideas on how to strategize and put these things in place and/or how to shift our mindset. Thank you so much for the tangible ideas for people to execute immediately after reading this, which is important.
I hope you will join me as we question, build and discover. No matter where you are in your business, your sales career and your career. I hope my guests and I do provide that information, ideas, tips and strategies or have you shine a light on something you didn’t realize or you knew but you forgot it. It is all about learning, growing and taking the information and applying it. The application is where the magic happens. That is where the results happen.
Thank you for joining us. I’m honored that you are on this journey with me. Do something different. I love how Hamish said, “Challenge and go into a little bit of panic and see where you land. That magic might happen in your life and business.” Thanks for reading, everybody. Thanks, Hamish, for being a great guest. I will see you in the next episode. Have a good one.
- Communication Style Assessment
- Mars Incorporated
- Reebok International
- It’s Not Always Right to Be Right
- The First 90 Days
- https://YouTu.be/fpfzzF0VBqQ – 092. Hamish Thomson – Why Leaders Shouldn’t Be Right