FranklinCovey EVP Scott Jeffrey Miller: “Make and keep your commitments to create a fantastic work culture”

What’s your batting average? Accomplishing 7 out of 7 is much better for your brand than 6 out of 10. Are you overcommitted? Always apologizing? Catching up? Conversely, do you avoid making commitments, for fear of not delivering? Exercise the discipline to say no. Graciously. Consider saying, “I am very mindful of not wanting to […]

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What’s your batting average? Accomplishing 7 out of 7 is much better for your brand than 6 out of 10. Are you overcommitted? Always apologizing? Catching up? Conversely, do you avoid making commitments, for fear of not delivering? Exercise the discipline to say no. Graciously. Consider saying, “I am very mindful of not wanting to disappoint you, or anyone else, so at this point I need to decline.” Every leader should be aware of their reputation for making and keeping commitments. More is not better. Better is better.

As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Jeffrey Miller. Scott has been with FranklinCovey for 23 years and serves as the Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership. He is the host of On Leadership with Scott Miller, a weekly leadership webcast, podcast and newsletter featuring interviews with renowned business titans, authors and thought leaders. His radio show and podcast — Great Life, Great Career with Scott Miller on iHeart Media’s KNRS 105.7 — provides insight and strategies to assist listeners in becoming more effective as business leaders and to improve their personal performance. Miller has worked with thousands of clients and client facilitators in numerous markets in over 30 countries. He has presented to hundreds of audiences across every industry, and loves to share his unique journey as an unfiltered leader thriving in today’s highly-filtered, corporate culture. Miller and his wife live in Salt Lake City, Utah with their three sons.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had spent 15 years on the sales side of our organization, when our CEO asked me to transition out of my sales leadership role out in the field and brought me back to our headquarters in Salt Lake City to deploy my internal influence and sales expertise to build our brand, global reach, and marketing efforts. My experience in sales and my relationships and credibility with the field allowed me to build a robust marketing team from one person to a team of 30. I never would have thought that my sales career would develop into a marketing career. But that’s what happened, less because of my marketing expertise, but more so because of my understanding and appreciation for the company’s broader, global needs.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In every organization there is a dominant culture that rules — marketing, brand, product development, innovation, sales, etc. At FranklinCovey ours is more balanced, as innovation (new solutions) and sales (client results) both tend to compete for this dominate position. As in many organizations, marketing wasn’t earning an executive seat at the table. Previously, marketing had not had the leadership capacity or an in depth understanding of the life and needs of a rank and file sales person, who are the lifeblood of most organizations, to raise to the level of respect on the sales side. It took a respected sales leader to lead marketing. Sometimes, your narrow or specific skills might not be your strongest asset. In my case, it was my broader credibility on a different side of the house that eventually earned me the role as Chief Marketing Officer, the first and only in our firm’s history.

Since then, the strategy has changed, and marketing requires a different type of leadership competency, and I have now moved on to a new role. This is the lesson I have learned; don’t under estimate how broadly your skills can be applied, and therefore be open to alternative career tracks when you might least expect them.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?

At FranklinCovey, our thought leadership is the most impressive, pervasive and engaging in our industry. Our books have collectively sold over 40 million copies and dominate the bestselling lists across all of our areas of expertise. Currently, we have seven books in the pipeline that will publish over the next four to five years.

Specifically, I am the author of a new book launching on June 18, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become The Leader You Would Follow. In this short leadership book, I share raw, honest, laugh-out-loud stories of my 20+ years, struggling as a leader. That includes what to do, what not to do and what ABSOLUTELY NOT TO DO — EVER! I share 30 specific leadership challenges, based on our solutions, which every leader faces, (almost daily). I include how I either succeeded or failed, and in many cases, I feature others’ successes.

Additionally, I am the co-author of another larger leadership book launching on October 15, Everyone Deserves A Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices For Leading A Team. This book is aimed at first-level leaders and is an uber practical guide to transform your leadership style, and to unleash your team’s productivity and engagement. These books will be invaluable resources for the next generation of leaders and perhaps most importantly, portray leadership more accurately for those considering a move in that direction. Leadership is hard, much harder than most think and it’s not for everyone.

Ok, let’s jump to the main part of our interview. According to this study cited in Forbes, more than half of the US workforce is unhappy. Why do you think that number is so high?

Employees often report that their relationship with their direct leader is the most meaningful relationship in their professional lives and determines whether they stay with a company or move on. People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their leaders and they quit their work culture.

Leaders are the leverage point for creating high-trust, high-performance cultures. A common misconception is that leaders create engagement (a key contributor to happiness). In reality, leaders set the conditions for their colleagues to choose their own levels of engagement. This happens when leaders are focused on creating the right conditions, modeling the right behaviors, creating transparency, providing actionable and respectful feedback, and creating an environment where everyone can be and feel smart and valued. There is no question that these inputs will impact engagement and excitement in the workforce. Winning cultures, which drive engagement, all start with trust. Is my leader trustworthy? Am I trusted? Do we trust each other?

Based on your experience or research, how do you think an unhappy workforce will impact a) company productivity b) company profitability c) and employee health and wellbeing?

An unhappy workforce happens for many reasons. But, I’ll focus on workplace culture. When an organization has a low-trust culture, speed slows and costs soar. Conversely, when a team has high trust, the opposite happens, everything speeds up (communication, processes, executing strategy, decisions, product development, approvals, supply chains, feedback, etc.). With this increased speed, costs always reduce, everything happens faster and with more clarity. The development of products takes less time, fewer meetings and emails, and productivity and output raises exponentially. Engagement soars, everyone wants to respect and trust their leader. Perhaps more importantly, everyone wants to be respected and be trusted by their leader, their colleagues, and their customers.

The true test is by asking yourself, on Sunday afternoon around 2:00 pm, how you feel about returning to work on Monday. Are you excited and engaged to get back into it? Alternatively, are you sick to your stomach — dreading the fights, insults, agenda-less meetings, rants from the boss, and information vacuums? Your Sunday 2 pm emotion is the best indicator of whether or not you love your role and the organization.

Can you share 5 things that managers and executives should be doing to improve their company work culture? Can you give a personal story or example for each?

If your employees are feeling the negative emotions I just listed, here are five things that can help the leaders and managers in your organization to improve your company work culture:

  1. Balancing Courage with Consideration

Effective and influential leaders are self-aware, introspective and humble. This isn’t a state of being; it’s an ongoing process of self-reflection and maturity. I think most leaders are on the far side of two extremes: Hard-charging, demanding and tell it like it is, let the chips fall where they will, (high on courage) or they are very nice, non-confrontational and even overly gracious, and therefore don’t confront reality (high on consideration). Balance is the key. Great leaders are great models and lead winning cultures. They consistently demonstrate the behaviors they want to see from others in the organization. Unfortunately, I have too often erred on the side of courage. Short term wins came at the expense of long term influence and valuable relationships.

2. Being the Genius Maker vs. the Genius

Do you have to always be the smartest person in the room? Are you humble enough to not just allow, but encourage others to be smart, share their ideas, creativity, etc.? Are you comfortable listening, stepping back and ensuring others feel safe to share and take risks? Liz Wiseman, the author of Multipliers has changed my perspective on lifting others up, by encouraging others to offer their ideas and share the spotlight.

3. Protecting Your Team From Urgencies

Too frequently, highly competent, results-oriented leaders say ‘yes’ to all the great ideas. There will always be more great ideas than there is the ability to execute on them. Leaders must summon the courage to say ‘no.’ Are you creating urgencies for your team, or protecting them with your own next great idea? To quote famed author Jim Collins, don’t just have a to-do list, but also a not to-do list.

4. Talk Straight

Incumbent on every leader is the need to address tough issues and to discuss the undiscussables. Hold high stakes conversations that address hard issues with people regarding processes, strategies, etc., while still leaving everyone’s self-esteem intact or even building it. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary and vital to drive ongoing engagement. It is, in fact, incumbent on every leader to step outside their comfort zone and have high stakes conversations with your colleagues so they can see their own blind spots. I often receive calls from former employees in which they say almost the same thing to me, “Scott, you are the only leader in my career that had the courage to tell me.…”

5. Make and Keep Commitments

What’s your batting average? Accomplishing 7 out of 7 is much better for your brand than 6 out of 10. Are you overcommitted? Always apologizing? Catching up? Conversely, do you avoid making commitments, for fear of not delivering? Exercise the discipline to say no. Graciously. Consider saying, “I am very mindful of not wanting to disappoint you, or anyone else, so at this point I need to decline.” Every leader should be aware of their reputation for making and keeping commitments. More is not better. Better is better.

It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but it seems like we have to “change the culture regarding work culture”. What can we do as a society to make a broader change in the US workforce’s work culture?

One of the most important things that all organizations can do to change the culture regarding ‘work culture’ is to invest in developing principled, trusted leaders at every level of the organization. Behavior change is hard — really hard. Hard for yourself, let alone changing the behaviors of your entire organization. That can be overwhelming and unlikely. Focus on your leaders. Work on changing, improving their behaviors and perhaps even more importantly, their paradigms, their mindsets, how they see the world, the marketplace, the workforce, their teams, and themselves. Our paradigms and belief systems drive our behaviors, and our behaviors drive our results.

How would you describe your leadership or management style? Can you give us a few examples?

In my forthcoming book, Management Mess to Leadership Success I share my evolution as a leader. I think I’d be best described as moving from reckless to fearless. I am much more careful of people’s feelings, insecurities and fears. Historically I might have capitalized on them in my immaturity. As I become kinder, more confident and secure, I look for chances to help and guide others.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I write frequently about extending trust to others. I am the lifelong beneficiary of others seeing something in me that I didn’t see in myself. Every positive, turning point in my career, education, and personal life is the result of someone else either trusting, believing, coaching, or confronting me. All of these pivotal moments hinged on someone having the courage to challenge me and look me in the eyes, and to give me courageous feedback on what I was doing right or what I was doing wrong. I recall poignantly sitting in my Chicago office in 2008 when my Vice President paid me a visit and, I kid you not, said, “Scott, you’re standing at a gas station holding a match”. He proceeded to tell me in clear detail some behaviors I was demonstrating that were unacceptable to him. It was a life changing meeting for me. I owe him my entire career trajectory since then.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve dedicated my past 23 years to driving FranklinCovey’s mission of “Enabling greatness in people and organizations everywhere.” I’ve built careers, grown organizations, coached leaders, parents, spouses, and communities. I’m very proud of my role in growing FranklinCovey’s impact throughout the world. I am most mindful of the careers I’ve consciously invested in and I have enjoyed watching others achieve enormous success in their ongoing endeavors. I love to build others. I love even more to see them build others.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite “life lesson quote’ is from Dr. Stephen R. Covey who said, “You can’t talk yourself out of a problem you behaved yourself into.” Live this principle, and you will be amazingly effective and have tremendous influence. I spent too many of my early years manipulating people with my words and my personality. Dr. Covey changed that for me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to have everyone who works in any position and for any organization confront the fact that leadership is hard. Really hard. Often unrewarding. Relentless. It’s not for everyone, and that’s just fine. You don’t have to be a formal or even informal leader to live a great life, be a great friend, or leave a legacy you’re proud of. Leadership can also be life-changing and affirming for you and others. Leadership should not be the goal for everyone in their career. That’s a false choice. But, everyone can be a leader in some way ─ every day. Choose to become a formal leader. Or don’t. Too many people have been led to believe that leadership is the only rewarding path in their career. If you don’t lead, then you don’t have influence. And, that is simply not true.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!

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