Lead and brainstorm with an open forum. If someone’s ideas are better than others, they’ll float to the top. Being open and willing to listen creates a naturally collaborative environment. When everyone is in the trenches equally, it generates more respect. Willingness to work hard and passion is deeper when fostered that way — rather than being led by fear.
As a part of my series about how leaders can create a “fantastic work culture”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mark Miller. Through his close relationship with top agencies, Mark has managed and designed web based software applications and innovative development projects in the US, Germany, Russia, China, Canada and Mexico. Mark’s success includes cutting edge transactional payment systems, payment Gateway APIs, automated marketing platforms, merchant processing gateway software, award winning content management systems and most notably search engine optimization tools used by a select list of large organizations. Serving on the Board and as a consultant to numerous corporations, Mark Miller has played an influential role in developing the backend technology systems involved in running day-to-day business operations as well as the technology needed for scalability and expansion. Mark has helped drive several companies into strong strategic partnerships and relationships, building platforms for exponential growth.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Since the beginning of my career, I have always acted as a liaison between business management and technologists. I’ve always believed that if anyone could unlock the passion in their careers, that it becomes contagious to those around us that we work with on an everyday basis. I remember walking into a Ford Motor company meeting with 40 people all staring me at 20 years old with a simple solution to a software problem that they had been trying to solve for over three years. In actuality, the answer was more of an interpretation. Their technical engineers were saying one thing, and their business management team was saying something else. Neither side truly understood what the other side wanted. After I listened to both sides’ problems and goals, I explained a joint solution that solved for both of them.
I began to see a pattern in the world of business. It wasn’t just this one company, business management and technologists often thought they were on the same page, and often realized months or years later that they both were progressing down opposite directions and paths.
Quickly, I began to develop a passion for the interpretation of what the business management side needed and wanted, and then explained to the business management side how the technical team proposed the solution. Now almost 20 years later, I am more passionate than ever about this, and I have built an entire career around education and interpretation between technology and business and inspiring those around me also to be passionate about their ideas.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I believe there is no such thing as balance, only counter-balance. It is vital to put ourselves in situations that challenge our comfort zones continuously. This inherently has a unique bi-product. Passion. I am currently working on a project with an organization that focuses on depression that stems from the lack of fulfillment from our accomplishments in our lives, jobs, and careers, among other things. It is my philosophy that we are not necessarily supposed to believe that everything thing we do in our professions or companies should be our passion projects. So many people suffer from fear and depression of not being able to work on something they feel believe in. Our goal is to educate and unlock the passion in each other. Innovation, for example, is a by-product of passion. If indeed we expect people to be happier and less depressed, then we must help each other achieve a sense of accomplishment. Innovation in our lives and companies and careers has always had this effect on the people behind the change. So if passion truly drives innovation, and innovation creates accomplishment and success in the various parts of our lives, companies, and careers, then that is where we should focus. In my own experience, I am passionate about ticketing and financial tech; however; that isn’t what drives me. What inspires me and what I’m genuinely excited about is unlocking the passion in those around me so that they can, in turn, innovate in their lives, careers and jobs and also for my company. This, in turn, gives them a sense of accomplishment and promotes happiness and growth within their lives.
Ok, lets 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?
It could almost be considered an epidemic. Most people in the workforce are not challenged in their careers and go through life assuming that we should be passionate about their work. For most of us, this isn’t possible. Without a sense of accomplishment and innovation in our careers and jobs, we cannot indeed be passionate about what we are doing. The key is to instill passion in those around us by guiding each-other through innovation in our jobs and careers. This innovation creates an unfound motivation and inspires innovation which shapes the ever-changing landscape of the industries and companies we all work at.
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?
If someone within an organization is not passionate, depressed and unhappy, it is highly unlikely that they will be able to innovate. If they are unable to innovate we can assume that they will begin to associate their job with other depressing views of other aspects of their lives. Through innovation at the companies we work at, we not only achieve a sense of accomplishment and growth the rewards us, but also helps drive profitability within the company with new ideas, increases in efficiency. Happy people make money.
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?
1. A knights of the round table leadership style.
a. Lead and brainstorm with an open forum. If someone’s ideas are better than others, they’ll float to the top. Being open and willing to listen creates a naturally collaborative environment. When everyone is in the trenches equally, it generates more respect. Willingness to work hard and passion is deeper when fostered that way — rather than being led by fear.
2. Be inclusive. Say “we.”
a. A lot of CEOs say “I.” When thinking of goals and opportunities, many CEOs typically exhibit their alpha personalities. They might be unwilling to yield decision-making power to those around them. “We” evokes more unity and inclusivity, and implies that the company rises and falls together.
3. Educate all team members equally, regardless of role. Don’t gate-keep information.
a. If everyone understands the ultimate goal, motivation arises naturally, and tasks become easier. Gatekeeping breeds resentment.
4. When setting goals for your company output, don’t try to please everyone in your industry.
a. Rather than aiming for your company to be a “people pleaser,” set your target on a certain niche. This will make your efforts less scatterbrained, and your workforce will thank you for it.
5. Identify operational efficiency.
a. Delegate spearheads for projects only when you have to. Make sure people aren’t just doing what people think they should be doing. Letting your team members volunteer their natural talents is something not a lot of CEOs do — and it’s done wonders for TicketSocket.
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?
As a CEO, egos are necessary to keep order, but the world gets along better when leaders acknowledge everyone. Establish the culture you want to see starting with yourself. Lead by example and listen. Be humble. Finding a balance between assertiveness and teamwork can change the world by encouraging input from any corner of the room. A ripple effect will occur. Innovation will spark naturally and the best ideas will rise to the top. This style could have an even greater impact if ethical leaders take notice all over industry. Employing this on a larger scale in the markets will make the job market ultra-competitive — people will feel empowered to work at any given company. This could very well be the future of work culture, especially as workers become wearier of stiff and domineering leadership in bigger corporations. This method has proven effective for retention, motivation, overall happiness and camaraderie in my workplace, and it can work for everyone.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
At TicketSocket, we keep our goals in our sights at all times. But to be successful, I keep an open and attentive mindset. I trust my employees to move us forward as a unit. We are a team that openly collaborates — and I allow this to drive all of our decisions because it works. Everyone has the right motivation and is on the same page. It partly has to do with recruiting and informing a trustworthy team — the rest is execution.
Can you give us a few examples?
There are two ways to lead, through fear and passion. In other jobs I have held in the past there have been conflicts in the workplace between two employees both with their ideas of how to solve the issue. I remember one such situation where the Vice President quietly listened to both sides and made a decision on what he/she thought was best and closed the book on the issue. Although this solves the problem temporarily, it does not promote or reward an innovative mindset. Instead many times in my organization, there have been similar conflicts on opinions within some issues. If through empowerment I can listen and guide both parties to the same solution and promote them both to accept an innovative mindset, they often achieve a far better solution than anything I could have thought of. Had I closed the door on their creativity, I would have stifled their sense of innovation instead of promoting it.
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?
There are so many people from all walks of life that have inspired my views, accomplishments, and most importantly a passion for experience and the desire to empower those around us.
When I was an early teenager I had a chance to spend some time with a member of the Rockefeller family on a project my father was working on. It was one thing he mentioned to me while on a safari on their property in upstate New York that stuck with me for the rest of my life. He asked me what I wanted to when I grew up and being a 12-year-old kid in a car with a Rockefeller; I asked: “What do you think I should do when I grow up?” He responded with only a few words. “Haha, I can’t tell you that, because if I did you would miss the most important part of life, figuring out your passion. Once you do, everything else will fall into place.” He reminded me that it was just about a career, but to look beyond the job and what I could indeed be passionate about.
Like most kids I grew up building Legos, I would make massive, elaborate spaceships most of the time. It was usually a matter of time before I picked up the giant Lego space ship and dropped it smashing it into a million pieces on the floor. What never ceased to amaze me was that no matter how long it took me to build anything, I could rebuild it three times better in a third of the time, each time I broke it. This inspired me to remember that without change and challenge we cannot innovate, and without innovation, we cannot better ourselves, regardless of how it seems at that moment.
My father inspired innovation and passion in everything he did. There was never an idea that could “NOT” work. It was always a question of how even if it seemed impossible. This simple philosophy has stuck with me throughout my career as I am often told something is not possible, yet am required to prove that it is.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My project that focuses on depression from the lack of fulfillment in life and work is definitely creating ripples. By conditioning people to insert passion into their lives, this can bring happiness where there would not have been any previously. If more people and companies adopt this mentality, this would transform the workforce.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t — such a simple but powerful focusing question. The more we ask to ourselves, the more we accomplish and innovate.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you continued success!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.