Study leadership. Inspire people. Give your teammates someone to look up to. Take great pride in not your own achievements, but in the success of your subordinates, and you will be rewarded both financially and personally beyond what your ever dreamed possible.
As a part of our series about “How To Give Honest Feedback without Being Hurtful”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Martinovich
Jeffrey A. Martinovich is a First Gulf War Veteran, MBA, and Founder and CEO of MICG Investment Management, a billion-dollar wealth management firm. After the 2008 Financial Crisis, Jeff rejected three government plea offers, resulting in a 14-year prison sentence. Yet the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed twice, two U.S. District Court Judges were removed, and after nearly 7 years, he was released to home confinement in May 2020 to begin rebuilding his life. His book is Just One More: The Wisdom of Bob Vukovich. Learn more at jeffmartinovich.com.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I was extremely fortunate to attend the United States Air Force Academy, earn an MBA at night from The College of William of Mary, and serve our country in the First Gulf War. These opportunities built a strong work ethic and confidence in my abilities. They gave me the courage to be an entrepreneur and not be afraid to fail.
Entering the business world, I was lucky to have successful mentors and role models who were gracious with their time and wisdom. They, along with a voracious appetite for studying leadership, economics, and organizational psychology, enabled me to begin to build a small enterprise of startup ventures. With my growing team of A-players, we built companies in asset management, investment banking, insurance, real estate, financial planning, and three hedge funds. We also consulted in software sales, medical distribution, and green energy.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Our current consulting-incubator firm is JAM Accelerator, which is basically a holding company for our business advisory, M&A, publishing, and speaking businesses. We are currently helping build a small portfolio of firms in the defense industry, as well as assisting a few clients on targeted acquisitions.
I believe the great value we bring to the table is the past three decades of success, but probably more importantly, is founded on mistakes and failures as well. I always tell my team, “Don’t worry about making a mistake, I’ve made a thousand more!” The ups and downs of business have given us tremendous real-world experience, much different from many consultants and academics — The Man in the Arena, if you will.
Since we have built companies from the ground up, we have had to wear all hats — operations to HR to legal to finance. So we have a holistic view of where an organization is today and what needs to happen to grow significantly. One of my junior associates told me a few years ago, “Working here is like getting an MBA for free!”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Are you ready for this one? Following the 2008 Financial Crisis, our proprietary hedge fund business experienced regulatory scrutiny and allegations. As CEO, I vigorously defended our firm, refusing multiple settlement offers and instead choosing to defend my employees and myself in federal court. In a bizarre narrative, I was convicted and sentenced to 14-years in federal prison. The trial court was reversed twice by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, two separate U.S. District Court Judges were removed, and my successful federal suit uncovered wrongs holding me at a higher-security, violent prison. After nearly seven years, I was released to home confinement and began this journey of rebuilding, restoring and turning disadvantages into advantages. I bet you don’t get that answer too often!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I wish I could be like Michael Jordan and not really remember all the shots I’ve missed, but I must admit that my embarrassing moments stay with me, and there are so many! To name a few:
For my first educational workshop presentation, I spent two months mailing a zillion flyers, making invite phone calls, bartering with the caterer, and cleaning the library auditorium. One person showed up, clearly just for the sandwiches, and I was compelled to give my hour presentation to the echoing room, determined to quit this business as soon as I finished!
The first time I gave a keynote speech in front of an audience, I was so nervous that I perspired more than any man ever has in a suit. The audience could certainly tell how nervous I was, and I quickly ran through the entire box of Kleenex wiping my brow!
What advice would you give to other CEO’s and business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
I agree with Confucius: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” It is truly sad that most people do not like their J-O-B’s. I always make it very competitive and arduous to get a position in our company, which filters out the casual workers and ensures everyone on the boat is rowing together. Everyone must be passionate about our mission. Then, there is no burnout. I believe in good stress instead of bad stress: good stress gives you energy and empowers you to outproduce your competitors, but you must align your self-interests with the goals of the organization to achieve this state. Otherwise, your id and ego are always in conflict. Alignment is key. People simply want to be inspired. Everyone wants to be part of something special.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I believe the only true and effective form of leadership in the world today is Leadership by Example. Position Leadership is dead, and Servant Leadership has failed to perform. It’s clear that the great majority of business associates and citizens are craving effective leadership. And the most effective leadership style has always been by example.
It is popular today for everyone to have a coach, but what truly inspires people is a captain. Anyone can stand on the sideline, or behind the desk, and tell people what to do, but the captain shows them how to do it. The captain instructs them, does it with them, encourages them, and takes the front position when times are the toughest. They roll up their sleeves to do even more work than their subordinates, while giving their team all the credit for success and taking all the blame for failures.
This leader engenders great loyalty and conviction from their organization while creating an army of new leaders by example to enable exponential growth inside an organization or among a community. If we want everyone healthy to reduce the skyrocketing healthcare premiums, we run the 5k’s and the half-marathons right alongside them. If we want our associates to handle problems with class and grace, we never lose our cool or correct others in public. If we want everyone to the office early and being wildly productive, we beat them there every single morning and produce, ourselves, more than they thought humanly possible. You cannot lead A-Players unless you, yourself, commit to being an A-Player at all times.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Perception is reality. We must change, and control, the lens on our camera. Also, using the proper language is vitally important. What appears as scary and terribly stressful to one person may be a fun and exciting opportunity to another. The only reason some people show no fear is they simply have had more of these experiences. Tony Robbins teaches us how to create the feeling in our mind, in our emotions, that we are trying to achieve prior to actually experiencing that success.
Many of us have experienced this same story. For years I could not get my son Cole near a rollercoaster. One summer we made a commitment together to get over this fear. Standing in line was quite a spectacle, as young Cole was having a meltdown for the ages, but after the ride he could not wipe that smile off his little face. Of course he yelled out, “Can we go again?”
Can you briefly tell our readers about your experience with managing a team and giving feedback?
Over the last thirty years, I have had the pleasure of leading and managing teams from 1–2 to more than 100, striving to get better at giving constructive feedback. Plus, I have worked to be more approachable and let others know I am available for reverse-feedback up the chain.
Can you share with us a few reasons why giving honest and direct feedback is essential to being an effective leader?
As Dale Carnegie taught us nearly one hundred years ago in How to Win Friends and Influence People, all success boils down to our ability to communicate. We live on a planet full of humans, and humans have survived and thrived through effective communication which enabled communities to foster mutually-beneficial interests. Without effective communication, success is nearly impossible, and since we all see the world in 8 billion different ways, we must have feedback. To make things even more difficult, 70–93% of all communication and feedback is non-verbal!
One of the trickiest parts of managing a team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. Can you please share with us five suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee? Kindly share a story or example for each.
- The Sandwich Theory is mandatory. If your employee cannot hear you (figuratively, not because the Zoom mute button is on), then they will never be open to your viewpoint and ultimate objective. We open them up with a sincere compliment, bringing down their defenses. Then we address the issue in a productive manner. Finally, we wrap up the conversation with encouragement and a show of confidence in their ability to achieve more: “John, I want to thank you for spending all weekend on this report for our new acquisition. The entire team always appreciates your work ethic. On this particular project, I think you missed the mark and I’ve highlighted the areas in your report. So, I’m going to need you to prepare a stronger analysis for the clients. But, before I let you go, I want you to know I also highlighted a few sections with the great recommendations you came up with. I had never even considered those possibilities. Thank you.”
- Sit on the same side of the table, even remotely. My personal offices always include a small circular table where I meet with clients or team members. We must get up from our power desks and spend the five seconds to situate alongside each other. This simple act erases 80% of the defense mechanisms and posturing misperceptions that cloud our interactions. It expresses, “We are in this together.” Therefore, in today’s decentralized workspace, when at all possible, we should embrace our video-conferencing options so that we better express our excitement and empathy in meetings, especially when constructive criticism is required. Just your smile has massive communication power. Aren’t you totally thrown off balance by the frowning, brooding associate during your Zoom? You can’t stop focusing on what the problem may be. Most importantly, your language gets you and your subordinate rowing together from the start. I always say “we” and not “you.” I always first point out my plethora of mistakes first to show my humanism. I may even allow emotions to be expressed to show my own vulnerability. We have to connect first, be on the same side of the table, for my teammate to hear and understand my message.
- Provide as many specifics and details as possible. Communication is difficult to begin with, but even much more so when giving criticism and corrective action. Many managers skirt the true issue, do not use candor, and simply make the issue worse by upsetting the subordinate and leaving them with no clear understanding or positive action plan. Once opening up a positive line of communication, address the issue in the most-direct manner possible. Your subordinate deserves this respect. They will appreciate your character and leadership — trying to help them succeed so everyone succeeds. Speak of exactly what needs to be fixed and help your teammate visualize the solution. In my earlier years, I was terrible at this part because I’m a Meyers-Briggs ENTJ and I just want everyone to like me and get on board! But I got better at it, and so will you with practice.
- Tell people about all the mistakes you, yourself, have made. As noted earlier, opening yourself up to show others your silly mistakes and great failures tightens the bonds among your team. I love Michael Jordan’s Nike commercial, “I have failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” This allows your associates to not catastrophize over the current failure. They see you have done even worse and now you are extremely successful. This strategy aligns with all the current business psychology telling you to fail fast, early and often so that you will sooner find great success. In our organizations, we never punish for mistakes, yet we are unforgiving for lack of effort, for lack of trying. Show people your crash landings, and you will give them permission to soar.
- Show your teammates the path to success. Without the path to success, constructive criticism is useless and certainly not constructive. Unfortunately, most people have ascended to management positions through tenure or unintended circumstances and have never understood leadership fundamentals, much less committed to learning them. Most criticism in corporate America is meant to give the boss more power and protect their own insecurities and, likely, their own tenuous position in the company. Don’t be that manager. Study leadership. Inspire people. Give your teammates someone to look up to. Take great pride in not your own achievements, but in the success of your subordinates, and you will be rewarded both financially and personally beyond what your ever dreamed possible.
Can you address how to give constructive feedback over email? When someone is remote, how do you prevent the email from sounding too critical or harsh?
Language is everything, yet most of us do not take the extra moment to ensure our message is communicating exactly what we want to convey. My wife, Ashleigh, always makes fun of me when I’m reading my emails or texts over and over before I hit send (it actually is a problem!).
Of course, the Sandwich Theory is even more critical when using email in place of in-person communication. Most of us, though, don’t want to take the time for this extra effort. Try to never type “but” because everything you just typed before the “but” has been erased in the mind of the receiver. Always say “and.” Practice your social graces by politely asking for the desired result instead of demanding it. Your associate knows it means the same thing, but the delivery is better when phrased, “May I request that before you send out the next newsletter, you give us a chance to review this together?”
In your experience, is there a best time to give feedback or critique? Should it be immediately after an incident? Should it be at a different time? Should it be at set intervals?
I believe the optimum time, if possible, is to give the critique not after the failure, but before the next one occurs. After mistakes and mis-steps, emotions are running high and our disappointment can be easily communicated without World War III. Most people are aware of their mistakes and certainly want to be an overachiever (if not, they shouldn’t be on your team to begin with), so allow emotions to cool and find that productive window to communicate the path forward.
On top of that, regular reviews allow this communication to get easier and easier. I prefer quarterly huddles, and I really want reverse-feedback so I have the opportunity to get much better in my own role.
How would you define what it is to “be a great boss?”
A great boss ensures their organization is wildly successful and that their team has grown and found fulfillment in the process. Without both, the great boss has not achieved success. Our mission is not to have a good time with office ping pong tables and free lunches, but to that achieve greatness in our space that everyone else thought was impossible. At the same time, if each associate has not personally realized tremendous growth and development, then we did not achieve greatness.
People want to be part of something special, something difficult. They want to overcome fears and for the world to believe they made a difference. They won’t first tell you this, and many don’t even know they are capable of this, but this is what truly makes them happy and fulfilled.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement what 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.
I would like to inspire a movement to bring power back to the people, if that doesn’t sound too dramatic. Our amazing nation, the greatest political and economic experiment in the history of the world, is now suffering from its own success. All organisms develop and expand to further their own interest, just as the natural evolution of governments and corporations is to further expand their power and bureaucracy. We, as individual citizens and business owners, then naturally accept this environment as homeostasis. We think it is natural.
We hold 5% of the world’s population but 25% of world’s incarcerated individuals, and my own bizarre experience proved to me that a great percentage are truly innocent. Government regulators learn their trade on tax-payer-funded salaries then transition to significant paychecks at the very Wall Street firms they were supposedly regulating. The national debt is 28 trillion dollars (actually more), and we have no idea what that even means.
I am inspired to help people become more educated and aware, and most-importantly to take back control of their own lives and destiny.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite all-time life quote is from the Man in the Arena speech President Theodore Roosevelt gave in Paris in 1910. I even put it in the front of my recent book. I relate to it well since it seems my life has been a series of great achievements followed by great disappointments and failures and, at least so far, strong comebacks. Roosevelt said the “credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood … not with the critics … not with the timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.” His words have given me strength when I have let down my employees, my shareholders, and my family, even repeatedly on the front page of the newspaper for all the wrong reasons.
At 5’9” I achieved a Division I basketball scholarship, only to be cut from the team the next year. I built a billion-dollar investment company from zero, only to watch it implode back to zero. Terrified, I chose to stand up for the truth and go to trial against the federal government, only to be sentenced to fourteen years in prison. The list goes on, but what I believe is important is that we get off the canvas just one more time than being knocked down, and only then will we have lived our best life.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My book, Just One More: The Wisdom of Bob Vukovich, has been recently published by Ash Press and is available at Amazon Books, Just One More: The Wisdom of Bob Vukovich: Martinovich, Mr Jeffrey A: 9781790554850: Amazon.com: Books
JAM Accelerator, LLC
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