“The way you treat people who are different from you sets the tone at home, at work — everywhere.”
As part of our series about ‘5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country’, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck Mollor. Chuck Mollor is the founder, CEO, and executive coach at MCG Partners and author of the book, The Rise of The Agile Leader: Can You Make the Shift?
MCG Partners specializes in leadership and talent optimization, aligning business and people strategy for maximum results. For over 30 years, Chuck has advised, coached, and consulted executives and organizations across industries, from startups to Fortune 500 and not-for-profit organizations. As an executive coach and strategic advisor, Chuck determines whether an organization’s leadership and culture are aligned to its business strategy, and then develops and implements solutions to drive and attain results. As a former Harvard Business School executive coach, Chuck provided coaching and advisory services to global executives. He is also a member of the Forbes Coaches Council, an invitation-only council for leading executive coaches. Chuck is a graduate of executive programs at The Harvard Business School, MIT Sloan School of Management, and The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He has a BA in political science and a minor in business administration from Merrimack College and is a PI certified Talent Optimization Consultant and in The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment™.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up as a first-generation American. My mother and father were immigrants from Europe and my father was killed in a car accident when I was young. I was the oldest child and had two younger sisters. Being the oldest child of a single working parent, I learned responsibility at a young age. I played sports in school, and was interested in reading and figuring out what life was about. I used athletics and activities to stay busy. Having lost my father so young, I spent much of my youth really trying to figure out what my purpose was. I often wondered, what is it to be an American? My mother was from Switzerland. When she entered the workforce, she knew very little English. I had an accent as a child because I was learning English as my mom was learning English. It was a strange place to be — born here in the U.S., but still feeling like an outsider.
When I was younger, getting ready to go to college, I wasn’t sure what I was interested in. I thought about becoming a lawyer and majoring in political science. Then I realized that I wasn’t interested enough in a law career. Law was too defined, and there was too much structure and process for me. I learned at a pretty early age that I needed some flexibility and the freedom to be creative.
I took my first business course as a sophomore in college. That’s when the light bulb popped on in my brain. I was fascinated by the different types of businesses and industries that are out there, and the different phases businesses and organizations go through. I knew that I wanted to gain the ability to learn and solve problems and make a difference in a more creative way.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
One book that has always stayed with me and probably had a big impact on my career as an executive coach is IBM Redux: Lou Gerstner and the Business Turnaround of the Decade. It’s the inside story of how Lou Gerstner took over IBM back in 1993. The company was in a death spiral at the time, about to fade into obscurity. This book outlines how he was able to inspire from within and turn the company around. To me, his story is a great definition of an agile leader. He transformed IBM without having any engineering experience; he was not from the industry. Leaders like Lou serve as the inspiration for my book. I wanted to understand why some leaders can thrive and grow and drive real change at an organization, while others fail.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
The first thing that comes to mind is a quote attributed to Winston Churchill. “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” To me, it embodies the notion of overcoming failure and being resilient. It inspires me to continue to stay focused on what I believe in.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
In the old days of corporate America, the “boss” sat in his corner office, far removed from the day-to-day work going on in his team, making unilateral decisions that impacted everyone. It was a paradigm of leadership by fear and intimidation. But as the workplace has evolved, it’s clear that this type of “command-and-control” type of leader is no longer valuable. The best leaders are collaborative and empowering. They seek opinions from all sides, and then make the tough decisions. They have a clear vision and purpose, and inspire others to share in that vision. What I learned, loud and clear, from doing the research for this book and based on my own leadership experiences is that the authoritarian-style leader is a relic. And companies who do not recognize this are suffering.
What I heard, over and over again, was that a true leader is someone who drives innovation and transformation. First and foremost, a successful leader is agile. Agile leaders have the ability to inspire, engage, and develop the people around them to better. Agile leaders have the ability to navigate and shift through stormy waters and find ways to stay on-course through ever-changing conditions.
There is a big difference between a manager and a leader. These are not interchangeable terms. Leadership is about inspiring and developing people to follow you in a certain direction and helping people recognize their potential. Leaders have a certain set of values and principles that propel them towards success. When a leader is achieving what they set out to do, there is a fundamental shift from being the center of the universe to sharing that with someone else. It’s bigger than you. Your people become the center of your universe. You want to see them succeed and grow and maybe one day, even take your job. The most successful leaders demonstrate integrity, drive innovation, and provide a clear direction that inspires others to follow. They are inclusive, collaborative, and communicative. They empower their teams instead of tearing them down. They don’t bark out orders. That kind of leadership is dead.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a series of unprecedented crises. So many of us see the news and ask how we can help. We’d love to talk about the steps that each of us can take to help heal our county, in our own way. Which particular crisis would you like to discuss with us today? Why does that resonate with you so much?
The ongoing protests and global reaction to racial injustice resonates with me, both personally and professionally. This crisis reflects in a dramatic way how leadership still has a long way to to effectively address these injustices. We have seen much progress over the last several decades, but much work still needs to be done.
This is likely a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?
When any group is attempting to solve a major problem, whether it’s a societal issue or a business problem, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Sometimes the problem is just so huge, you don’t even know where to start. On top of that, we are seeing in real-time the consequences of living in a digital age where everyone has an opinion and is sharing that opinion, non-stop. Thanks to social media and constant access to information — some of it real and some of it not real — everything feels like it is happening in our backyard, 24 hours a day.
Many of us want societal and police reform. We want justice in our society. At the same time, everything that is happening right now feels so personal. When you are faced with that, your instinct is to lash out, to react out of emotion. What we are seeing right now is a combination of years of build-up for anyone that has been discriminated against or judged, and the impact a pandemic can have. People are very vulnerable, stressed and anxious right now. Levels of intense emotion can lead to violence, to behavior that is detrimental. Of course, it’s great to be fired up and have passion about a cause, but the downside of that is that we can lose sight of the progress that has been made and the work that has been done and that violent and unacceptable behavior is hypocritical.
Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience either working on this cause or your experience being impacted by it? Can you share a story with us?
Because of tensions around racism, sexism, discrimination, etc., corporate America has become extremely conflict-averse. And that’s a big problem. Everyone is afraid to deal with conflict of any kind. What’s happened is, we end up tiptoeing around each other because we don’t want to say the wrong thing, set someone off, or be misunderstood. People are afraid to speak up when something isn’t working because they don’t want to create conflict. Most people have never learned the right way to communicate and respond in a moment of conflict or during a crisis. They act or react purely out of emotion. They lack the self-awareness to understand their triggers, and how to manage those triggers while they’re in the middle of a conflict. Once someone starts reacting that way, it’s almost impossible to resolve a conflict.
We have to be able to deal with conflict — at work and at home — in a healthy way. We cannot expect everyone to get along or agree about everything, all the time. That’s not a reasonable expectation, anywhere. In business, we are going to run into performance issues, we’re going to clash on strategic issues and occasionally, we are going to come across someone we just don’t like. To succeed, leaders have to be able to challenge the status quo. They have to be able to diffuse emotional situations and make tough decisions. But how can leaders manage conflict in a healthy way? Most leaders aren’t taught this.
At my firm, we have been creating programs for executives that focus on diversity and managing conflict, including more training on unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion. We also conduct workshops for entire management teams at companies. We used to do these in person, but because of COVID-19, we’ve now moved this to a virtual format. We dive into some topics that can make some people uncomfortable. What biases or prejudices do you have? How do you create a culture that is inclusive? How do you provide opportunities for people of color and other minorities in your workplace? Why is a diverse team valuable to your company? We explore all of that.
We also help executives learn how to create a place of emotional safety at work. It’s one thing for team members to challenge the status quo and speak up about what they think is wrong. But there also has to be a place where there is no fear of retaliation. We show teams how to accept different ideas, and open to new ways of doing things. It’s critical for employees and managers of all levels and backgrounds to listen more, to be respectful, even if they disagree with another person and their views and opinions. We have to have greater courageous dialogue, and be more open and accepting.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps That Each Of Us Can Take To Proactively Help Heal Our Country”. Kindly share a story or example for each.
- Start with you. The best leaders, in business and in their communities, understand themselves and all of their shortcomings and strengths. They understand their triggers, and they understand what they need to thrive. Before you can heal anyone else, you have to heal yourself first. Why are you upset or anxious? Why are you frustrated or angry? Are you focused on the root cause or the symptoms? Are you taking ownership and responsibility for your own actions and responses? Are you accepting of others and their views, even if you disagree with them? Awareness of your triggers is key, and how to be more effective in managing your emotions and being more measured.
- Healing at home. A major part of healing is about forgiveness. If you have had clashes at home with friends or family members over racism or differences of political views, think of a better way you can reach out to that person. Come from a place of understanding. Try to be open. Learn more about where they are coming from and the experiences they have had. Move on from the past, and focus instead on solutions. Holding onto the past doesn’t heal. It’s hard to become a positive change agent if you are holding on to past negativity.
- Healing the community. Something we don’t talk about very often is making snap judgments.We make decisions about people we barely know because we saw them at their worst or in a bad moment where they are lashing out. But that doesn’t define the person. We “cancel” people based on something they did or said 20 years ago. Everyone is so busy with judgment, but there’s very little listening going on. Right now, people in communities all over the country need to be listening to one another. And when I say listening, I mean, really hearing what people have to say, without having your response ready to fire back as soon as you hear something you don’t agree with.
- Heal your workplace. As a leader, you have the power and ability to make real, impactful change in your organization. You can start that by asking questions and listening to what your team members are telling you. Many companies are now turning to employees to lead the way on change. Employee Resource Groups (ERG) have been around for a long time, but now they are being re-convened with the goal of diversity and inclusion. These kinds of programs can be advocated for and funded by leaders, but they have to start with the employees. If they feel empowered in a safe workplace that you have worked to build, it can have a major impact. The best leaders attract and retain the best people, and give them the freedom to make positive changes.
- Be the example of positive change. Leaders lead, at home, in their communities and at the office. They lead through action. They are consistent with the things they say and do. And most important, they are accountable and hold others accountable — for their performance and their behaviors. They take responsibility when things go wrong and when they make a mistake. They don’t finger-point or shrug off ownership. The way you treat people who are different from you sets the tone at home, at work — everywhere. As the example in your workplace and community, consider how you accept differences, and demonstrate respect for those differences.
It’s very nice to suggest ideas, but what can we do to make these ideas a reality? What specific steps can you suggest to make these ideas actually happen? Are there things that the community can do to help you promote these ideas?
It’s easier to take action than one might think. For example, if you are an executive in a position of power, you can provide opportunities for people to shine in your organization. Remember, it’s not about you. Be a mentor and help your team members tap into their potential. Encourage them to learn new skills. Introduce them to other mentors. Give them “stretch goals” to strive for. You’d be surprised by what your team members can do once you give them the encouragement and tools to make it happen.
Leaders can create an atmosphere that thrives on the differences of people. Focus on the value that differences can bring to a community, to an organization. Celebrate and demonstrate the value of differences — our different backgrounds, experiences, styles, approaches and opinions. Take ownership of our own actions, and how we respond when we see injustice. Speak up and advocate for people who are being treated unfairly. Real leaders put themselves on the line every day for their people.
We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?
We have to be brutally honest with ourselves. This needed to happen. We had to take a step back and confront this and all ugly parts of our society. The moment was right for this to happen now. So many people are stuck at home, unemployed, and stressed out because of the pandemic. When the video came out of George Floyd, it was like throwing a match into a gasoline can.
We are already seeing positive outcomes. We are seeing leaders react to the unrest on the streets with changes. For example, the NYPD has banned the use of chokeholds. We are seeing police officers being held more accountable. It’s not on the scale that some may want, but it’s a step in the right direction.
It’s easy to get discouraged and say, “This is just too big, we’ll never be able to fix it.” But, that detracts from the fact that there are positive things happening. Look at what’s happening in the NASCAR community. Progress usually happens at an interval level, not all at once.
I’m optimistic that we can solve this issue, because we are still a country that is committed to progress and change. Are we looking for perfection? Humans are not perfect — imperfect communities are part of society. There will always be humans who are going to focus on the things that separate us instead of what unites us. But we can keep striving for improvement. We can strive for acceptance of people and their differences. We still have a lot of work. But we have to keep hope; we have to believe in the future. The next generation will be able to pick up where we left off and strive for more positive change.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
Do you want to be part of the solution, or part of the problem? Don’t go out to exercise your right to protest, and then demonstrate the same bad behavior and violent actions of the people you are protesting. Get involved, but keep learning. Be open to other viewpoints. Learn, and listen to why people have the views they have, especially if they are different than yours. People with different views are not necessarily wrong or bad, just like you. How do we come together and, when necessary, learn to agree to disagree? Accept the fact that some people have strong views that don’t align with yours. We have to figure out how we can work together and be respectful of each other, even when we disagree. That’s how as a society we heal.
Stop telling people what you think and start asking, “Why do you think the way you do?” What can we do together to work and make a difference together, even when we disagree and have differences? It goes beyond getting involved in one protest or movement. It means demonstrating, on a daily basis, who you are and what you stand for. Inclusive is about including diversity of people, approaches and ideas.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Tony Robbins. I really would want to hear more about his story about where he came from, his biggest challenges, his aha moments, and lessons learned.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!