Tips From The Top: One On One With Mark Edmunds, Vice Chairman of Deloitte

I spoke to Mark Edmunds, Vice Chairman of Deloitte, about his journey and best advice

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Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. First things first, though, I am sure readers would love to learn more about you. What is something about you that would surprise people?

Mark: Perhaps that I practice meditation. I began practicing meditation about four years ago as a part of my desire to be more present. My daughter, Grace Edmunds, who is a meditation coach, recommended that I start. I agreed and told her I’d start with 30-minute meditations. She said “Whoa, dad … you’ll hurt yourself. Why don’t you start with five minutes a day?” She was right, of course, and today I meditate three or four times a week for 10 minutes, and it’s astonishing how much just that small amount of time helps me be a more engaged leader with my team and my clients. It helps me settle my mind and focus on what’s in front of me.

Adam: ​How did you get here? ​ What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Mark: I’ve been with Deloitte almost 38 years, and during that time, I’ve changed roles so many times. I’ve lived and worked in seven separate U.S. cities, as well as Singapore. Each new role was scary and challenging and energizing – including my one stint overseas.

In the United States, I’ve led our West Region, served on our Board of Directors, and worked on leadership development programs. It’s never boring. Having the natural curiosity to learn what’s around the corner – even if it’s something kind of daunting, like moving overseas – keeps you motivated.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Mark: I don’t know if I’m the first one to coin this phrase, but for me, empathy is what I call “the killer app for trust”. What that means is that if you can be just a little more empathetic with people, you can start to build trust. Trust-based leadership is the way to go, because it works in business and, it turns out, it’s good for your personal life too.

As I’ve worked on leadership development programs around the world, I’ve found that the most effective combination of personal style to help ensure success is the combination of humility and confidence. Try to be humble enough to know what you don’t know, and to be open to learn from your team. Once you’ve gathered that input, show the confidence you know where you’re headed. My team knows that I will listen to them, so they support me. This contrasts with authority-based leadership or fear-based leadership.

We use empathy in our relationships with clients. We don’t just sell services to a company; we’re providing solutions to human beings. We try to build deep, trusting relationships with C-suite leaders, often by walking in their shoes, seeing things through their eyes, and always focusing on creating value for individual executives. Helping them do their job better.

If you can help clients succeed, you’ll build long-term relationships. You can do plenty of research online and with your own network to understand the needs of key executives. But they know that trust is not a corporate thing. It’s personal, and it’s built by spending time with executives one on one.

Adam: What have you found to be the common qualities among those who have been able to rise to the top of an organization as large as Deloitte? What are the common qualities you have identified among clients that work with Deloitte?

Mark: One business concept in the United States is the old ‘I scratch your back, and you scratch mine.’ In China, they call it ‘guanxi,’ or exchanging favors. However, the people who rise at Deloitte believe in something quite different. The leadership trait I try to live and I see quite often at Deloitte is the idea of ‘what goes around comes around,’ or you can call it karma.

If you live your professional and personal life that way, I’ve found good things happen to all those around you. If you’re good to people – people above you as well as those below you – well, in my experience, good karma results. I treat everyone from my assistant to our CEO the same way, and the people who share this set of values are by-and-large successful at Deloitte.

But look, there’s no magic to this. You do it because you’re trying to help other people, like your clients, your colleagues or your friends. That’s what creates success. And our successful clients behave the same way.

Adam: ​What is the best advice you have on building, managing and leading teams?

Mark: Every executive chooses the values that are the most important to them, and conveys these values to everyone. I typically say three because most people can only remember three things at a time. My three things to lead on are:

·       Trust: I commit to my team that I will strive to build a trusting relationship with each member. In turn, I expect each of you to build trusting relationships with each other and your teams and your clients.

·       Simplicity: My job is to remove the fog and simplify the world so you can take care of our people and clients. I might focus on how much to communicate.

·       Execution: I believe in an execution culture; a culture of leaders that know how to get stuff done. Strategy is worthless without a culture of folks who get things done.

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

Mark: Trust, trust, and trust. And I’m not being flip. My best tip to any leader, whether they lead a nonprofit, a business, a sports team, or a whole government, is to build trust with the people around you. If you do that, and you hire people with integrity, you’ll do amazing things.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Mark: Probably to look around the corner for obstacles and opportunities. I had taken on a big leadership role to build a relationship with the CEO of a huge organization, and a senior partner imparted this wisdom on me: Don’t just talk about the regular stuff. Find something difficult and controversial to discuss with them. Your initial reaction might be, “Yikes, really?” Well, a few months later, I did just that – albeit carefully – and it helped me get closer to the CEO. I find that when a CEO says to me, “Tell me something I don’t know,” they usually mean it.

Adam: ​What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Mark: Again, what goes around comes around. Executives owe it to give back to the communities that give us so much. Find out where people are active, and give to those organizations. Follow your passions, and do it because it makes you feel good, not just because it benefits your business. I’ve been involved in Positive Coaching Alliance for a decade, helping coaches learn how to be more effective in working with kids. I’ve also been involved for a decade with San Francisco’s Larkin Street Youth Services nonprofit, helping homeless kids and others who are down on their luck. I do these things because kids are our future. I’ve been involved with the “SFJazz” organization for years because our family loves music and my wife and I have two aspiring musicians in Nashville!

Adam: ​What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Mark: I love golf, and I love to travel with my wife. She and I have been to some amazing places recently together, like Bhutan, Laos, Malaysia, and Japan. I also love live music, and she and I have attended jazz festivals around the world, including in Indonesia and Cuba.

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