We are a learning organization. The best advantage we have for tomorrow is what we have learned today. It’s our job to develop our people — to help each of us reach our full potential.
We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Antonio Garrido.
Antonio Garrido, author of MY DAILY LEADERSHIP: A Powerful Roadmap For Leadership Success, has over twenty-five years in senior leadership positions with world-class businesses, and is founder of the consultancy My Daily Leadership. He is an expert in leadership transformation: shaping high-performance leaders out of highly stressed and overworked leaders. Garrido blends his own vast commercial experience with proven techniques to embed a unique brand of leadership development. He is a serial entrepreneur, successful business coach, 3-time author, charismatic speaker, and works with leaders from small private businesses, right up to Fortune-60 size.
Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?
Thank you for the kind invitation, I’m a really big fan of the magazine.
On a professional level right now I’m most excited by the release of my latest book and to helping the world’s most progressive leaders reach their full potential as quickly as possible.
And on a personal level, I’m most excited to meet my latest grandson who will be born in March 2023.
We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?
I’ve been such a lucky guy and have had the pleasure to work with a series of tremendous leaders — genuinely world-class individuals. This was a consequence of luck rather than judgement, I promise. I recognize that not everyone has been as lucky as I have been, and I guess we all have horror stories of terrible leadership from micromanaging, bullying, inconsistency, unrealistic timeframes, lack of vision or clarity, low self-awareness and so on.
Since I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with the best, I have a wide range of lessons to share.
One of my favorite lessons, however, is described in my latest book. It’s the story of how early in a new leadership role, the Group Chairman asked me to write down a list of the characteristics of truly dreadful leaders. I’m sure you can imagine what that list might have contained: just describe the flaws, weaknesses and destructive proclivities of every bad boss you have even known or had the misfortune to have worked for. Once the list extended to around 20 characteristics of leadership dreadfulness, he asked me to do him a favor. “Whilst you work at this company, promise me that you’ll never ever do any of the things on this list, will you?”
He asked me to carry this list with me at all times. He asked me to show the list to my direct reports and invite them to tell me when I was breaking my promise to him. He asked me to try hard to demonstrate excellence every day.
Wow, what a powerful leadership lesson in self-awareness and emotional intelligence so early on in my career.
I have used this principle every day since — with my coaching clients, with my customers, heck, even with my family.
This simple yet powerful exercise propelled me to better understand what great leadership looked like, and how it might be emulated.
Without wanting to presume, I would like to think that your readers might take 20 minutes to complete the same exercise, and then hold themselves to that standard.
Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?
Gosh, I have made lots of mistakes, I am sure.
I do believe that whilst not every day is wonderful, there is something wonderful in every day if you look hard enough — and it’s always what we have taken time to learn.
Looking back over my career I think the biggest mistakes, and therefore the biggest lessons were all to do with people, and my failures in clear communication.
As a leader to be unclear is to be unkind.
It took me more time than I care to admit to that often when I thought a colleague and I had an agreement, what we really had was two people agreeing to their own agendas with very little overlap.
I learned that finishing every meeting with a simple, “So, Frank, in your own words, what have we just agreed to?”
You’d be quite staggered at how many times what you heard next was not what you were expecting to hear. And that, dear reader, is always your fault.
How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?
I used to believe that leadership was about making decisions — and it is, of course, but it’s also much more about delegating results and not just delegating activities.
In my new book I talk about how world-class leadership balances task-focus with people focus, and proactive activity with reactive activity. It’s easy (really easy) to be a busy, task-focused, and reactive leader. This takes no skill, wit, or imagination whatsoever. The best leaders are more people-focused, and proactive. This is trickier, of course.
Modern leadership is EQ-based, not IQ-based, and has more to do with developing insight since it leads to foresight. The best leaders use their insight to futureproof themselves, their people, and by default, their business.
Since the world is more uncertain, and fast-paced, and precarious than ever before, being a world-class leader these days requires much more insight than ever before. Insight is a muscle, and, like all muscles, it can be developed with intentionality, and consistency.
Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?
I stopped trying to control things. We can only control what we can manage. We don’t manage what people think, or believe, or want. If instead of trying to control things, we try to understand what motivates people to want to see things a certain way, we can get closer to the truth.
Ask yourself this, “What percentage of the time do my people tell me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”
Here’s the bad news, the answer is MUCH lower that you’d like to think — yes, even from your most trusted colleague. Get to work on closing the truth-gap. People are telling you what they think is in their best interest to have you believe. Sad, but true.
What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?
Another leadership lesson that I was fortunate enough to learn early on is that collaborative teams can achieve significantly more than cooperative ones. I spend most of my efforts now looking for different ways to build a collaborative culture; a culture that asks, “How can I help you?” across divisional, functional, and geographic or market silos.
A collaborative culture eats strategy for breakfast.
What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?
Marshall Goldsmith (world-renowned leadership coach) champions the principle of ‘what got you here won’t get you there’. Bravo, Mr Goldsmith. I 100% agree.
This means that we are firmly on the Change Train — always. Leaders need to always look far ahead, to skate to where the puck will be — not where it is, or where it has been. This is why insight is such a powerful leadership skill and one that needs most development in my view. Every successful business I know had the courage to take a leap at the right moment — not because it was easy, expedient, or cheap, but because it was the right thing to do and at the heart of every one of these ‘brave’ decisions was some previously unrealized insight. If I could wish one new skill for every leader, it would be the gift of insight. Leadership insight takes up a lot of real estate in the book, as you might imagine.
Another old boss of mine would wonderfully state as often as expedient to do so, “Be bold; boldness has power and magic all its own. Make a start, make a brave start. Take imperfect action, and course correct on the way!” Not necessarily ‘insight’, I grant you, but it will do as a stop-gap whilst you’re developing those muscles. Genius.
Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?
Former President George Bush Sr was playing in a Pro-Am golf tournament. As he stepped off the 18th green, a reporter asked, “How was the golf, Mr President?”
“It’s amazing how many games of golf I have lost since I left the White House.” he replied.
Think about that sobering thought for a second or two.
Don’t be fooled by flattery, sycophancy, and localized ambition.
I tell the story of Napoléon Bonaparte’s ‘Idiot General’ in the new book.
As your readers will be aware, Napoléon Bonaparte (August 15, 1769–May 5, 1821) was a French military and political leader. He rose to power during the French Revolution and, due to his extraordinary military savvy, he led countless successful campaigns. He dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade, winning the vast majority of his battles, building an empire that spanned over continental Europe.
Napoléon was acutely aware of the importance of “speaking truth to the leaders’ bullshit.” So much so that he developed a battle strategy that won him half the world.
He would meet with his generals in his forward tent outside the walls of the city he intended to besiege. While poring over the maps and reading reports from the advanced scouting parties, he sent one of his most trusted generals out of the tent. This general (the “idiot general”) was not allowed to take part in any of the battle-planning process, nor take part in any of the ensuing conversations between the senior group.
However, once the battle plans were laid, the “idiot general” was invited back into the tent to learn of the proposed plan. This general had no idea what conversations took place, no idea who offered what suggestions, no idea who proposed any of the parts of the plan, nor any idea of who supported which parts of it.
The “idiot general,” knowing nothing (hence the unfortunate moniker), was then asked to explain why the battle plan that had been suggested would not work — he was invited to pick holes and find fault in the strategy and tactics. The reason that this unorthodox strategy was so effective is that he had no idea which ideas were Napoléon’s, and which came from others. It’s the perfect strategy to deal with “yes-men” — and, being the Emperor of France, yes-men were in no short supply.
Are you, like Napoléon, surrounded by yes-men?
Ask them, they’ll almost definitely say “no”, right?
Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.
We studied a wide range of world-recognized exceptional leaders in a wide variety of company sizes and markets looking for similarities between them in terms of capabilities, competencies, and behaviors.
We quickly discovered the Top 5 Core Elements of Exceptional Leadership, and the Top 4 Competencies associated with each of them. This gave us a world-class model of true modern leadership excellence. Of course, we couldn’t just leave it there, so we developed a unique assessment for each of them.
The full list is:
- PEOPLE DEVELOPMENT
- HELPING OUR PEOPLE REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL
- MASTERFUL MENTORSHIP
- UNDERSTANDING MOTIVATION
- COMMUNICATION, COORDINATION, COOPERATION, AND COLLABORATION
- COMPANY DEVELOPMENT
- IMPROVING THE COMPANY PROCESSES
- DEVELOPING THE COMPANY VISION / MISSION / GOALS
- SHORT, MEDIUM, AND LONG-TERM PLANNING
- INDUSTRIALIZE, SCALE, PIVOT, OR REFRESH
- SELF DEVELOPMENT
- MY PERSONAL LEARNING-PATH
- ELIMINATING MY LEADERSHIP BLIND SPOTS
- BUILDING MY EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE
- ELIMINATING MY SELF-LIMITING BELIEFS
- STRATEGY DEVELOPMENT
- SOLVING PROBLEMS WITH TOOLS AND MENTAL MODELS
- STRATEGIC PLANNING
- STRATEGY EXECUTION
- MEASURE, REVIEW, AND COURSE CORRECT
- LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
- DEVELOPING TRUST
- DEVELOPING MY PERSONAL VISION / MISSION / GOALS
- LEVERAGING CORE VALUES
- COMFORT-ZONE BUSTING, AND COURAGE
If any of your readers/leaders would like to benchmark themselves against this list, and are feeling brave enough to give it a go, we’d be happy to run our measuring tape over them to tell them where they need to straighten up and fly right.
Tell the bravest ones to go to www.mydailyleadership.com/leadershipassessment
I wonder how many will. ☺
American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.
Another inspirational leader that I worked for would ask me these two questions at every opportunity, “Antonio, did you earn your money today, and did you do your very best?”
He argued that the answer to the first questions should always be ‘yes’, and the answer to the second will almost always be ‘no’.
This seems rather counterintuitive, of course, but he explained that earning our money as leaders is a prerequisite: work hard, be fair, develop people and processes, maximize opportunity to grow, live the company Core Values and so on. Be relentless in these pursuits. If you do that, you earn your right to come back to work the next day. “It’s a minimum standard of leadership,” he would say.
But what’s ‘best’? ‘Best’ is the athlete who runs a personal best in every training session — impossible. The person whose every decision every day is better than the last — unlikely.
But, striving to be your best is a ‘Minimum Standard” of leadership. I believe that’s what Coach Wooden meant by that — at least it is to me.
What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?
In Chapter 15 of the new book, we discuss how to engineer the leadership legacy you’d like to leave.
I start by asking why it is that the company board almost never writes a memo to the brand new CEO advising them what kind of leader that the board expects the new incumbent to be, and some of the things that they hope the new leader will be able to accomplish? Crazy, right? It seems such an obvious and developmental thing to do, after all, doesn’t it? Is it because they don’t want to presume? Is it because they don’t want to offend? Is it because they’re worried about future ramifications? Whatever the reason, I’m on a mission to fix this cultural commercial black hole.
If you’re wondering what this memo/list might look like, why not give this fictitious example some thought:
On behalf of the board and management team, welcome aboard — we are genuinely excited to be working with you over the next critical phase in the history of the company. As you know, some of us were involved in your appointment, and, as a group, we do look forward to learning how we might best support each other through some of the inevitable challenges ahead.
As a management team, we thought it might be useful to set out the kind of organization we are building: this way we can explore how to build it better together.
We share with you some of the core values that we as a board hold in highest regard — during the selection process we have come to believe that you believe in them too. We are excited to discover the ways that we can collaborate to do things even better in the future.
- We are a learning organization. The best advantage we have for tomorrow is what we have learned today. It’s our job to develop our people — to help each of us reach our full potential.
Support us in doing that.
There are those in the company who bring money in the front door; there are those who stop it leaking out the back door; and there are those who make it work harder for us while we have it — here, we treat each the same.
Every time we have to fire someone in the business, it’s our failure. But a company with no turnover is in as much trouble as one with high turnover. We work hard to figure out those who are hard-working, as well as those who are committed to the cause: we value commitment over work ethic.
2. We hire and develop and retain A-players. We take personal development reviews very seriously, and we approach the performance grading system that we use with enormous integrity. We should be honest with our people regarding their performance, and we should be ever vigilant of it. Whenever we fire someone, it should never be a surprise to them. Whenever someone leaves us, it should never be a shock.
A collaborative organization achieves significantly more than a cooperative one. Fostering a collaborative culture is one of our non-negotiables.
3. Self-awareness is key — whatever a person’s role, from top to bottom, left to right. We will ask you for regular feedback including ways that we can improve, and we expect you to be brutally frank with us. We trust you will understand when we return the compliment.
No company (or person) can ever promise to never make a mistake — the value of each is measured by what it does about owning and resolving those mistakes.
We believe that culture eats strategy for breakfast. But strategy and tactical execution are critical too.
4. We never forget why people choose to work here — and the reasons are not the same as ours. Work-life balance is important. Quality of life is important. Having fun is important. Everybody needs to feel safe, and valued, and trusted because the chain is only as strong as its weakest link — and chains can only be pulled, not pushed!
Defend everyone as sure as we will defend you. If we fail, it’s our fault, not theirs!
5. Accountability is key — it’s where success lies. We encourage what we tolerate. And we don’t tolerate laziness, silos, self-promotion, prejudice, protectionism, or leadership ego.
Wherever possible, we…
…delegate results, not tasks
…coach, not manage
…ask, not tell
…don’t wait for the next big thing to float on by, we swim out to it.
Shit happens. We deal with it in a high-quality and kind way. We reward high quality and kindness wherever we find it — and we look for it.
We encourage a culture of insight and innovation. We are brave but not reckless. We are creative but also ruthlessly consistent. We are generous but not foolish. We are lighthearted but not lightweight. Trust is earned in inches and lost in miles.
Help us to learn how to balance these things better.
- We always tell ourselves, our people, our customers, and our suppliers the truth.
- We work for them, they do not work for us.
- We are building a world-class organization. “World-class” means world-class.
With that being said, on my leadership tombstone, I’d be happy to look down from heaven to read any of the following:
“He was always lighthearted, but never lightweight.”
“He gave us the tools and courage to be our very best.”
“He was never afraid to ask for help.”
“He encouraged us all to learn to be better.”
…or, if I had my own way, I’d quote the words of the inimitable Spike Milligan, British comedy genius, “See, I told you I was sick”.
How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?
I would genuinely welcome the opportunity to continue this conversation with any of your readers. If what I have said makes sense, and any of your readers would like a coffee and a sticky-bun to chat about any of my views, or to share theirs with me, it’s easy: just drop a line to me, [email protected]. Go on, I dare you.
Thank you for a meaningful conversation. We wish you continued success with your mission.