I was recently interviewed by Andrew Clancy of Soundview Executive Book Summaries. We discussed my book, One Piece of Paper, and how leaders can implement and live their leadership philosophies on a daily basis. Here’s the conversation I had with Andrew.
Andrew: Leadership is a skill that is honed over a lifetime. As you travel on your leadership journey, you will inevitably be influenced by a variety of resources: books, seminars, other leaders, personal experiences. Taken as a whole, your sources of inspiration could probably fill a 300-page book. Now consider the challenge issued to you by author, U.S. Army veteran and management consultant Mike Figliuolo. He believes you should distill your guiding leadership principles down until they fit on a single sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper. In this interview, the author of One Piece of Paper discusses the importance of maxims, how they grow and change, and how you can communicate your maxims to others.
Andrew: What is it that makes maxims so powerful?
Mike Figliuolo: A maxim is nothing more than a trigger. It’s something to remind you of strong emotions. It’s something that will resonate for you. It should remind you of a story or an example from your personal past or experience. The method is designed such that when you read your own maxim, it triggers all those feelings inside of you and those feelings are what are going to get you to behave differently. It’s very easy for me to ignore a platitude like “Be the best that I can be,” but when I tap into something much more emotional, much more personal, it’s a lot harder to ignore and it will change my behavior.
Andrew: There may be readers who approach the process with the impression that the maxims should be carved on stone tablets and never changed. Are leadership maxims fluid? Can they be adapted as a leader grows and changes?
Mike: They should absolutely change over time. As your context changes, as your experience changes, as you learn, as you grow, your maxims should reflect you at that point in time. I encourage folks as they go through an annual self-appraisal process or end-of-year review that they pull out their maxims, review them and see if they’re still relevant and they still resonate and matter. If you’re changing them over time as you grow, they’re always going to help guide you in the direction you want to head.
Andrew: Once a leader is able to create his or her set of leadership maxims, what are the most effective ways to communicate this to others?
Mike: In terms of distributing your maxims, since it’s going to be one piece of paper and it’s going to be 15 to 20 short statements or lyrics or things that people have said to you, you can’t just send that paper out and have people understand what that means. My suggestion is to sit down with the members of your team, your boss, your colleagues or even your family members and share what the maxims are but then share the stories behind them. Tell people why that story is important and personally meaningful to you. Tell them how it is going to affect your behavior. Once everyone around you has that understanding, then it is incumbent upon you to live those maxims on a regular basis. Some leaders like to give their team members permission to call them out. I’ve always given my staff permission to call me out when they see me not living a maxim, and there’s nothing that tastes worse than your own medicine. It’s a really great reminder that these maxims represent the ways I’d like to behave and sometimes I need assistance in living up to those self-imposed standards.
Andrew: Have you seen cases where a leader’s maxims inspire his or her team members to create their own lists and share them?
Mike: Absolutely. A lot of times when I’d go in to work with teams, it’s usually a more senior person who had either gone through the maxims method or was in the process of going through the method and the leader wanted his or her team members to go through the process, as well. It’s caused really great interaction by having all of those people in the room at the same time and constructing it in a classroom setting because the sharing is happening live.
I taught a session of our Leadership Maxims course recently where workers from a global company’s various branches came in from around the world and many of these people had never met each other face-to-face even though they were on the same team for several years. They had only previously communicated by chat and e-mail. By the end of the session, there was a depth of understanding of one another as people and individuals that was fantastic to watch. I received some feedback at the end of the session that said, “This morning we started out as a group strangers and now I feel like I’ve known these people for a large part of my life.”
Andrew: It was great to see the chapter “How will you stay connected to your team’s reality?” Are there aspects of a leader’s job that prevent him or her from answering this question. What stops leaders from truly understanding what their people do?
Mike: I think some aspects of the global economy can make it challenging. I have some clients who work in global organizations and they’re flying hundreds of thousands of miles per year. That’s one way to stay connected but it does take a toll and it makes some of your other responsibilities challenging. That said, there’s still plenty of opportunities to be connected with your folks, whether it’s spending time on the phone or doing some of the work that you’re asking others to do. Even if it’s just a single project or building a model in Excel or giving a presentation that someone else on your team would ordinarily do, you need to get the flavor of what the other person is working on.
I’m not advocating spending a lot of time doing your people’s job. What I’m trying to point toward with the idea of staying connected to their reality is that a few times each year, you should roll up your sleeves and work side-by-side with your people and really understand the context in which they’re operating.
- If you’re serious about strengthening the connection between you and your team, grab yourself a copy of One Piece of Paper: The Simple Approach to Powerful, Personal Leadership. There are plenty of suggestions in there for how you can strengthen your relationship with your team members. CLICK HERE to get your copy.