Ep 1: The Future of Leadership and Management (with Michael Johnson, President & CEO Multiview Financial Software)

In this episode, our guest Michael talks about how radical commitment to people is the foundation of a good leader and leaders need to take the wants of employees more seriously.
“We ultimately believe that it’s our role as leaders, as coaches, to find out what about that individual is going to make them fulfilled and be able to achieve their best outcomes in both work and in life and in order to do that you have to be radically committed to that employee,” - Michael Johnson

In this episode

Do managers always have a negative reaction when a cherished employee decides to leave their team or even their company?

Why is it such a new idea that a leader should champion what the individual employee wants first? 

Michael Johnson is the President & CEO of Multiview Financials, a comprehensive financial and accounting software company. Michael started his career as a corporate accountant in the investment industry as an asset manager at AGF Management & Brookfield Renewable Energy Group before becoming CFO at Multiview. 

In episode #1, Michael talks about how radical commitment to people is the foundation of a good leader as leaders should consider closely the wants of employees. 

He also goes into detail about “boomerang employees” and how with the right company environment, your workplace may start seeing this phenomenon for itself.

Lastly, he discusses the importance of conflict on a team, why you should fire half your team if they’re all “yes people” and some wisdom Jean Chrétien, the 20th Prime Minister of Canada, shared with him.

Tune in to hear all about how Michael’s leadership experiences and advice can help you improve your leadership style!

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Like this episode? Be sure to leave a  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ review and share the podcast with your colleagues.

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1:45 Rubik’s cube analogy

4:46 We all make the same error of judgment

7:40 The future of leadership is good leadership

12:28 It all comes down to people

15:15 Boomerang employees

19:18 Champion for what your employees want

22:10 Michael’s leadership journey

26:20 Michael’s leadership philosophy

32:33 Ingredients for a high performing team

39:20 Get to why they think they’re right

46:20 Employee retention

47:20 Leadership mistakes

51:57 One piece of advice from a past Prime Minister

Guest bio

Michael is currently the President & CEO of Multiview Financials, a comprehensive financial and accounting software company. Multiview is transforming corporate finance with their client End Month End.

Michael started his career as a corporate accountant in the investment industry as an asset manager at AGF Management and Brookfield Renewable Energy Group before becoming chief financial officer of Multiview. He was appointed president of Multiview in February of 2018 and in addition, assumed the role of CEO in February of 2019.

Michael graduated from the Ted Rogers School of Management with a Baccalaureate in Commerce, Accounting and a diploma in Business Administration, Accounting from Algonquin College.

He is a big supporter of the Ottawa community which is his home town and current place of residency. Outside of work, he enjoys spending time with his family, friends as well as playing music and travelling.

Transcript

Fahd: Welcome to the Unicorn Leaders Podcast. My name is Fahd Alhattab here with you today. And on this podcast, we interview amazing leaders on their journey to creating a high-performing team. This podcast is brought to you by Unicorn Labs. And you can check us out at unicornlabs.ca to learn more about the work we do in leadership development and helping teams develop.

Today's guest is Michael Johnson, president and CEO of Multiview Financials, who's going to share his thoughts with us around the future of leadership and leadership as a whole. But I wanted to kick us off with a question. Why does well-intentioned leadership so often fail? Here's the thing. If we sat around the table and you and I discussed, "Oh, what makes good leadership?" People tend to always come up with some of the same answers and it's true. It's like, "Good teamwork. Leaders who listen to each other communicate, have some good conflict that creates safety for me to discuss ideas." We come up with the same ... Have a vision. We come up with these same values. And it's always fun because everyone agrees. Everyone says, "Yeah. Those are great things. These are things that we need to have." But just because everyone agrees doesn't mean it actually happens. It so often actually fails. And it always got me questioning "Well, why? Should we spend time teaching people what is good leadership or should we spend time teaching what makes good leadership fail in order to actually make it happen? Is it that people don't know the answer or is it that they don't know how to get to the answer?"

I came across the thinking when I was playing with one of my Rubik's Cube. I'm I'm a little bit of a nerd that way. I learned how to do Rubik's Cubes in high school. I was obsessed. I had this little key chain Rubik's Cube and I would play around with it. And the reason I mentioned the Rubik's Cube is because I think it's in the same analogy. When you look at a Rubik's Cube, everyone is like, "Yeah. You got to put the colors on all the different sides." We know what solves the cube, we know what solves the puzzle, we know what makes good leadership, but actually picking up the Rubik's Cube's and trying to solve it is much more difficult than just telling us which side should be which color, which is what often happens with leadership.

Some of the fundamental mistakes that we make with these little magical cubes is that we try to solve one color at a time. So you pick it up and you're like, "I'm going to do the yellow side of the face." But when you do the yellow side of the face, you mess up the other side. And it's the same thing that happens with leadership and teamwork. You're like, "Well, I'm just going to work on this part of my leadership. I'm just going to work on just communication." It's like, "Well, how does communication affect when creating psychological safety? How does communication affect when you're creating a vision? How does communication affect when you're building the team? Is the team at different stages? What do you have to consider?" And so I think we come across leadership and we think we understand it the same way we think we understand the Rubik's Cubes where we know what color should be on what side. But in fact, we struggle with actually building it and solving it because it must be solved holistically. It can't be solved one face at a time. There has to be a way that we do it all together.

One of the through lines that I think connects leadership and fails in leadership, the reason we fail in leadership is because of this mindset that we have. Many of us have bought into this concept of veneer theory that's best captured by a professor. I love sharing this story by Tom [inaudible]. He's a Netherlands professor and he asks his students the same question every time. He says, "Imagine an airplane makes an emergency landing. And as it lands, it breaks into three different parts. And the cabin fills with smoke and it's a little bit of scary. It's a scary moment. What happens?" He says, "Do we live on planet A or planet B?" He says, "On planet A, the passengers turn to their neighbors, ask if everyone is okay, does anyone need assistance, anyone need help? They just make sure that everyone is calm and they get up in an orderly file and they kind of walk off. Or do we live on planet B where everyone is left to defend themselves. It's chaos. Everyone is grabbing their bags. They're trying to jump off, they're trying to push the emergency exit. They're pushing their shoving and people are getting trampled over." He asked the question, "What planet do we live on? Planet A or planet B?" And every time he asks it, he sees that about 97% of people think we live on planet B.

Perhaps ask yourself that. Which one did you fall in? Most people say we live in planet B, but the truth in almost every case that we believe on planet A, it doesn't matter who you ask left wing, right wing, rich, poor, educated, well read, we all make the same error of judgment. And it's not for a lack of research, but perhaps a myth that we've all bought into. A myth that the very nature of humans are selfish and aggressive. We're quick to panic. That's the veneer theory that was created by Dutch biologist, Frans de Waal. And what it says is the notion that just beneath the surface, we're all going to break into chaos if the order doesn't hold. And many leaders feel that with their team. "I have to have policy. I have to have procedures. I have to have frameworks. They have to follow this system because if they don't, it's going to break into chaos."

Many leaders struggled with remote working. It was funny because, well, how do I know my team is working? Was a question that many leaders or manager asked as we went into remote working. This goes into our veneer theory. We think that people will take advantage of us the moment we give them the opportunity. We think that people will take advantage of the company, not do their work, not want to be involved, not want to be engaged and that they are selfish and will do what's best for them instead of what's best for the collective. And I believe it's that inherent notion that actually has stopped leadership from being an opportunity for us to empower our teams to make them better and to better engage folks.

Michael: [inaudible] view of a radical commitment to our employee success because we ultimately believe that it's our role as leaders, as coaches to find out what about that individual is going to make them fulfilled and be able to achieve their best outcomes in both work and in life. And in order to do that, you have to be radically committed to that employee.

Fahd: That was Michael Johnson sharing his concept of radical commitment to our employees. And in order to have that radical commitment, we've got to do away with veneer theory and believe in the inherent goodness of people, the inherent goodness of our team and our employees. Michael Johnson is going to share a few different insights with us on radical commitment to people in foundation of being a good leader. Leaders need to take the wants of employees more seriously. He's also going to go into detail about boomerang employees and how the right company environment, your workplace may start seeing this phenomenon itself. Michael Johnson, as I've mentioned, is the president CEO of Multiview Financials, a comprehensive financial and accounting software company. He started his career as a corporate accountant in the investment industry as an asset manager at AGF Management and Brookfield Renewable Energy Group before becoming the CFO at Multiview and then eventually the CEO. We're going to unpack the changes we're seeing in leadership and expectations of leaders in our companies. There's this phenomenal piece from Gallup Research. They talk about the changes from past to future in leadership and what our employees are expecting of us.

I would share a few of them here with you. One of the past ones is employees were looking for a paycheck and now they're looking for more of purpose. They were looking for satisfaction, now they're looking for development. They had a boss before, now they want more of a coach. They were looking for annual reviews before and now it's ongoing conversations. Before the focus was on weaknesses and how to improve them, now the focus is on strengths and how to empower them. The past was about a job, but now it's no longer just a job. It is my life. These shifts are what we're considering the future of leadership.

But I want to also challenge that concept of future because when I mention these things, I don't think any of these have anything to do with the future. I think this is just simply what good companies do. This is what phenomenal companies did in the last two decades. It is not the future of leadership. It is simply good leadership. It's that employees want a good paycheck, but they also want a purpose that allows them to connect their life, their values, to where we want to get to. They don't just want to be satisfied with the role they're doing. They want to continuously grow. They want their development. They don't want just a boss who does, they want a coach, someone who believes in them and helps them. They don't want annoying annual review that's scary and it comes once a year, it gives you a report card. They want ongoing feedback and conversations. Nobody likes focusing on their weaknesses. We like focusing on what we're good at and how we can get better at it.

And it is no longer simply a job. We've realized the amount of time we spend in these jobs, it is part of our life. So while we're talking about this being the future of leadership, I think truly what we're saying is this is what good companies simply do. And unless we make these shifts, we're not going to be able to have really good talent because the world has changed. And so perhaps what has changed isn't what people are expecting of leaders, but the environment of what people are willing to put up with because there is more job opportunities than ever before, there's an abundance of labor, there's a lot of people who want these jobs, you now have to compete to actually attract this talent. The pandemic has changed people's view of what they're willing to put up with. We no longer want to work at a shitty place. We want to work in a place that's going to give us a fulfillment. We can work from home and have it at ease. Why am I going to slave away at a job that's not impactful, not interesting? And more than ever, our extremely talented millennial workforce can build a business on their own just as easily.

So if you're not offering significant engagement compensation with good coaches and good environment, well, I can go build my own e-commerce store and make that 50, 60, 70K that you're going to pay me anyways. What do you offer me that I can't get somewhere else? That's the question of truly the future of leadership. And Michael Johnson's answer is a radical commitment to that person, to that employee. So without further ado, let's introduce Michael Johnson. He's going to discuss some interesting things with us. He's going to talk about why we don't want yes people on our team. Some wisdom he heard from Jean Chrétien, the 20th prime minister of Canada. Tune in, and let's jump into our conversation with Michael.

Well, Mike. Welcome to our Unicorn Leadership Podcast. I'm really excited for you to join us today. Mike and I have a friendship for a number of years now. I've been lucky to know you, but to also see the immense growth in the past decade, more since knowing each other from your roles ... from our roles volunteering at charity boards and fundraising to you now being the CEO of Multiview. And one of the questions, Mike, I wanted to kick us off with just to get us running is the question of this episode and is the question, the theme, and the topic. Is what does the future of leadership look like? What do staff, what do employees, what do companies expect of their leaders today in 2022 and going forward, and how has that evolved?

Michael: Perfect. Well, first of all, it's an absolute honor to be here and to catch you up with you again. It's so great to see you. Yeah. Absolutely. Future of leadership. What comes to mind to me, and I realize this might be something that's not a commonly held view, but something that I've heard the privilege of being surrounded by leaders that have held this view. And the first word that comes to mind is people. And when thinking about the future of leadership, it all comes down to people. People are ultimately the heart of a company, whether it be the employees of the company, whether it be the clients as people. And again, note that I didn't say numbers. Most organizations treat their employees or their clients as numbers, but I think that's going to be a dynamic shift to the future of leadership.

At Multiview, we have a value called People First. It's one of our five values. And it's encompassing around this belief that we have at Multiview that it all starts with the genuine care of people. And we ultimately believe that if we treat our own people, our clients, our partners, and our vendors well, that's where the opportunities will follow. And when thinking about people in the future of leadership, it's about a radical commitment to people. Let me talk first or an entirety about employees. In my mind, I share the view of several other folks that if you treat your employees well, they will then be in a position to take care of your clients. I think it was Richard Branson who's got a famous quote about that. It's something along those lines. And I happen to work for a leader who used to talk about that quite a bit and I completely agree.

At Multiview, we're definitely not a perfect employer, but we're constantly striving to be a better employer for our staff. And in terms of the future of leadership, looking at how can we be radically committed to the success of our employees? What do I mean by that? Radicals is probably a word that will be eliminated from this theory, maybe in the next decade, 25, 50 years or something like that, but a number of times in the past year or two I've stood in front of our organization and told staff that if you want to go work somewhere else, let me know so that I can be a reference for you. I can't think of a single person at Multiview that I wouldn't be proud to be a reference for who does absolutely amazing work. And in an environment in 2022, especially in the technology industry where you have unemployment at record low levels and it's impossible to find staff, you're hearing me as a leader say, "Yes, if that is what you want out of your life and if that is your dream, let me know. I will help you go chase that." Even though that means that we might lose somebody incredibly talented.

Why do we have that view at Multiview? Why do we share this view of a radical commitment to our employee success? Because we ultimately believe that it's our role as leaders, as coaches to find out what about that individual is going to make them fulfilled and be able to achieve their best outcomes in both work and in life. And in order to do that, you have to be radically committed to that employee.

And it is a little self-serving. Let me tell you why I say that. I'm a boomerang employee of Multiview. There's many employees at Multiview that worked at the company, left and then ended up coming back. And I came back to Multiview because of the people, because of the passion they shared, because they cared about each other, they cared about their work, they cared about more than just work, and it was a fun place to be around. I've worked for some great organizations outside of Multiview, but none with a culture like this. And why is this self-serving? To put people at the heart of the company, because ultimately if you are radically committed to the success of your employees, yes, some are going to leave and they're never going to come back, but many people are going to go, get that job at that organization or go do these things and then they're going to realize that they're treated like a number everywhere else, and then guess what's going to happen.

We hope by going long and investing in the success of our people, we won't just attract people to our company, we will help them grow. We will help them go further. And at the end of the day, they will have either shared a part of their journey or their story with us, but also possibly end up circling back to our organization. So when I think about the future of leadership, it comes down to people and it comes down to being genuine about your care and your passion for their growth. And in thinking about this, I thought of a bit of a story, us as leaders. It's ultimately about, does the bird leave our nest? Do they stay in our nest? I think either option, whatever is best for the bird is great, but no matter what as leaders, our job is to make sure they can fly as high as possible.

Fahd: I love that, Mike. I think you've really honed in on this message. Future of leadership is people and it is about a radical commitment to our people. So let me, let me ask you this to dig deeper on this point because I love it and I share actually very similar views. So where was a decision that you had to make that was in alignment with radical commitment to our employees, but perhaps it was a bit uncomfortable? Perhaps it was uncomfortable for kind of the leadership team, because it was like, "Yeah. This is the right thing for the employees and for our team, but it's a bit contrarian, it doesn't sit well with our finance or it doesn't sit well with past practice and it's kind of pushing people." When values come at difficult decisions, that's when we really see whether they're true values, whether they're core to the company. So where was that friction for you? Where did that show up in your leadership journey at Multiview?

Michael: Yeah. So that's a great question. The first thing that comes to mind is a scenario that comes up often. I'd be lying if I said I myself didn't instinctively think this way too throughout my journey. But it's quite often for leaders. And I've seen it at Multiview and talked to other people at different organizations where ... Let's say, for example, you have an incredible individual contributor on your team of 10 people. They're absolutely amazing. And they apply for a job on a different team within your organization. And this happens at most of you all the time. We encourage people to stick up their hand and go for it, to shadow and try different jobs if they want to. In the instinctive response as a leader, I think is naturally to say, "I don't want them to leave the team. No way I'm supporting this." Or let's say, for example, another case that's very similar where you might have different levels of the same role within a team or might be slightly different where it's like, "Hey, that job is open. If a person is qualified, they've been here for a couple years, they'd be a great fit." We can't put them in that role because then what are we going to do to fill that role? And maybe this isn't radical, but it's the frame of mind of people first.

We try to encourage and coach our leaders and as leaders try to champion for what the individual wants first. And it's putting that person ahead of the gap that will be subsequently created when they do leave their existing role to maybe go to a new team or a new role on the team. And you might not know how to solve it. It's flipping the mindset that I think is natural. The important thing about this is keeping in mind that by possibly not moving them into that role, I think there's a couple outcomes that could come. One, they could go find that role at another organization. So then you lose all that experience, all that talent, all that great culture fit anyways, but the other thing is you actually leave two problems on the table because you still have that role you're hiring for unfilled, but you also now have this employee that was qualified, a perfect fit for a job that didn't get the shot because you were holding them back. So you actually end up with two problems from not doing it and not thinking people first, rather than just one. It's just a different problem.

So that's an example of a mindset shift that I think encompasses a cultural decision that ultimately isn't just best for the employee, but when thinking about you go down from two problems to one, it's hard to argue that's not better for the company too, but at least myself as a leader instinctively say I don't want to lose them on my team. So maybe not every leader feels that way. I see it constantly. And it's a frame of mind.

Fahd: Yeah. I think you actually hit the nail in the head. Earlier too you said we're playing the long game. And I think that's the constant challenge. The visceral reaction we get as leaders of like, "No. I don't want that person to leave my team." Is a short-term reaction and not a long-term decision. A lot of poor leadership styles that tend to be a little more dictorial than perhaps coaching, a little bit more micromanaging, you get the short-term results perhaps because the thing gets done, but you're not making the long-term decision, which is the coaching style as you mentioned or investing in the people. So I think that is a key foundational piece that you can't adopt this mindset without realizing the necessity to think long-term.

I love that, Mike. Let's kind of go back here. I love your story and I want to get to know a bit more about it. You're leading this team, you've focused on people, you're focused on radical commitment, but we weren't always here and none of us were, and none of our leadership styles or mindsets were always at where they are and the insights. We always have a bit of a pendulum swing between different areas and views on leadership as we grow through it, but take me back a little bit. I think you described a bit of your leadership journey and story starts with Multiview as an intern coming out of college. Take me back to that moment and walk me through a little bit of your story.

Michael: Yeah. Absolutely. So in thinking back to where maybe my leadership journey began, it's hard to pinpoint where that was. There's so much that contributes to someone's life. However, one thing I often think back to was my experience as an intern at Multiview. I absolutely loved working for this company, as I mentioned. And I remember constantly running into my boss's office at the time and saying, "Hey, why do we do it this way? Why don't we do it that way?" Talking about the product. And my role at the time as an intern was to test the product. I was on the quality assurance team and I'd bring forward these ideas. "Why does it work this way? Why don't we do it this way? What if we could do this?" And I was super passionate and energized about it.

At some point I found myself working on a project that had nothing to do with many people would think was within my job description. And I was working alongside different people at Multiview at the time on different teams. And we were trying to work on this initiative that would move the company forward and even so much to the point where I didn't even tell Multiview how many hours I was working on it because I was just so passionate about working on this project. Anyways, I do remember it vividly sitting at my desk in our old office in Ottawa and it kind of hit me that this idea, that the first step to leadership is acting like a leader. That moment stands out in my mind.

I was an intern, but yet I was so passionate about moving the needle, driving change, or challenging ideas. Anyways, who knows if I read it somewhere or whatever? But I do remember thinking that at the time. And over the past, I don't know how many years since then in my progression working for a couple other organizations in accounting and also serving as Multiview CFO and now in the role I'm in today, my opinion on that hasn't really changed. Ultimately, that opinion is that leaders aren't measured by their title. They are measured by their actions. And the title may or may not be a trailing indicator, but ultimately it is the actions of leaders which should be how they are measured. I often think back to that moment in time where that hit me and I do think it's a pretty powerful thing for leaders to focus on what actions they're taking versus what maybe job title stamps they happen to be given at the time.

Fahd: Yeah. And it's funny. I think you mentioned that it's often that at Unicorn Labs we get, we get new managers who are like, "Oh, I'm a leader now. I got a title as a manager. I'm now a leader." And it's like, "Well, no. You got a title." Your people make you a leader. Your actions make you a leader. Your title just indicates what position of authority you have in your company. And I think you've hit the nail in the head there of realizing that you are measured by your actions, but also I like the insight. It was that, am I acting like a leader or am I just going around suggesting, "Hey, we can improve this. Let's try this." What are all the stuff that we want to improve, which is part of it, taking that initiative, but am I acting like a leader? Am I showing up with what my team needs in addition to all the ideas that I have? And that was a really fun insight for you to come across and I think for us all to listen, to here.

I want to understand a little bit more about kind of your leadership philosophy because you had a fun journey. You were intern at Multiview, you left that after a while of working Multiview, you worked a few different areas. You came back and you eventually got onto the role of CFO and then I think in 2019 CEO of Multiview. So how have you seen the leadership at Multiview evolve over the last decade and what were some of your intentional pieces that helped that? Because you saw significant growth in employees, and revenues, and product as a whole, what was the intentionality in kind of as you rose and the levels of leadership that you were bringing forth that made a big difference at the company?

Michael: So I guess the first thing that I have to say is it's an absolute privilege to get to work besides so many incredible people at Multiview. The leaders, the individual contributors that are quite often leaders as well. In terms of the transformation over the past few years and what we've seen as an organization, and I do share a lot of these views, I SL more towards the bucket that if you're not growing, you should be very concerned. I don't just mean as a company growing revenue, I don't just mean as an individual growing titles, I mean, growing in terms of your abilities growing in terms of what you're doing. And as an organization that's gone from roughly tripled its head count in the past five, six years, revenue is up even more than that in the same time period, you have new teams that are needed as you tackle different challenges, you have different levels of leadership that are needed within an organization. The thing that comes to mind, and you touched on it a little bit ago when you were talking about somebody you knew who just became a manager for the first time or something like that.

Ultimately what we've noticed at Multiview, and I've noticed this for sure even in my own roles at Multiview, is that just because your title is the same doesn't mean that your job is the same. And it's something that I'm very direct with all the executives that report directly to me on, in that where we're going to be in two to three years is we're going to require a different person even though the title might not change. And it ain't about they're not great for the role right now. They might be great for the role right now, but they're going to also have to be great for the role when the company doubles and triples in size again, or their teams do that, or the challenges we're taking on change as well. And it's about this growth mindset. So that's one of the biggest things that we've noticed and I've personally noticed. Is that you can't expect to continue to succeed unless you're constantly changing and growing along with it, even if you never even got that manager title or you never even got that whatever title.

Fahd: I love that. Yeah. It's such a strong philosophy to bring forward. And clearly, Mike, you folks at Multiview invest in your leadership development. Even in the language that you're using, you're talking about we look at our leaders as coaches and we want them to invest in their people. So there's an intentional development of your leaders. And that makes me smile ear to ear because I know it's a big message from us here. So in Unicorn Labs we believe it's one of the single ingredients to high-performing teams is the investment in development of leaders. But I guess I'm going to throw that question to you, it is when you're looking at the ingredients of what makes these high-performing teams, we're talking a lot about kind of the individual leader and their skills, but what about kind of maybe the behaviors or characteristics of a high-performing team? What does a leader have to do in order to create a high-performing team?

Michael: That's a great question. And I do want to comment on something you said before you asked it. So if I forget what you just asked me, just remind me in a play way and make me look cool for your listeners. In regards to our investment in leaders, it's something that we don't do enough of at Multiview. And believe it or not, and I feel like I'm being vulnerable to admit this publicly to you, it's something that we are taking on very proactively right now at Multiview. We think it's such a key ingredient to the success of the company because if our leaders aren't able to be the best coaches to the people at the organization, we got no shot at achieving what we're trying to achieve as a company. So it actually happens to be my number one priority this year. Is to invest in building the leaders. It's my number one priority as a CEO of the company.

Fahd: And why? To all the other CEOs and VPs of talent that are listening to this, why has that as a CEO of quite a sizable company that's doing really well, that's growing, has impact, why is that your number one priority?

Michael: Back when I rejoined Multiview five, six years ago or something like that, we are the size where everyone knew everything. And we now have different layers of leadership that's becoming more formalized. We're introducing more processes and approaches to how we do work and things like that. And the disconnect between people is growing. And as much as it's bittersweet, it's sad to see that distance growing as the organization grows. Obviously there's the benefit. We're creating jobs, we're creating impact in our communities, which is fantastic. But with that distance, you might not know what's going on with someone at the organization. You might not be able to catch it. And if we don't have great leaders at Multiview, and I believe we have great leaders at Multiview, but if we're not constantly investing in making sure our leaders are great at Multiview, how do we know that our employees are becoming the best versions of themselves?

So that's why I think it's incredibly important because the distance between people at the company is so large that their success and their fulfillment is employees at the company. And going back to an earlier question where the future of leadership is people, if we don't have the folks that are coaching, and making sure we have alignment, and making sure people are growing, if they're not great, we have no chance of achieving our goals. So I can answer your question. I think I remember. It was about team dynamics, right?

Fahd: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Michael: What are the ingredients?

Fahd: Let's dive into that. Yeah.

Michael: All right. Let's do it.

Fahd: What's the ingredients to make the high-performing team?

Michael: And I actually think the first time I heard the words was listening to you. I'll use the word culture first, then I'll use the words that you said. It's ultimately about fostering the right culture. And high-performing teams in my mind have a high degree ... And this is the word that you first introduced me to. Of psychological safety. And ultimately you want to be surrounded by people that are able to challenge ideas. It's not challenging people, challenge ideas so that you can constantly strive to be better and enable the best idea to win. I think back to listening to a talk, I think it was last year put on by BDC Capital. They had the CEO of Farm Boy, Jeff York, speaking. And that's where my family does a lot of her grocery shopping sometimes.

Fahd: Shout out to Farm Boy.

Michael: Yeah. Exactly. And he said in a response to a question, I don't remember what the question was, "If your entire team ..." Something along the lines, "If your entire team agrees with everything you say, fire half your team." And he didn't mean just terminate people for no reason or anything like that and that's not how I interpret it. But what he was talking about was you don't want to surround yourself with a bunch of yes people that just agree with you. And I'm going to talk a little bit about diversity here because that's an important aspect of it, but you can't just have diversity without fostering environment where people feel comfortable to challenge ideas.

I think of a personal example here. I don't know. Within the last year, we had a meeting of our executive team. I threw out some idea about some topic. I don't even remember what it was. And one of the executives of the company really challenged me and challenged me on what I said and came at me. I'm deliberately saying me here, but they didn't come at me. I felt like they came at me, but they were coming at the idea of what I was saying and they were right and I was defensive. I was on my heels. My ego was a little damaged because it just was, but the person was right. She was right. And I think ultimately we ended that conversation being like, "Yeah. You're right. We're going to go in whatever direction you said or yes to whatever you said. My idea wasn't the best idea to win." And after that meeting, I was reflecting on how I acted because it wasn't something I was proud of. I did feel like I was too defensive and it's something that I'm actively trying to improve on.

I think it's an important thing to foster. And how do you foster a culture where you have psychological safety? Because it's not just about people within your organization challenging each other or ... Sorry, challenging the ideas, but it's also they need to be willing to challenge their boss. And how do you create a culture where people feel comfortable bringing forward ideas that might not agree with what some person in some position or whatever says? So I ended up emailing the entire executive team and saying, "Thank you so much, X, Y, Z." And I don't want to say her name here. "For challenging me. I really appreciate you bringing forward your ideas forward and being comfortable enough to come to me and tell me you don't think this was the right way to do it and that we should go this way." And I sent her a $100 gift card to some store.

Fahd: Wow.

Michael: It's not enough to foster the culture, but there are ways to encourage people to be comfortable to challenge ideas. And if you happen to be building a team, I strongly encourage our leaders at Multiview and I'm working on this myself to make sure you're not just building a team of bobble heads, of people that just say yes to you. You want to bring in diverse ideas and a culture where people feel like they can challenge those.

Fahd: Yeah. I love that, Mike. What I find so fascinating with what you're sharing and hopefully our listeners get this to is even you, as a CEO of a company who's been in a leadership positions for multiple of years, still has a natural visceral reaction to someone saying your idea is bad. [inaudible] your idea and challenges it. It almost feels personal. And as leaders, we have to fight that visceral reaction and calm ourselves. That's the process of emotional intelligence that we talk about. That's the process of building that skill of, "Okay. I feel triggered right now. The feedback, I don't like it, but how do I react despite my reaction?"

The other thing I really love that you did [inaudible] it language is you took a behavior that happened in a meeting that you want to see more of and you stuck a big flag and said, "Hey, I want everyone to look at it. This here that I didn't react well, but this is a good behavior. I'm going to reward it, I'm going to highlight it. It's going to be an artifact and it's going to be a story we tell." Because stories shape our cultures and stories shape our expected behaviors. I really like that. I really love that you took the chance not to just reflect on your own behavior, but highlight it to everyone else that, "Hey, we need more of this. This right here, this is what that we need." I love that. I think that's something that we can all learn to do.

I think what you did in that moment is you also, as a leader, was willing to swallow a lot of pride, put the ego aside. And you've shared a few things with us in the past around ego and around how leaders we need to learn to put that ego aside. You juxtaposition ego and joy in terms of things that we search for as leaders. Walk me through that since I think this is a kind of a really perfect transition for it because you just had an example of putting ego aside to choose a cultural artifact and highlight it in a team. But at times leaders are also fighting their ego in many other ways.

Michael: There's a lot to be said about the enemy that is ego. I heard this saying and I really wish I could attribute it to the right person. But there's this saying out there that somebody wise must have said that I agree with, which is it'd be incredible how much you could accomplish if you didn't care who got credit for it. And there's a lot of things that go into leadership that relate to ego. I think a lot of people go into leadership roles to fuel their ego. Maybe not a lot, but enough do wrongfully. And they don't do it because they love the work.

I've noticed over the years in being a part of different team building meetings at Multiview, or strategy, or learning sessions at Multiview that when the facilitator of the meeting starts it with a line like, "We really appreciate everybody coming here. We encourage you to be vulnerable. We encourage you to put your learning hat on. We encourage you to bring your ideas forward. We also encourage you to listen. We encourage you to respect the ideas of someone else." And instead of asking or waiting to speak to say, "I think they're wrong because of this." We encourage you to change your mindset to say why with all of their experience? Because they're in the room too. Do they think that's right? And try to get to why they think they're right versus why you think they're wrong.

There's a huge difference in the collaboration that happens at meetings. When you start a meeting with something like that, where you say, "Leave the ego at the door. We're all here to grow. We're all here to learn. We all bring experiences to the table. We need to respect each other." And it's a simple thing. Why do you have to say that at the start of every meeting? When I attend meetings where that's not said and it's kind of just, "Let's just jump into it." I do notice that the walls get put up. Yeah. And it's a small thing about culture of meetings or culture of a company just to be reminded that we do all have egos. And some people are better at maybe suppressing their ego for their greater good and other people are on different parts of their journey. So when thinking about ego, it's something that one needs to be acknowledged and also actively managed. I circle back to that quote, it'd be incredible how much you can achieve if you don't care who gets credit for it.

Fahd: Yeah. And that is an ingredient of high-performing teams I think kind of tagging it back to the question before. Whether the team can put ego aside to have a collective vision. And not the individual stats, but the team's goals, the team's vision. Right. I love that. Phenomenal. We've gone through quite a few different leadership questions. And I'm loving this conversation, but I want to kind of go back a little bit too and dig more into who is Mike [inaudible]. Who is Mike? Mike, you shared with me that in a previous life, you were part of a rock band. I wanted to just get that in there somehow in this podcast because I think it's what makes us. Beyond our jobs, beyond our leadership titles and our insights and the work that we do, who is MJ? What does MJ do? So you're bit of a ... Not a bit. You're a family man, you've been in a rock band. Tell me a little bit about the rock band experience. Tell me a little bit about what you spend your time doing outside of the work and how important that time is perhaps to your leadership practice.

Michael: Oh, my gosh. Yeah. Great question. Well, that's the purpose of this, right? To talk about the dreams I once lived and playing music with friends. Yeah. It was a highlight and maybe not to touch on it too long, but it was definitely a great experience. And music is something that I feel incredibly passionate about. Whether it's listening to live music or playing instruments myself, it's a passion of mine for sure. And trying to connect those passions outside of work to work itself, in the past couple years I started traveling. And I didn't really travel a lot before. And I've been privileged enough to get to go experience some different cultures and meet different people from different parts of the world. And having that break and that disconnect from work, whether it be as a leader or an individual contributor, I think it's such an important thing. Taking that five minutes, or maybe it's five days, or maybe it's five weeks away or maybe it's that evening hobby that somebody has that allows them to disconnect from work for a bit and shift gears.

I fundamentally believe that doing that on a regular basis will actually make you more successful in every area of your life, whether it be worked with your family, with whatever. Being able to separate. When you disconnect from a problem or an experience and then you come back to that same problem, that disconnect in large parts might allow you to approach it in the way you should have been approaching it from the beginning and to give you a eureka, but you couldn't do it because you were just so in it.

At Multiview, we're big believers in people taking time off. And our policy, we don't have unlimited vacation days. I'm going to throw out a view that most people probably don't agree with here is I don't believe most companies are genuine enough to support a policy of unlimited vacation days and to put their employees first. There's few. I think I know of two that actually do it right.

Fahd: Most people just have it there and don't do it well.

Michael: It's unlimited vacation, but you work 19 hours a day, six days a week. And when you take time off, you're felt guilty about it. That's what I feel like it is in most organizations. And at Multiview, when we look at our vacation policy, we have a policy that actually expires the days at the end of the year and we didn't used to, but now we do. Why do we do that? Is that because we don't want it on our balance sheet or something like that? No. That's not why we do it that way because we want to empower our employees to disconnect. And we need to make it the employee and empower them to have it in their control to, "Hey, if I don't take that extra week, it's just gone. The company is paying me to sit around. I'm going to go take my kids to this thing or I'm going to go to whatever trip or whatever it is." Whereas if it just goes on forever, they might not take that time away, they may not disconnect.

They might have unlimited, but yet they're working for six days straight, 19 hours a day and only take two weeks off versus four or six, which is what we'd rather them take at Multiview. And not everybody needs to take vacation. That's not what I'm saying, but talking about hobbies and passions outside of work and these different aspects of life, being able to disconnect from a problem and come back to it and hopefully allow people to live fulfilled lives in not just one area being work, but also the other areas of their life, we think that they're going to be more successful and happier. And therefore, going back to that opening quote, you take care of your employees, they'll take care of your clients. So playing the long game. We might be giving up a week of productivity, but I bet we gain four on the other end.

Fahd: Definitely. And you keep your people longer. They stay committed, they stay engaged, they continue to enjoy their jobs because they enjoy their life. I think there's an overall improvement. I love that kind of coming back to that radical commitment to people. So you've got a lot of the strong opinions which I love of the different pieces. And I say strong opinions and insights come through a lot of battle scars, a lot of mistakes, a lot of challenges and triumphs. Maybe share with us some big leadership mistakes, some [inaudible] that you kind of ... decisions you made, that you were like, "Ah, that wasn't a great one." Leadership mistakes that you've come across in you're across in your own journey. There's a few big ones that really shaped who you are today.

Michael: Wow. All right. When I think to mistakes I've made it's normally ... I keep saying people. It's around not being honest in coaching. I think there's a number of people that I've failed because I was afraid to tell them the truth.

Fahd: Afraid to give them good feedback.

Michael: The honest feedback. The, "You don't do this well." Or, "We need to improve this." Or whatever that is. Or maybe, "You don't seem happy. Are you still fulfilled working here?" and in my early part of being a people manager, a leader, a coach, I was nervous to say that because I didn't want to lose them. I didn't know what I would do without them. So it was kind of just like, how long can I keep this going for? And I feel like by not giving candid feedback, there are people that I feel like I failed as their leader. And when I think to my biggest mistakes, it's not being honest and coaching people and putting my fear ahead of what I believe to be the future of leadership, which is radical commitment to people. And the idea that people only want to be given high fives I also think is a failure of mine then when I thought that way. And I still struggle with this because I ... Does everybody embrace conflict? Some people do. I'd rather just have a good time and laugh than just everybody always be right. If you're going to do what's best for somebody, you need to actually coach them. And what good coach gives you a high five when you scored on the wrong net?

Fahd: Yeah. I guess how have you learned to lean into that? You're right. We have different personality types and some folks are happily engaged and a bit more challenging and conflict. And you see them out there, they're happy to debate and discuss and some of us not so much. We would rather just be one big happy family and avoid some of that. And our personality types and home environments really determine a lot of that from a younger age and we kind of carry that with us. How have you learned to lean into some of that? Because clearly that was a big mistake or a struggle. You make enough of those mistakes and it kind of becomes obvious for you that I've got to do something about it. What were your steps in leaning into it?

Michael: One of the things I now do with every of my direct reports and it's something we are encouraging through the entire organization is to actually make dedicated time to provide constructive feedback. So this is something monthly, and occasionally, quarterly, but normally monthly coaching calls with my one-on-ones with the people that report to me, we actually have a part of it that's labeled constructive feedback by directional. And the portion of that part of the meeting is what am I, me, Mike, doing that you think I could consider, or do better at, or things you think I can improve on again to try to create that environment to psychological safety and things like that, but to also really challenge people to bring forward ideas in a way, but at the same time it flips to them saying, "What's one piece of constructive feedback I can to help you grow?" So it's forced. And it is definitely not the only way to do it. I think different people have different personalities. And some people it's just their natural [inaudible] I don't believe I am. So the way I get around that is by actually scheduling time for it and then also having processes in place at the organization that encourages this candid feedback.

Fahd: Yeah. I love that. Leading into it, making sure that there's time for it process and knowing, hey, this is going to happen. In advance it kind of prepares both people to be ready for we're going to give and receive some constructive feedback. So get ready for that. That's awesome. So perhaps one of our last questions for today, what is one interesting piece of advice that you've received as a leader that's stuck with you? What's one piece of advice that you carry over the years?

Michael: That's a really good question. Probably a lot. The first thing that comes to mind is I was flying from Ottawa to Newark airport, going to New York. I don't remember why. And it was a 6:00 or something AM flight. And I get on the flight and I'm sitting there, eyes are hard leaving open, and then I see this person walk on the plane and I kind of recognize them. And I'm like, "No way." And I turned it around and it was.

I don't normally approach people and introduce myself and whatever for somebody that I recognize from TV and things like that, but we got off the plane. I got off first. This person came on after and was a former leader of Canada, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. And I stuck up my hand. This was pre-COVID times where you shook people's hands and things like that in a more confident fashion anyway and told him it was an honor to meet him as a first leader of a country I had ever met.

I asked him, "Hey, you got any advice for a young professional?" Again, it was not even 7:00 at this point I think in the morning. And he stares at me and pauses for a couple seconds and he says, one word, work. That's all he said. And when I think about how I interpreted what he said and I'd love to be like, "What do you mean by that?" I didn't. I was just like, "Work. Okay." Is it just work 12 hours a day for the rest of your life? I don't think that's what he meant. The way I interpret that is work on the things that you want and that it doesn't just come to you. And whether that be work on your life with your family, or work on your relationship with your friends, or work on your career, or your hobby, or some things you want to do to grow yourself. That's just something that stands to mind as a piece of advice that I do think is very valuable because it doesn't just happen. You do have to work.

Fahd: Yeah. No. And Mike as an observer from a little ways, I think that's definitely something you embrace. You work on yourself, you work on your leadership ability, you work on your team's leadership ability, you talk about embracing leadership development for your managers and your leaders. We talk a lot about growth mindset in our work and how individuals need to have growth mindsets, but I think what you're showing here also is that organizations need to have growth mindsets. It's not enough that just their people do. That the organization itself, all its people, all its part need to be investing in that. And that's the work. The work on our skills, the work on our people and that commitment, that radical commitment to our people.

Mike, thank you so much for joining us today, for sharing your insights, for giving us a little glimpse into the journey that you've had and all the ideas and insights that come about it and really looking into what does the future of leadership look like? And I think you've nailed it on the head. It's an investment in our people, it is a commitment to our people. And ultimately that will grow, innovate, and create the impact that you're looking for. Mike, thank you so much for being with us. I really appreciate it.

Michael: It was a privilege. Thanks for having me.

Fahd: Thank you, Michael Johnson, for joining us and sharing some phenomenal insights for us all to take away and thank you each and every one of you that are listening all the way through. Honestly, it's an honor. It's a pleasure. It is phenomenal that we get to share these insights with you and that we get to have this conversation. And I really do want it to be a conversation. So if you got any questions, if you got any topics, if you want me to ask certain questions to future guests, if you want future guests on this podcast, if you have topics you want to cover, send us an email. Find me at fahd@unicornlabs.ca or any of our social media and let's get you as part of this conversation. That's it for today. Thank you for being part of the Unicorn Leadership Podcast.

You can find show notes and transcripts at unicornlabs.ca/podcast. And if you liked the content, be sure to rate it, review it, subscribe so you can get notified when we post the next episode. And please, please, please tell your friends, share on social media, tell your fellow managers about it and what you've learned from it. It would be awesome if we can spread the word. And I'll leave you with this last question to think about. Within the context of team working within the contest of your leadership practice, what is it that you ignore because it could possibly be too painful to accept? What is it that you potentially ignore because it's possibly too painful for you to accept? Thank you so much, and see you.

Fahd Alhattab

Fahd is a consultant, coach, leadership speaker, and millennial workplace expert who teaches new managers how to lead multi-generational teams. He specializes in transformative leadership and team dynamics training for high-growth startups.

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