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The New Mandate: Champion Leaders with Michael Brenner

Andy Cook on January 17, 2018 · 34 minute read
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Michael Brenner has held a whopping 53 jobs in his life.

He kicked off his career as a paperboy, moved on to mowing lawns then got a gig making pizzas. After college, he started out delivering cars for a rental company, tried his hand at sales, and eventually landed in marketing. From there, he worked his way into more prestigious roles, ultimately moving up the chain of command to Vice President of Marketing at SAP and most recently Head of Strategy at NewsCred.

michael brennerMichael’s not all that different from most modern day workers. The average millennial changes jobs 4 times before the age of 32, double that of the generation before them.

53 different jobs is admittedly bit extreme, and Michael agrees. After moving around so many times, he started to do some reflection as to why:

“At some point, I looked back and was just like, ‘I remember being happy in my job or being happy with my boss, but never loving my job, even though I loved what I was doing. And I was just trying to figure that out. Why did that happen? Why did I love what I was doing but not want to stay?”

Eventually he figured it all out. His conclusion?

The problem is the org chart. The org chart exists to show us who’s above us, who’s below us, and who’s beside us … Bureaucracies exist in a command-and-control structure and serve a very efficient model of decision making. They do not fit the world that we live in today.”

Modern organizations require extreme adaptability. The world is moving faster than ever. It’s nearly impossible for a few people sitting at the top of the organizational pyramid to glean all the information flowing through the network. Even if they could take it all in, it’s even more impossible craft a perfect plan in a random and unpredictable environment. By the time a plan is created, it’s outdated. Or it was just wrong to begin with. Command-and-control management might have been efficient in the 20th century when the world moved slower, but it’s not going to succeed in the ubiquitously connected 21st century.

The only way to win now is to unleash your talent. Stifle it through bureaucracy and politics, and you’ll lose.

But blowing up the org chart isn’t realistic for most organizations. Without some semblance of structure, there’s no way for people to work together or to hold teams accountable for making progress. Most companies would agree they want to transform and really start to setup a culture where leaders exist that are really driving success, but how do you actually do that?

Michael’s advice is that you need to “create a safe environment for the smart people that your company is trying to attract and retain and let them do what they want to do. Let them do what they love. Let them solve the problems that they’re seeing every day. They’re the experts. Help encourage and activate them.”

In short, you need to cultivate Champion Leaders.

What is a Champion Leader?

A champion leader empowers others in their organization to do their very best work to solve customer’s problems. They encourage ideas in employees instead of delegating and directing tasks. They see their role as fulfilling on the mission of the company by attracting and retaining highly developed and engaged employees.

And what happens when you cultivate Champion Leaders? Your employees will be happier because they’re empowered to solve problems. And the organization will achieve better results because employees are doing their best work, retaining longer and are just outright happier to solve customer’s problems. It’s a win-win for everyone.

“Leadership is not telling your team what to do. It’s listening to your team on what they think they should do.“

In this episode of Org Uncharted Michael shares what it takes to create Champion Leaders inside your organization that can help your people unleash their potential and build a better organization.

Listen here and don’t forget to subscribe to Org Uncharted on your favorite podcast player.


Transcript

Jay Acunzo 00:00

It’s the one thing that feels unavoidable when your team starts to grow, with more people comes more complexity, so we try to simplify some of that complexity into a neat little drawing of who sits where and who works for and with whom. But there is something fundamentally wrong with that org chart or rather the way in which most people think about the org chart. It may seem pretty trivial to hear explained, but it’s fundamental in how we run our businesses and it can be the factor behind an individual, a team, or a company succeeding or failing. Welcome to the first ever episode of Org Uncharted, the podcast from Tettra, makers of knowledge management and sharing software for modern, fast growing teams. I’m your host Jay Acunzo. On this show, it’s our goal to serve one type of individual, people who empower other people to do great work. Whether you’re in a formal position of empowering others like manager or HR or executive, or your behavior is that of a leader regardless of title, if your career is to empower others in theirs, this is the show for you.

Jay Acunzo 01:15

Today we try to address a couple of simple but pretty ubiquitous problems. What is the underlying issue with the org chart? And how should we think about people organization and interaction in the workplace? To help us understand this, we meet a speaker, author, consultant, and a guy who’s held a crazy number of jobs. You’re not going to believe the number that this guy actually has had, and today he is championing other champions. This is a guy who I like to think of as somebody who’s taken all these ingredients that make our work chaotic and he’s thrown them into a big pot and let it cook down to a nice, rich, simple sauce that we should pour all over our business. Okay, so that metaphor got away from me. Let me just ask you this instead. What does it take to be a champion leader?

Jay Acunzo 02:03

Modern, fast growing teams do one thing better than the rest. They empower each and every person on those teams. This is the show about the people who do that. This is Org Uncharted. On the line today, Michael Brenner former big brand executive startup executive. Now the CEO of a consulting group, marketing Insider Group, best selling author, global keynote speaker, he’s doing okay. So let’s start here. Let’s start with the problem, because I want to address the problem that you spotted or that you experienced that led you to create this idea of the champion leader. So what is happening within organizations typically? Or what did you experience that led you down that path?

Michael Brenner 02:50

The pain came from personal experience and at some point I just looked back and I was just like, I remember being happy in my job or being happy with my boss, but never loving my job, even though I loved what I was doing. And I was just trying to figure that out, why did that happen? Like why did I love what I was doing but not want to stay? So that early insight was something that was sort of like, okay, now I get what the problem is. But then I went myself over the course of 23 different roles at 10 different companies or whatever it was and, and I just like, why does this situation exists? Why am I an eager, hopefully intelligent, willing participant to help a company solve its problems and meet customer needs, and yet I was absolutely miserable. And I think I just decided I had committed myself to try to figure this out.

Jay Acunzo 03:44

It’s almost like you’d pinpointed the symptoms but hadn’t reached the illness. Like the things you were personally feeling were, important to realize, sure, but fairly obvious and easy to pick up on whether you were you, or maybe the person leading you. What did it take to reach the illness? How’d you diagnose this problem over time? Because it is kind of a weird one.

Michael Brenner 04:05

Yeah. Well the problem is the org chart and it’s a tough thing. I’m cautious to say that, depending on who I’m talking to. If I’m talking to CEOs or senior leaders in any function inside a business or even HR folks, I might not say it that way. It’s not the actual structural setup of the org chart that’s the problem, it’s the way we think about bureaucracy. The org chart exists to show us who’s above us, and who’s below us, and who’s beside us and it actually serves as a relatively efficient model for decision making, right? If you’re in the military and you have to take a heel, from the evil folks that you’re at war with, you need someone in command and someone who’s going to be able to delegate authority very, very efficiently. Bureaucracies exist in that command and control structure and serve a very efficient model of decision making. They do not fit the world that we live in today, they just don’t. And this is true for a 50 person, a five person or a 50,000 person company, that people don’t want to be in any role that isn’t the top of that work structure.

Michael Brenner 05:13

And so, one simple way I can answer your question, the problem is the org chart, but a softer way to say it is, the problem is the way we think about organizational structures, the way we think about the org chart and the way that bureaucracy rears its ugly head inside organizations of every single size.

Jay Acunzo 05:31

Okay. So you mentioned something there that I think is really powerful, which is, that way of thinking about the org chart, about people, organization and about leadership does not fit the modern world that we live in. Right? We’re talking about companies that sell products and services today, things have changed, that model doesn’t work. Why? Like what has changed? Can you give us any examples?

Michael Brenner 05:53

So back in 1994, I was a year out of school, and you’re younger than me Jay. And I know a lot of times when I talk to younger folks, they roll their eyes when I bring up 1990 anything. But-

Jay Acunzo 06:04

Easy grandpa.

Michael Brenner 06:04

Exactly, exactly. But anyway, it’s like out of school, I didn’t know a thing about anything and one of the things I did was I read Fast Company, I read Business Week, every single week and I’ll never forget there was this article in Business Week or in Fast Company called … The title of the magazine was ‘Brand New’ and it was about a book and the facts behind it were important. The gist of it was, that we’re entering an age, and this was again 1994, the internet was really new, it was barely commercialized. And the concept of we no longer associate ourselves, like I’m not Michael Brenner who works for Marketing Insider Group, I’m Michael Brenner, I’m the CEO of my own destiny. And that concept, that sort of self actualization was really a shift as a Gen X kind of demographic, it was really a shift from the previous generation that was happy to say, “Hey, my name is Joe and I work at IBM, and I’m proud to be a 30 year IBM employee.”

Michael Brenner 07:04

Those days just, they’re over and it’s not necessarily that we don’t love companies anymore, we all understand the need to be part of an organization that’s doing things that we want to associate ourselves with, but it’s about how we feel in our gut, we don’t associate, we don’t define ourselves as being connected to an organization. We define ourselves as the leader of our own destiny and we choose the companies that we want to be associated with, as customers and as employees. And so that’s what I think has changed dramatically from … And for me, the light bulb kind of went off then, because I read that article, I’m like, yes, this is exactly how I feel. And then I spent 23 years in organizations that seemed to have never read that article, learned that concept or certainly didn’t buy into it.

Jay Acunzo 07:52

Yeah. I mean, obviously we’re talking about a small subset of the population here, but I think a lot of us … I’m in my thirties, I’m a millennial, I’ve always worked in tech. I’ve never felt in danger of not being able to get a job. So, you know, personally I’ve never felt the need to cling to one company. The Internet has gotten rid of a lot of gatekeepers, as a writer, as somebody who’s done audio, I would have to have been a journalist or in radio. Now I can just blog and podcast and no one’s telling me don’t do it or you can’t. And you can invent your own career in many ways if you understand the way of the Internet, the modern digital technology that we have at our disposal. My wife is in academia and I joke that she has a paint by numbers career, it’s very laid out for her. Whereas I have a blank canvas career, if I don’t like the canvas I’m painting now, I’ll just start a new one. I don’t know. So regardless of my own personal experience, what I’m curious about is if that is a larger trend, how does that change how leaders work with their teams?

Michael Brenner 08:47

I think the shift that’s taken place from a leadership perspective, and this is a broad sort of description, but it’s true everywhere, is that the job of the leader is no longer to sit in that hierarchical bureaucracy and tell people what to do. Now there are even 30 year olds, and there’s even 20 year olds who think that once they get to Senior Director or VP, that that’s what their job is, because they’ve learned even in their young professional lives, unfortunately from organizations that haven’t grasped this new age that we’re in, that that’s what leadership is. That’s not what leadership is. In fact, leadership I think is often the opposite of that. It’s not telling people what to do, it’s listening from your team what they think you should do. And so, this is a total 180 degree change in direction for what it means to be a leader. And we see, I think companies living on the spectrum from getting it, to completely clueless, when it comes to this change in leadership.

Jay Acunzo 11:24

Okay. Just to give people sense of your perspective, how many total jobs have you had again?

Michael Brenner 11:57

I’ve had 53 jobs now.

Jay Acunzo 11:59

Fifty three? Five, three?

Michael Brenner 12:01

Five, three. It’s a little unfair for me to say that. I include like the paper boy, was my first job actually, paper boy, and 22 of those jobs happened before I graduated college. So it was …

Jay Acunzo 12:11

Take us through some.

Michael Brenner 12:12

Yeah, so I was paper boy, worked at Pizza Hut. I worked the concession stand, sort of checkout guy at my local community pool. I mowed lawns for half my neighborhood, I babysat for my cousins. These are all paying jobs, but it was the variety of stuff that I did.

Jay Acunzo 12:34

How about post-grad? The quote unquote working world.

Michael Brenner 12:37

Yeah. So then post-grad, first job was Enterprise Rent-A-Car, where I picked people up as you would expect, for about six months I think I did that. Then I was a Sales Professional for different sorts of audiences inside one company. Then I moved into marketing, I was a product marketer, an event marketer, a corporate marketer and that’s all in my first … My first company, I think I had one, two, three, four, probably six jobs. I mentioned it was 1993 when I graduated, 1994 when I started at Nielsen where I was two sales roles and three marketing roles basically. And I remember after the end of 12 months, my first 12 months I had seven different managers and it was the Al Dunlap age of Corporate America, they called him the chainsaw Al. It was when layoffs were cool, and so we went through six rounds of layoffs in 1994 and that caused me to have all these different managers, it was crazy. I mean, in two years I think I had 13 different direct managers that I reported to.

Jay Acunzo 13:41

Wow.

Michael Brenner 13:42

And so, that was so fun. I mean it was great for me because what happened was I received battlefield promotions, I looked around no one else was left standing and so they said, “Hey, you’re now Senior Director or whatever.” I’ve just been, excellent. But wait, I’m only promoted because everyone else is no longer here, so it was interesting. But-

Jay Acunzo 14:04

What was the most number of people that ever reported directly to you when you worked in all these traditional org charts?

Michael Brenner 14:10

Gosh, let’s see. I think I had about 13 people reporting to me when I was at SAP.

Jay Acunzo 14:15

13, wow.

Michael Brenner 14:19

And that was probably five too many. Eight felt like a good number and it was awesome for me because I used it as a test bed to test out my philosophy, which was inverting the traditional role of leadership and encouraging my team, number one, I kind of saw myself as a mentor to every one of them. Even the ones that didn’t ask me to be or even maybe want me to be a mentor, I just find myself as that because I wanted that to be like the grabby toss that I approached every situation with. And sometimes that took the form of being like a therapist, and I had employees who had their boyfriend break up with them and they were crying to me over coffee, and I was, I actually really loved being … Not that I was coddling my employees, but being trusted as an advisor even at a personal level with some of my employees, so that was one. And the other was like I said, I didn’t tell people what to do. I told them the direction that our department needed to go, and the goals that we needed to achieve.

Michael Brenner 15:19

I personally tried to underscore the importance of annual performance reviews, I think any company that does those should be blown up. I just don’t see the value in asking people once a year how they did. I tried to get rid of one on ones and I always hated when managers asked me for one on ones. But I did have weekly check ins and the weekly check in wasn’t, hey, you tell me what you did. It was tell me how you’re doing. Tell me how I’m doing and tell me how I can help you achieve what you’re trying to get done. It was, again, I was trying to see each employee on my team as the CEO of their own destiny. And what I found is, it’s amazing, I’m an optimist, but what I found was that, for the large part, almost every single person that worked for me, that I was successfully implementing that approach, did bigger and better things than they had ever done, were happier in their job than they ever were before, maybe since.

Michael Brenner 16:13

And I’ve gotten that feedback from folks that they wished that that leadership took that model to heart, and that the changes inside organizations started to take place that really encouraged that kind of leadership approach.

Jay Acunzo 16:28

So what is the champion leader that you’ve been speaking about on stages, and writing about, and researching, what is the champion leader?

Michael Brenner 16:36

Basically the talk track is like this, right? So digital has changed. Really, it’s disrupted everything, and I’m going back to the beginning of the internet and how digital technologies really changed the world. If you look at Edelman’s Trust Barometer, we don’t listen to politicians anymore, we don’t listen to CEOs anymore, we don’t listen to the media or trust the media anymore. We listen to people like us, we listen to each other. We’re now the most important source of information and authority and trust the news for each other than any other source. So digital has changed the world, there’s no question about that. The impact it’s had on companies is that companies no longer compete on product, and service, and price, they compete on experience. That people pay more to walk into Starbucks and feel that they’re getting the same consistent experience that they got the day before when they walked into Starbucks, and people buy from Amazon because Amazon provides an experience unlike no other retailer where you get your stuff within two days for free, and they tell you what other people bought the stuff, we all know what experiences are all about.

Michael Brenner 17:41

The only way a company can deliver on that is to have happy, and engaged, and really thriving in many ways employees. So, we talked about the org chart, and I tried to answer this question like how do we … How do companies transform and really start to set up cultures where these leaders exist that are really driving happy, engaged employees? And so I came up with this concept called the champion leader. The champion leader basically is one who encourages the ideas of their employees over delegating and directing the tasks of their employees. That’s a champion leader. A champion leader sees their role as fulfilling on the mission of the company, hopefully at some higher purpose and not just sell more products, and attracting and retaining highly developed and engaged employees. And so that’s what a champion leader does.

Michael Brenner 18:38

The way that I advise companies to do that, is to simply ask, ask employees, does your manager encourage your ideas, new ideas from you and your team? And the results we’ve seen with the companies I’ve tested this with has been dramatic and almost immediate. Because, when you ask your employee base to identify how well leaders are encouraging new ideas, leaders get the message immediately. Every manager inside the company’s like, oh shit, I better encourage some new ideas today. But it also tells employees like, hey, your ideas are valuable, and we’re not going to tell you, you have to present new ideas, I’ve seen companies that do that. Like every employee needs to come up with three new ideas, that doesn’t work either. So when you ask employees to rate their managers on how well they encourage new ideas, it tells in a really subtle but powerful way employees, we want you to share what you think is innovative or is going to solve a customer problem or a company problem.

Michael Brenner 19:38

And so, the impact is dramatic and almost like I said, overnight. And it drives that employee engagement, it certainly impacts employee engagement over anything else. That employee engagement drives increases in customer satisfaction and retention and that delivers profit. And that really is the end game.

Jay Acunzo 20:00

As you were talking, I just kept coming back to the same phrase in my head, which was like, don’t obsess over having the answer as a leader, but get really great at knowing how to find the answer. Right? Don’t have the answer, know how to find the answer. And I think we have this image in our heads of these leaders, that they sit atop of the org chart, so to speak, and then they have the answers, and they delegate the solutions on down. You went right to, if you’re a leader, ask questions of your team, ask questions of your team that sees customer pain, and sits in front of customers all day.

Jay Acunzo 20:34

Ask questions of your team about their career aspirations, that is to me, the hallmark of a good leader. It’s not that you’re the expert, you’re an investigator, and what do investigators do? They root out answers by asking questions, and following clues, and pulling on threads of curiosity. Right? But that’s not how we at all envision this idea of a leader today, it’s just like built on an old dying way that we’ve been raised on what leaders should look like.

Michael Brenner 21:01

It’s counter intuitive to what we’ve learned, but it’s completely intuitive to the human situation. And what I mean by that is, I’m a father of four kids. My job is not to tell my kids what to do, part of my job with my partner and wife is to provide a safe environment for our kids to grow up in and thrive, and that’s all leaders need to do. So, there’s this natural business instinct to want to just tell people what to do, and I’m a leader, so you need to listen to me, but our human sort of situation is completely the opposite. It’s no, create a safe environment for the smart people that your company is trying to attract and retain and let them do what they want to do, let them do what they love, let them do what they … Let them solve the problems that they’re seeing every single day, they’re the experts. Help encourage and activate them, their passions, their expertise, and then they’ll become happy, and they will thrive, and then you’re going to be more successful. So, it’s in one sense, counter intuitive, in another sense it’s completely natural.

Jay Acunzo 22:03

What’s one thing that a lot of leaders get wrong? And what’s one thing that they can start to do in order to become a champion leader in their own organization or maybe even create a culture where everybody acts like a champion leader defending and supporting and championing others ideas?

Michael Brenner 22:21

I mean, it’s pretty simple, right? Like what managers typically do poorly is they delegate tasks, they say your job is to screw that nut into that screw. And that’s the last thing, unless you’re building a car. For Ford, and that job is being done by robots anyway, that’s the thing that most managers do very poorly. They manage via task, they manage via action items and lists of project plans because they think that success is checking the box. That’s the biggest mistake that I think managers make, both new and experienced. The one thing that I think, if you’re a young leader, in a fast growing company or you’re 70 years old, and you’re just trying to figure out how to manage today’s workforce, the one thing, it doesn’t matter I think what level in the organization you’re at, define a customer centric, an audience centric, some sort of external mission statement that defines the value that you give.

Michael Brenner 23:20

And I often tell CEOs, and entrepreneurs, and startups, it’s your founding story. No one said, I’m going to develop a widget because widgets are cool. People see a need every, almost every company that exists in the world, I think every company that exists in the world, there was a need that needed to be filled or someone saw an opportunity to fill and they went and filled it. And so talk about the need and then talk about how you solve the need. So no matter where sit in an organization, I think defining, the sort of, this is how we fit in the grand scheme of solving a customer problem.

Jay Acunzo 23:51

This is one of those simple but hard things, right? It’s so breathtakingly simple. Businesses exist for one reason and one reason alone, which is to solve a problem or maybe if you’re just something pure joy like candy or whatever, it’s to fulfill a desire. So solve a problem or fulfill a desire for the customer. And if you do that insanely well, everything else tends to get met. Your employees get happier, your revenues, your profits, your stakeholders, Wall Street, all this stuff we savor, it tends to be short term goals, the things right in front of our face. But the foundation, the founding story of all these companies is, there was a need, we started this company to fulfill that need. And I exclusively worked for tech companies and almost all of them have been startups or the venture capital firm I worked for next few was a young VC about five years old.

Jay Acunzo 24:39

So the biggest company I worked for was Google, and at 20,000 people even they were just hammering home this idea of mission, this idea of the reason they exist was to solve a problem to or for customers. That’s why they exist. And they always asked what’s in it for the customer? Which I know you have kind of a ridiculous acronym for what’s in it for the customer?

Michael Brenner 24:58

It’s WIFTICCCA. It’s not catching on, I think I’m going to retire it.

Jay Acunzo 25:06

Wait, what is it? Wifticcca?

Michael Brenner 25:08

So what’s in it for the … And then there’s three C’s. So, what’s in it for the customer? What’s in it for the colleague? And what’s in it for the company? And basically what I found is that, it’s the organizations that put their customer at the center, with a mission statement, and really put their values on customer centricity, not just pretty words on a wall, but they actually live it. Then those companies, what they find is, if we really want to solve customer problems, they realize they need to engage their employees. And so every employee needs to ask, how can I help my colleague? How can I help encourage my, not the people above me or below me, but everybody in the organization? How can I help them all achieve happiness and satisfaction in their career by helping them solve the problems they’re trying to solve? And all in the same direction of solving a customer sort out an issue.

Michael Brenner 25:56

And the companies that do that, and there’s study after study. I mean I talk about Jim Stingles grow, and I talk about The Service Profit Chain, which is a book that I read back in the 90s. Like there’s study after study shows that companies that focus on employee satisfaction with customer centric mission statements outperform their peers, by not factors of five or factors of 10 or even 100, but by 300, 400, 500%. Whether you look at revenue, customer retention, lifetime value or stock price. I mean, you can take any measure of value and every study shows that highly engaged employee work forces deliver happy, satisfied, and long staying customers that spend more money and the stock prices of the value of those companies, is dramatically higher. And so it makes sense, it’s just the human nature that gets in the way.

Jay Acunzo 26:46

Yeah. Isn’t that funny? Doing the right thing is great, because it is the right thing and it’s also really great for business. Wow. Shocking.

Michael Brenner 26:54

Yeah.

Jay Acunzo 27:42

And how would you feel if you were able to push that world apart? At the end of the day, you look back, you’re like, there’s all these organizations that actually do operate that way. At that point, how do you feel?

Michael Brenner 27:53

Good. I mean, that’s a lame answer. I think my biggest fear, or one of my biggest fears as an individual would be to just be working for working’s sake, and to go in and punch the clock every day. And so on the flip side, if we markedly improved thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people’s lives, where they spend the majority of their day at work, about eight hours a day, which is a third of your day, we made that better. I think that would be amazing.

Jay Acunzo 28:30

You’ll hear more from Andy and others at Tettra as we release more episodes of the show. We’ll talk about all kinds of things, both things that you may have thought of, like why so many people get their ideas blocked, and how companies are becoming modern instead of traditional in the way they operate, and some things that you haven’t thought of. Like Theseus’ Ship. Yeah, that’s a good one. In the meantime, you can learn more about Tettra and their wiki software at tettra.co, that’s Tetra with two t’s.co. Alright, so there’s probably a couple of problems that people are facing. One might be specific to a startup or small business, and one to everybody, certainly a lot of leaders at larger companies. So the first is, if I’m at a startup, I’m nodding vigorously to everything you’re saying, and I’m like, yep, this is going to be the company that actually maintains customer centricity as it scales, that other stuff won’t get in the way, I’m sure of it. Right? And so to do that, the founder or the leader in that situation has to continually evangelize and educate people’s ideas, from the ground up, from the customer’s side of things into the company, they have to be a champion leader.

Jay Acunzo 29:40

In the larger organization, or the organization that’s fast scaling, maybe there’s an executive that’s now sitting in meetings with peer level executives and they have to champion other people’s ideas who aren’t in the room in that room. Either way, I think the problem now is like, you say champion leader, but it’s championing people’s ideas to someone else. So talk about that part, to whom and how?

Michael Brenner 30:04

That’s why I think it’s about thinking of the organization, and the org chart differently. When I talk to folks, I’m like, hey, do this inside your own organization, wherever you have a scope of control, take this idea of champion leadership just within your team. Ideally it happens from the CEO down, but it doesn’t have to happen just at the CEO level. But what you’re talking about, it’s just a basic level of respect. Right? And it’s funny, like I worked in companies where they hire what I called smart assholes. They were really bright people who seem to get ahead because they were mean, because they challenged, because they basically challenged any idea that wasn’t theirs. And that’s what I mean by it. And so, there has to be a mechanism inside a company that flips that, and whether it’s, hey, we respect other people, I think we’re seeing a lot in the news about the lack of respect on a number of levels for people inside organizations in all kinds of ways. And so it starts with just basic human decency and respect.

Michael Brenner 31:07

Ideally it would be, hey, our culture is one of encouraging ideas and innovation from wherever they may come from. And if that value is stamped, that’s the thing written on the wall, then an executive is going to be able to stand up for his colleagues, or teams’ ideas in front of a peer because that’s a value of the company. If it’s not a value of the company, it’s not going to happen. Some people ask me like, hey, I work in a traditional company run by old white guys and what should I do? I’m like, leave. It’s not going to change unless it happens from both the top and the bottom. It can’t be HR driven, HR needs the leadership team to get on board and that’s why I talk to people, I say, hey, start a pilot, pilot this inside your team, identify some pre and post activities where you can demonstrate the massive impacts that you’re having, and then go pitch it to other teams, and then go pitch that to bigger teams, and then go take it to HR, and then go present that to your CEO.

Michael Brenner 32:06

And I usually tell a couple of stories when I speak in public, of folks who’ve done this, and they’ve gone on to … They’ve changed their entire companies, they’ve found satisfaction in their career, they’ve just been dramatically transformational figures, in many different rounds. And so it takes some courage, I will give you that. It takes some courage. But to me, I’ve always thought like, hey, I just couldn’t be a blind lemming, jumping off a cliff because somebody told me to. And there’s lots of folks in organizations that are just happy to collect a paycheck and do what they’re told. If you’re one of those folks, this message is not for you. If you’re someone who wants to actually be happy and engaged in your career, then this is the only way.

Jay Acunzo 32:49

Why are you so fired up about this?

Michael Brenner 32:53

There are, I think leaders that, not at their own fault, have learned the opposite way of how to be an effective leader. I’ve seen and been a part of, without naming names, teams that were not just miserable, but teams, individuals that were depressed, people that showed up to work and felt like they lost their soul on the walk from the parking lot, or the train stop. That’s what fires me up. Is that, there are plenty of folks who found, kind of flow if you will, in their careers and inside even the most mundane organizations, simply because they’re enabled and encouraged and allowed to kind of solve the problems that they see, and in the way that they think they could solve it. And the impact on quality of life for those kinds of people is dramatic.

Michael Brenner 33:46

And so yeah, I’m fired up because I just hate to see people who are lobotomized at work, and the potential for what they can deliver, and the innovation that every one of us can bring, I always say we’re all leaders, we all have the opportunity to dramatically transform our companies, the lives of our customers, even our teams, and our colleagues around the organization. I also say you don’t have to like your team either. You don’t have to actually like the people you work with. But we could all agree that hey, if I encouraged people’s ideas across my team, and they also in turn, then encourage mine, that’s a better environment for everybody, even if you don’t like them. So you don’t have to like people, just value, put value behind this concept of just encouraging what they have to say or what they think is a great way to solve a problem.

Jay Acunzo 34:39

This show is for above all else, people who empower other people, that is their job, that’s their careers, that is their passion. In whatever role, whatever department, people who empower other people, and the champion leader certainly is that. You also talk about as part of the champion leader, this idea, you have this phrase you say, which is culture is the new mandate. What does that mean?

Michael Brenner 35:01

If you sit inside an organization that lets say it’s traditional, some people use that word to mean shitty. Some like to use that word. People say I work at a traditional culture, it means that it stinks to work there. Or they say my boss is difficult to present to, that’s code for my boss is a jerk. And either we know people who are in those situation, or we’ve been that person. And so culture is the new mandate for everybody, because if you sit inside the culture that’s not seeing the value of innovation, it’s not seeing the writing on the wall, that a company that isn’t innovating is dying a slow death or fast, depending on the industry, company that doesn’t put culture at the center is losing their best employees. A company that doesn’t put culture at the center, has miserable employees in general and miserable employees don’t just like not work as well as they could they …

Michael Brenner 35:56

And Gallup research shows this, they actively sabotaged the objectives of the company. So if you don’t focus on culture, if you don’t see it as a mandate, then you’re accepting your ultimate demise as in your career and for your company. And so I don’t see it as anything other than a mandate.

Jay Acunzo 36:15

Big thanks to my guest today, Michael Brenner. You can find his writing about the champion leader, and his Twitter handle on the show notes, or give him a shout right now at Brenner Michael. Org Uncharted is the official podcast of Tettra, and Tettra’s blog is something you might be interested in checking out. It’s called Culture Codes, and on the homepage of this blog, are all kinds of culture decks and employee handbooks for some of the most successful brands today. Companies like Netflix, Google, HubSpot, Spotify, you name it, even NASA appears on Culture Codes. So go to the website culturecodes.co to learn more and subscribe there. culturecodes.co. This show is a production of Unthinkable Media. Once again, I’m Jay Acunzo, thanks so much for listening to the show. I’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks on the next episode of Org Uncharted.

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