What a Leader Says, Happens

Leadership Never Stops, It Only Gets Better

When a business owner or CEO approaches me for help, it is often because they are dealing with a complicated “technical” issue they can’t find an easy solution to. It could be a cash flow problem, stagnant growth, poor productivity, a cap table that needs revising…any number of problems.

These sorts of concerns are usually complicated and indeed require some external assistance from an experienced advisor. And for the first seven years of my post-MBA professional life that’s what I did. I helped senior executives make decisions by developing detailed financial models, conducting extensive research and in-depth interviews, staying aware of industry trends, and being highly analytical and thoughtful.

Mr. John with his dog

But over the last six years as a senior executive coach, I often discover many of these issues are not technical at all. They usually can be traced back to a lack of developed “softer” skills like people management or making decisions.

It wasn’t until I was hired as a Post-Merger Integration (PMI) expert by Accenture in their organizational strategy group that I discovered that it was leadership – and not necessarily the ability to solve complex issues – that was the true source of success in business. Unlike the turgid textbooks from my MBA program, books about leadership addressed such visceral and compelling topics like courage, commitment, stepping out of one’s comfort zone, etc.

This both energized and pushed me to do something entrepreneurial. I wanted to prove I was more than just a good soldier. I decided to leave Accenture and return to the consulting firm I had worked for so successfully in Germany to establish a presence for them in the USA.

Mr. John with his dog

It was like being thrown head-first into a large wave of a very cold ocean. Nothing seemed to work – clients were few and far between, the investment costs were much higher than I previously thought. Getting the right team together wasn’t hard but when they ran into problems, I felt I had run out of ideas and options.

I was staring into a void, scared to death of the moment when my boss found out how poorly I was performing yet not knowing what to do to prevent it.

Eventually, that day arrived and I went back to being a hired hand – and strangely enough, a much better paid one – and kept climbing a ladder I sort of knew the rules to. In the middle of the Great Recession of 2008, I was asked to be the CEO and President of The Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF). My mandate was to restore its standing within the consulting industry and its precarious financial situation.

The minute I met with the Chairman of the organization’s Board, I understood what had to happen and how I was going to do it. She and I shared the same vision and off we went.

Mr. John with his dog

Within two years we had turned the situation around 180 degrees and after five years I moved on, not entirely sure of my next steps. Going back into consulting wasn’t an option but I liked the act of gaining the trust of business leaders and making them more successful. I knew I had to try the entrepreneurial thing one last time.

It took me a year or two but as soon as I had given a name to what I wanted to do – eg. coaching CEOs and business owners – an organization named Vistage contacted me about becoming what they call a Chair. Using the Vistage platform, I would recruit, coach and facilitate meetings for groups of CEOs and business owners. It was like a gift from heaven.

My initial success surprised me, since at heart I wasn’t entirely sure what I was doing. If nothing else, I had learned to let go of my brain and let my consulting and coaching muscles take over. That was fine until COVID hit, my group and my confidence crumbled.

Few of my usual approaches and strengths seemed to be working for me. In fact, most of the time they were working against me. My carefully polished exterior suddenly went from a suit of armor to a cage, my strategic, rational and logical thinking became a need to be right which more often than not turned people off, my ability to work independently turned into an inability to reach out and ask for help.

Thanks to the guidance of an external coach and another fellow Vistage Chair, I learned two very important lessons:

Mr. John with his dog
  1. While my clients might think it’s all about gaining access to my knowledge and expertise, it isn’t about me at all.
  2. Leadership is not about making tons of money, being seen as professional or having status and gravitas. Those are merely by-products of great leadership which is starts with EMPATHY.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy – after all, my clients run businesses, not charities. Rather, it is the ability to understand what other people are feeling or going through that gives CEOs and business owners access to the worlds of innovation, motivation, inspiration and the facility to better navigate tricky waters. That’s true WISDOM.

Mr. John with his dog

As I have changed so has the experience and understanding of my journey changed. There are still technical business issues my clients need to work on but now I can guide them with greater certainty and clarity to a place better and more fulfilling than they ever thought possible.

John’s CV

Experience

  • President & CEO, The Association of Management Consulting Firms (AMCF)
  • Chief Strategist, CEO Strategy Institute, Sony Corp
  • Head of International Strategy, Discovery Communications
  • Partner, Roland Berger Strategy Consultants
  • Project Manager, Accenture

Community Activities

  • Provided pro-bono strategy consulting to the leadership of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM)
  • Member of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD)
  • Worked with Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, and his team to develop and roll out a borough-wide digital technology festival to build a community around new developments in the sector and showcase Brooklyn as a major hub for technology firms

Education

  • Executive Education, Harvard Business School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • MBA, Finance, New York University Stern Graduate School of Business, New York, NY
  • BA, Liberal Arts, Harvard College, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Languages

  • English: Native speaker
  • German: Full professional proficiency
  • French: Limited working proficiency
  • Italian: Limited working proficiency

More About Disruptive Leadership

The Great Disruption of 2020

Pushing the Reset Button on Business

How the Best CEOs Disruption to Win

Interview at the Ceo Club of Baltimore

The Four Types of Disruption

Speech at Barnes & Noble, New York City