Article: John Mattone: Leadership is born on the inside


John Mattone: Leadership is born on the inside

John Mattone, President and CEO, John Mattone-Global Inc, on calibrating potential, the value of an individual’s inner core, leadership coaching, coaching Steve Jobs and more
John Mattone: Leadership is born on the inside

Companies which develop future leaders by providing them opportunities to strengthen their inner core are going to yield more success


Mentoring and coaching are the elements that reflect a good leadership development model and help develop the inner core of people


John Mattone is an executive coach and an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker. He advises the CEO’s and senior leadership teams of Fortune 1000 companies on creating and sustaining a leadership and talent culture that drives superior operating results. He is also the author of eight books on subjects of leadership, developing future leaders, etc.

You have coached CEOs and leadership teams, and consulted for many organizations. What has been your biggest learning in that journey?

I learnt five things in my journey; and none of them was from books, all came from experience. The first thing was being open and vulnerable. It is the most important lesson I have learned in my journey. I wasn’t vulnerable the first time I started my own business. I did okay; but I was resistant to feedback, I didn’t seek out advice and I thought I had all the answers. As a result, I made inferior decisions regarding my business. When I re-launched my business at the age of 54 years, I was more mature, and I made the decision that this time I was going to be very open and vulnerable.

The second thing I learnt was that one needed to be diligent and focus on leveraging one’s strengths. Many years ago I tried to do everything. I would agree to do whatever was asked from me. It did keep me busy but I wasn’t really effective. But now I am really clear about my strengths. I realized that I am good at speaking, coaching and writing. I also do a little bit of consulting but most of my consulting is my coaching work. So I leveraged my strengths and I worked on my weaknesses every single day, something I didn’t do many years ago.

Third thing I have learnt is to not be scared of failure. So, now I execute, I take action, and I am not afraid to take risk and fail. The fourth thing is to understand how you impact others. As I execute, I am very sensitive to the impact I have on others. For example, if I have an opportunity to travel for three weeks and make a lot of money, but maybe it’s at a point in my life that the time is not correct and it affects my family, I will make a decision to not do that. The fifth thing I learnt was to course correct. These are the five simple things that I have learnt in my journey. 

What according to you is essential for companies to strengthen their leadership?

Companies need to recognize that leadership is born on the inside. Yes, it is reflected in outer core competencies like decision-making, decisiveness and team building. But it is all fuelled by strength and vibrancy in the inner core. That’s where they got to focus. Character, values, thinking patterns, and emotional make-up are some of the elements which constitute the inner core, and they are the eventual determinants of leadership capability. In fact, that is what leadership is – strength in both the inner and outer core. Companies spend a lot investing in the outer core but neglect the inner core. In my experience, companies which tend to develop leaders and future leaders by providing them opportunities to strengthen their inner-core more than the outer-core are going to yield more success.

Only one-third of global companies have strategic succession planning system in place – this exemplifies that companies aren’t doing enough work; even the big companies don’t spend enough time on developing inner core of employees. It is very difficult to do that in training programs, and that is where companies are in a dilemma. I think mentoring and coaching are the elements that reflect a good model for leadership development and help develop the inner core of people. The focus should be on some university management development combined with in-company development, mentoring, and really good executive coaching. There are a lot of coaches but only a few are good; you have got to get the right cadre of coaches to build the inner core. Companies can approach organizations who certify coaches like the International Coaches Federation and the Association of Corporate Executive Coaches. 

How do you get started with training and developing the inner core? What are the roadblocks and how can one overcome them?

The only way to expose the inner core of executives and future executives is through a battery of assessments. So, the best way to do it is to put everybody through the assessments, take the information, leverage it and then see what happens. Some of those people might be High Potentials, some of them might be future senior executives, some might go nowhere; but that’s okay because still we have an obligation as a company to make people the best of they can be. We all are not going to become CEOs or executives, but we all need to be the best of what we can be; and I think the best companies have a sense of obligation to make that happen.

Companies measure performance but do not do much to calibrate potential and lack objectivity when identifying future leaders. How can this be rectified?

To begin with, performance and potential are confused a lot. Most high potential people are high performers but not all high performers are high potentials. Companies need to understand that there is a difference between performance and potential. High potentials show some unique traits – critical thinking skills, learning agility, hunger to learn, change agility and relationship agility. These are the elements that drive leadership success. But to identify them right, one has to be objective in the process and actually calibrate potential. To measure potential, one has to measure elements such as character. And to measure character and potential, one has to measure values, measure maturity on the inside, and also one has to put future executives and young executives in simulated situations through assessment centers and see how they perform. A person is high potential if the individual has learning agility, hunger to learn, the ability to handle change and disruption, and critical thinking skills.

Leadership is about maturity, and I measure maturity using the Mattone Leadership Enneagram Inventory (MLEI) assessment. It is important to make sure while identifying future executives that both their inner core and outer core is mature. I work very hard to make sure that the traits are working at a mature level.

The MLEI was the basis of your coaching session with Steve Jobs. How was the experience like?

I had two coaching sessions with Steve Jobs and that was a life changing experience for me. I ran him through the Mattone Leadership Enneagram Inventory (MLEI) assessment and it was the basis on which I measured his maturity levels. 

After the assessment, it was discovered that Steve Jobs’ predominant trait was that of an artist. It was his most active trait. Surprisingly, he wasn’t too mature on the traits of trust and discipline and post that assessment, he worked on that. He told me that if he had discovered this earlier, he would have been a much better leader. And it was entirely an inner core thing. 

What are your suggestions to leaders, especially given the dynamic business environment and the increasing need of future leaders?

Leaders need to do the five things I shared earlier – they must make the decision to be vulnerable, and be open to feedback and have the guts to realize they are good but not good enough. Second, they need to set goals everyday to leverage their gifts and strengths and address those things they need to work on everyday. The disciplined pursuit of less gives us more. Third, they need to execute and move purposefully. Fourth, be vigilant and see how they are impacting the world. Fifth is course-correct. 

These five things – vulnerability, diligence, execution, vigilance, and course correction, are the tenets and foundation of my coaching. I would also like to reiterate my viewpoint on character – if you live your life with courage, diligence, gratitude, honesty, modesty, and loyalty, you are going to do fine and that simplifies life. If you just go forward every day thinking that these are the six things that will be your guide; you will do all right. 

The interview was taken at the SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition, on September 24, 2015

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Topics: Leadership, Leadership Development, Learning & Development

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