About 10 years ago, at the height of running my former company, things were good. We had a large, content, growing customer base, which ranged SMEs right up to global players. I had many people working for me and with me, and I felt like the king of the castle. This thing that I had started on my own from my basement had spawned into a successful company with good profit margins, high turnover, no debt, significant assets, a sound reputation, happy team members, and satisfied clients.
I was not only proud of the company’s KPIs, I was very proud of the feedback I received from the vast majority of people with whom I worked. They enjoyed their work and felt inspired and motivated that they were part of something. We were not just buying something for a dollar and selling it for two, we offered services, which helped our customers, and we were content with the quality we added.
It was then that I was overjoyed to win a large, new client. I had been lucky enough to have my company recommended by an existing, happy client, and after the pitch process was successful, we made all the arrangements and set up the project. The client was based in a region we had not yet broken into, and so I did what I had done many times before: I searched for a project manager whom I would employ on a contractual consultancy basis to head up the new project and see to the client’s needs. I found someone whom I deemed suitable. His credentials and experience seemed excellent. Just what I was looking for. I interviewed him personally, invited him out for a nice meal, and welcomed him into the team.
The project for the client began, and that is when things started to go awry. My project manager (we will call him Ivan) very quickly became elusive. He seemed to be avoiding my calls, did not report in at the intervals that we had discussed and had not asked for any budgetary support or materials, which he would normally need for such a project.
After a considerable amount of sleuthing on my part, it turned out that Ivan had completely ripped me off. He had introduced himself to my new client and presented a letter, which he claimed was from me, in which it stated that the project would be run solely by his company on my corporation’s behalf. Put simply: he deceitfully stole my newest, biggest client. By the time the client had discovered the lies, they had already committed legally to Ivan’s company. They apologized personally and profusely for their (inadvertent) part in the whole debacle, but their hands were now tied.
I finally reached Ivan on the phone, and desperate for an explanation, I grilled him for answers. When I was finished, he laughed sarcastically, said:
Matt, you are an amateur!
and hung up the phone.
Probably, the lowest point in my managerial career, I reflected deeply upon the mistakes I had made. I had not signed a contract with Ivan. I had never signed contracts up to that point, in fact, with any of my consultants or joint venture partners. Indeed, I had not even signed contracts with many of my customers. I had built a company and reputation based on mutual trust, and it had backfired on me painfully. I made myself a promise that day, listening to the beeping at the end of the telephone:
I would stick to my leadership values as a leader now, more than ever.
I had never signed a contract with partners before Ivan, and I never did so after Ivan! I continued to run my company for many years in exactly the same way in which I had before Ivan had defrauded me and called me an amateur. I worked with people, developed relationships, built mutual trust, explained the why, and led strengths-oriented, transformationally, and transparently. In fact, at the next opportunity, I wrote down my leadership values in my own version of a leadership compass (see Chapter 12) and led by them proudly and successfully for another 10 years—indeed, many of those musings have, organically, become the foci of this book.
I had realized that day what business is. Business is not contracts, products, services, processes, spreadsheets, meetings, pitches, supply chains, or KPIs. The only thing that absolutely all professional organizations in the whole world have in common is: people. As of 2018, every corporation on this planet (still) has people at its core, producing and selling its products or providing its services.
During my nearly 20 years founding and running my own company, heading up a faculty at a university, lecturing undergrad and graduate students in team and communication, and delivering leadership workshops to tens of thousands of professionals across a host of industries, and in many countries, my assertion has been confirmed again and again.
Business is people.
This book is not about contracts or whether or not one should sign them. This is not a list of rights or wrongs in business or how a good leader should or should not act. This book is about helping you establish what is important to you in your leadership experience.
This book is about the value of values.
It is not a collection of leadership recommendations, to-dos, or self-help advice. It is not a quick win and might leave you with more new questions than it provides answers.
In the following pages, I hope to give you a kick-start on your life-long journey of self-reflection toward becoming the inspirational leader you would like to and deserve to become. This book is the culmination of my two decades of experience in and musings on this fascinating subject of leadership. It is the critical mass of my professional work, and I hope you each find at least one take-home. I would love that.