SALT LAKE CITY — Scott Jeffrey Miller will be the first person to tell you he’s not a perfect leader. He’s made mistakes. But now he’s sharing them all in a new book with the hope that readers can avoid those same mistakes and become more effective leaders in the process.
Miller is the executive vice president of thought leadership at FranklinCovey, a company that provides consulting and leadership training for organizations and Fortune 500 companies. He has worked in several leadership positions at the company for 23 years. He’s also the host of the FranklinCovey podcast “On Leadership With Scott Miller” and the talk show “Great Life, Great Career.”
His new book, “Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow,” which launched on June 18, combines the leadership principles taught at FranklinCovey with the life lessons Miller has learned throughout his career. Through relatable and funny anecdotes, personal stories and expert advice, Miller provides 30 different challenges to help people become better leaders.
In an interview with the Deseret News, Miller talked about his new book and what he hopes people learn from it.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Deseret News: In the introduction to your book, you talk about how the term “management mess” might seem a little off-putting. Why did you choose the title?
Scott Miller: I think nobody is a complete management mess, but no one is a total leadership success either. I think there is a great power in established leaders, even the most influential leaders, recognizing that they do have some messes — they probably created them — and there may be blind spots. I think through my book, I can help people become vulnerable and more aware of their own messes and then move them to successes. And for that matter, sometimes our successes or talents, when taken too far, can become messes. Your strengths can become your weaknesses when overplayed. So that was really the reason for the name of the book and the concept.
DN: You’ve structured the book into 30 separate challenges in three different sections. What was the process of coming up with these challenges like?
SM: So, the first eight or so challenges are within the “Lead Yourself” section. The next dozen-plus are in “Lead Others,” and the last dozen or so are in “Get Results.” There were originally about 150 different challenges that some FranklinCovey colleagues and I put up on a wall on post-it notes, and over the course of several months we narrowed it down to about 30 that we think pretty consistently everybody faces. And these 30 challenges are, perhaps not surprisingly, based on FranklinCovey's content that we teach our clients.
So, I took each of these challenges and wrote a personal story about how, in most cases, I had created a mess, whether it be around interpersonal relationships, my communication skills, my time management or my ability to manage relationships in or out of the workplace. The book is really full of vulnerable, relatable stories. I really wanted to write a book that was not the kind of typical, high-aspirational leadership book that's written by most academics and professors. I wanted a book that was really easy to read, digestible, relatable, and that can be read in 2½ hours and you could skip around if you wanted to or read it in order.
DN: Out of all of the challenges, which one was the most difficult for you to learn?
SM: All 30.
No, you know, I think there’s a couple.
Challenge three is called “Listen First,” and it really is kind of counterintuitive to a lot of leaders. Because as leaders, we're enculturated, we're educated and trained to be powerful communicators and to always be in persuasion-convincing mode. So we’re always taught to communicate when in fact listening is also a communication skill. Listening is actually a leadership competency. And for most leaders, it is counterintuitive because we spend so much of our time clarifying, speaking and solving problems.
But listening is the way that you really build connections with people. If you are the kind of leader that wants to understand the nature of your employee’s engagement — their fears, their concerns, their passions — you do that through listening. It requires a tremendous amount of discipline, selflessness and commitment to put your agenda and your timeline aside and deliberately get on the other person's agenda and their timeline. By not just listening to what they're saying, but by listening to what their feeling, and really caring about what they care about. It’s really counterintuitive. That’s probably the most difficult one for me.
DN: In the book, you’re really upfront about mistakes you have made in your career. Was it hard to write about them all and were you nervous to share them so publicly?
SM: That’s a fair question. You know, I really wasn’t. I don’t fear people, to be honest. I fear snakes, sharks and alligators. I don’t fear what people think about me. I want to be respected, but I don't really need to be liked. I think that’s something I've kind of grown into as I become older, wiser and more mature.
I also felt like it would make the book more relatable. Like I said before, there’s too many books that are written about mission, and vision, and values, and that’s very important. Or systems, and structures and strategy. Those are also very important. But I wanted to write a book that was super relatable and was for people like me that, in their careers, have taken one step forward and, sometimes, two steps back because they’re struggling with being a leader. Leadership is not for everyone. Not every star performer should take a promotion and become a leader. So I felt like it was better for me to share my messes in the hopes to give voice to everybody out there who has a mess — and everybody does — and give everyone permission, quite frankly, to own their mess. Recognize the fact that you have some messes. Everybody else knows you do, so why not just own them, work on solving them and turn them into successes? You can’t become a leadership success if you don’t recognize your messes.
DN: You wrote, “leadership isn’t always rewarding. It can feel like a bottomless pit of problem solving and adult-sitting.” What makes leadership so hard and what makes it worth it to you?
SM: Good question. I think too many people are lured into leadership — they’re not led. I say that because so many people who are high-producing individual performers — the top salesperson, the most effective project manager, the best collector — don't have a career path in front of them unless they become a leader of people. It is almost impossible for many people to earn more money, get a promotion or raise their title unless they become a leader of people.
So they're lured into the leadership role by someone that really hasn't told them how difficult it is. You’re going to have high-courage conversations, you’re not going to be popular, you’re going to be hated by some and it’s fairly lonely. Leadership is a long-term investment. It’s rarely rewarding in the short term. So it’s not for everyone. It really is for a unique kind of person who can make the shift in their mindset that success is no longer about what they do — success is about what others do. They are now being recognized and responsible for success with and through other people, so it takes a whole different level of coaching and mentoring, collaboration and communication, which a lot of people don't have and don't want to have as a skill set.
So leadership is a long-term plan. It’s not day trading where you get an immediate reward. Leadership is like buying a home for 30 years and seeing it appreciate over decades, meaning often your reward comes 5-10 or even 15-20 years later.
DN: You end the book with a note on the importance of both character and competence. Can you talk about what both of those terms mean to you in terms of leadership?
SM: It was the co-founder of our firm, Dr. Stephen R. Covey, a man of just impeccable character and uncompromised competence, that popularized this idea that influential leaders are both high on character and high on competence, meaning they are trustworthy, they are aligned in their values and they're more focused on doing what's right than being right. And they balance their high character with getting results by being competent in their responsibilities, by being relevant and by making sure their skill set is constantly being nurtured. They focus on getting results, because you can have a really nice, trusted leader that doesn't get results, and you can have a result-oriented leader that isn’t trustworthy.Comment on this story
I put this last chapter in because, although it wasn’t one of the 30 challenges, I wanted to separate it and say that I haven’t forgotten about the value of character. Character is your ticket to the game. If you don't have high character, none of these challenges even matter, because you won't be trusted and you won’t be respected. So I separated it intentionally not as an afterthought but just to say that character is so important that it’s more than a challenge — it’s, in fact, your ticket to the game. You can’t get in to play if you don’t have a ticket.