Labcast: Hacking Leadership Gaps with Mike Myatt

In this week’s Labcast, leadership advisor and author Mike Myatt shares powerful tips for hacking leadership gaps and giving your company the vision and drive it needs to move forward.

CEOs, here’s a reality check: Rate your leadership ability on a scale of 1–10, 1 being the absolutely worst leader you’ve encountered and 10 being the best. What did you give yourself? Around an 8? The fact is, chances are your employees, on average, will rate you two or three points lower. Now, imagine getting up in the morning and trying to pump yourself up to work for a 5.

The difference between those two perceptions is what Mike Myatt, one of America’s top CEO coaches, calls a leadership gap. And without closing it, you are unlikely to provide your team with the motivation and guidance they need to thrive and succeed.

All isn’t lost, yet. Myatt provides exactly the advice you need to live up to your full leadership potential in his upcoming book, Hacking Leadership: The Eleven Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets of Closing them Quickly. Listen in to this week’s Labcast as he shares several insights from the book to help you reassess your management style, focus your vision, and transform your leadership ability from a 5 to a perfect 10.

This Week’s Guest

Mike Myatt“When I look at these gaps, what I try to get leaders to understand is that they first and foremost have to really have a very clear, well-articulated, crisp vision. Then they have to align the strategy and the operations around that vision.”

Mike Myatt, author of Hacking Leadership

Key Takeaways

  • Great leaders create relationships with strong independencies [1:47]
  • Don’t be a bottleneck leader — build an amazing team you can trust, and then delegate [3:16]
  • Build your agenda focused around something other than a pure profit motive [6:35]
  • If you focus on your team, culture falls into place [8:44]
  • To get rid of leadership gaps, start with a well-articulated vision [12:30]
  • If leaders want to create trust they have to hold themselves accountable [14:14]
  • Realize people don’t always see you the way you see yourself [16:04]
  • Case study: Brian Kibby and McGraw Hill [20:07]


Labcast-126 Mike Myatt on Hacking Leadership

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Hacking LeadershipJonathan: Welcome to Labcast. This is your host, Jonathan Crowe. This week I’m very excited to have a special guest. With us, we have Mike Myatt. Mike is a leadership adviser to Fortune 500 CEOs and boards of directors. He’s widely regarded as America’s top CEO coach. You may know Mike from his extremely popular Forbes column, Leadership Myths: Busting them One by One. He’s also the author of two books, Leadership Matters: The CEO Survival Manual, and his upcoming book, Hacking Leadership: The Eleven Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets of Closing them Quickly, and that book is available this December 16th from Wiley Press.

So listeners can go to Mike’s website,, or of course to Amazon to learn more and pre-order their copy today. So Mike, I’m really excited to have you here. Really excited to talk about the book but first, I wanted to focus on something that came up on your column which I think has the coolest premise. Taking myths that have developed around leadership, which there are a ton of, and busting them one by one. It’s a really cool premise. There’s a ton of myths so you never lack for material. One you touch on recently that I think is relevant to our audience is the myth that a CEO, or really any business leader, has to be the smartest person in the room. That’s their job. Can you talk a little bit about that and why it’s a myth?

Mike: Yeah, it’s an interesting thing. Often times leaders fall into the trap of creating dependent relationships, weak dependencies as opposed to strong independencies. They feel like they have to have all the answers, they have to lead people solely from the position of their knowledge base. So what I try and help people understand is that leadership is much more about surrender than it is control. So as an example, if you want to find out who the smartest guy in the room, it’s usually not the person doing all the talking. It’s usually the person doing very active listening, stepping up at appropriate times with insightful questions. Because the astute leader is trying to help other people learn, develop, and grow, and you can’t do that when you’re in lecture mode. So less lectures, less monologues, more conversations, more dialogues.

Jonathan: I think that’s a really good point and an almost counter-intuitive one for a lot of people. It kind of ties into not just wanting to dictate a conversation but a lot of leaders, especially start-up leaders, they’re used to getting in there and really having their hands dirty and really directly influencing every outcome, every decision. You get to a point though in your company’s growth where that’s no longer productive or even feasible really, and those leaders have to learn how to delegate. Otherwise, these leaders can become even bottlenecks. You hear it time and time again, you have to build an amazing team. That’s one of the most important things you can do. Get these people around you you can trust and then get out of the way.

Mike: Yeah, it’s a great point Jonathan. I think something that’s very obvious is just often overlooked by folks which is, if you can’t scale your leadership you’re going to have a heck of a time scaling your organization. So there’s lots of talk about business models and architecture and engineering and so on and so forth, but what it really comes down to is developing leaders across the enterprise, not just at the top of the house, but to the edges of the enterprise. So as an example you don’t want that bottleneck that you mentioned at the top of the house. You want to drive complex decisioning as far down and as far wide as humanly possible. When you look at really successful organizations, they’re not dependent on the Chief Executive to make every key decision. In fact, the less dependent they are on that Chief Executive for decisioning, complex matters, matters of high importance, the more healthy the organization really is.

Jonathan: Right, and I imagine for a lot of companies getting to that point where you’re breaking down a hierarchy that’s been established, that’s a big challenge. But what about companies that are just beginning to grow their organization? Do you have any tips that you can suggest for how they can develop that culture of leadership early on?

Mike: Yeah, it’s all about starting at the right place. As an example, when you’re a young organization you have the benefit of essentially starting with a blank palette, right? So you can paint that canvas any way that you choose to paint it. So where you focus your time and where you focus your attention… if you make the investments in the wrong spot there’s nobody really to blame other than yourself. There are some things that I think people often miss and it’s rather simple. They get their order of operation wrong. They focus on the wrong things at the wrong times for the wrong reasons rather than the right things at the right times for the right reasons. So as an example, entrepreneurs in particular, CEOs of early stage companies, they are so focused on, as an example, exit. Or how do I monetize this thing, how do I ring the bell, how do I get out of this thing? You have to think about that, you have to be working toward that.

But if you don’t start with an agenda that’s something different than pure profit motive, if there isn’t a higher purpose that you’re aligning your talent to, your strategy to, your operations to, you’re going to have a hard time getting to that exit. I like to see leaders start with values and let the values drive the vision, let the vision drive the mission, let the mission determine the strategy, let the strategy dictate the tactics. There’s a nice, natural rhythm to business that if you don’t try and match the accelerator so hard so early, it comes very intuitively. But when you start getting very tactical and you start moving very quickly early on, you miss some of the key things that you have to line people around to be successful. You watch a lot of early-stage companies come out of the chutes fast and then they stall and they have to go back and regroup and re-engineer and re-assess and re-evaluate, and that’s simply because they didn’t do the right things in the beginning. So if they’re lucky enough to have the resources to work their way through some missteps that were made initially, that’s great. But a lot of people don’t have that luxury. They miss those steps initially and it ends up killing the organization.

Jonathan: Right, you bring up a very good point. Better start a little bit slower, really make sure you’re building a solid foundation first. Hearing you talk about some of those qualities that you see in good organizations that have been able to develop a strong culture and vision early on, are there any specific examples company-wise that you point to?

Mike: I’ll give you a great example, and it’s overused, but it’s overused for a reason. When you look at successful start-up organizations, the ones that really get it right, they’re focused on their team, they’re focused on their people, they’re focused on their talent, they’re focused on building leaders, culture matters to them. If you get the people equation right, everything else is going to fall into place. You can have the best product in the world, the best service in the world, you can have a really great, unique, competitive value proposition, but if you don’t have the right people leading the charge and the right people fulfilling on various requirements across the enterprise, all those great products, services, and advantages are just going to disappear far quicker than you can ever realize.

So the examples that come to mind for me are, look what Tony Hseih did at Zappos. He built a real organization doing really great business that totally thrills the customer base. They get what they think they’re going to get, they get it on time, it’s a great experience all the way around, it’s a thriving culture. He just built a really great company to work for, so much so that Jeff Bezos looks over and says hey, I’d like to have these guys be a part of Amazon because we have some cultural alignment, we have some philosophical alignment, we can add value to one another. So Tony creates a great company which he in turn folds into another great organization, and it’s a great story, right? People talk about it a lot but they do it for a reason. He did it right.

Jonathan: You’re absolutely right. So that’s one of the positive examples. What about negative examples, not for specific companies but I wanted to switch gears here to talk about the book. One of the things right there in the subtitle, one of the promises the book makes is, there’s some gaps that every business needs to close. Another way you put that in the description is you refer to them as “blind spots.” That’s something I know that specifically our listeners, a lot of them are first time CEOs, they’re in high-management positions at growing companies for the first time. They’re going to have blind spots, absolutely. We all do. What’s one of the examples of the blind spots that you focus on in the book that you think could be relevant, especially to that audience?

Mike: Well, it’s interesting. They’re called blind spots for a reason. You can’t see them. When you look at each leader, they bring their own unique sets of backgrounds, and experiences, and competencies to the table. Each leader is going to have to approach developing self-awareness differently but within each leader’s field of vision, they all have blind spots. There are positional gaps, personal gaps, philosophical gaps, operational gaps, strategy gaps. You could just go on and on and on and on. Those gaps exist because people aren’t’ on the same page. Expectations aren’t aligned. Leaders that don’t set clear expectations really have no right to them. If they’re not understood and operationalized, they’re more akin to a fantasy than an expectation.

When I look at these gaps, what I try and get leaders to understand is that they first and foremost have to really have a very clear, well-articulated, crisp vision. Then they have to align the strategy and the operations around that vision. And then they have to get the talent on board with those things because if there’s a disconnect there much like we talked about earlier, there’s going to be a disconnect everywhere. So the thing that’s important for leaders to really understand is forget about the processes, forget about the procedures, forget about the platforms. None of those things exist without the people.

First and foremost, leaders have to be accountable to their people. I’ve said a lot times, Jonathan, that leaders not accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people. You’re going to get what you deserve. Leaders that complain about their teams… well, who’s really to blame for that? Leaders build the teams they deserve. Leaders deserve the teams that they get. So if you have a talent problem, nah, not really. You’ve got a leadership problem. You can boil virtually everything down to leadership.

You examine any problem anywhere, and you’re going to find poor leadership’s fingerprints are all over the place. When leaders want to point the finger, they need to turn around 180 and point it straight at themselves. Leaders that have the confidence and the maturity to do that, to accept responsibility, as opposed to blameship, those are the leaders that create a trust bond. They create loyalty, they create a following that really wants to do great things for that leader, because they can trust that leader. So that answer was a little bit all-over-the-board, but there are a lot of moving pieces and there are a lot of things that have to come together to make a leader successful.

Jonathan: Absolutely. One other part of the book that the other half of the promise in the subtitle is, here are the secrets on how to close some of your gaps. It’s called leadership hacking, right? I think hacking is a great term for it. It implies a sense of urgency, it implies a way to try to do more with less, and it also hits on something that I really appreciate about the book and also your column. You’re always focused on offering very practical advice, very actionable tips designed to be put to use right away. Are there a couple of hacks from the book that you’d be willing to share with us now?

Mike: Sure. I think the first thing that is worthy of understanding is just defining the leadership gap in your organization. I’ll walk you through an exercise that’s really interesting to do. I do a lot of speaking, so I’ll be up in front of a crowd of let’s say, several hundred to a few thousand leaders. One of the things I get a kick out of doing is asking them to rate their own leadership ability. It’s a risk-free test because nobody’s going to know the answer but them. They don’t have to share it with anybody. I ask leaders to rank themselves on a scale of one to ten, one being the worst leader they’ve ever encountered and ten being the best, and then I ask them to rank themselves. Invariably, most people will rank themselves somewhere between a six and an eight. Ninety-five percent of the audience is going to to say “I am a seven or an eight.”

So when you take that and you say, that’s interesting. That’s good. We hope that you’re in that range. But when we ask that same question which we’ve done tens of thousands of times to the people that work for those leaders, they rank them on average two to three hundred basis points lower than the leader rates themself. So if you as a leader rate yourself as an eight, there’s a very high probability that the people who work for you consider you a five. So when you look at that leadership gap… think about it like this. How hard is it for somebody to get out of bed in the morning and come to work and to be fired up about working for a five? Think about it. That’s why there’s a revolving door, that’s why there’s a talent churn, that’s why you lose people. The first gap that I try to get people to start hacking away at is that leadership gap. Raise their score and have it accurately reflect the impressions upon those whom they lead on a day-to-day basis.

When you align that gap, when you truly do become an eight and your people think you’re an eight, you can move some mountains at that point in time. But when you think you’re a nine-and-a-half and your people think you’re a four, there’s a real big disconnect there and there’s no way to close that without a lot of heavy lifting and a lot of rigor and lot of focused, intentional, purposed development. You hack that leadership gap and you will make great strides in moving your organization forward. So that’s one that I like to focus on. Maybe another one is what I call the “future gap.”  The interesting thing about today’s world is that people tend to view the future as some far-off, distant, ethereal event. The reality is, the future happens in just a fraction of a second and it refreshes itself second after second after second.

So the key to the future is not viewing it as this distant, ethereal goal, but seeing that you can really impact the future in a far more immediate fashion than most people actually carry out on a day-to-day basis. So what I try to get people to do is hack the future by pulling the future forward. Bring the future to you. Figure out how you can accelerate the future. Beat your competition the future. View the future as something that’s in your control today as opposed to some distant point on a spreadsheet that you’re just somehow miraculously going to arrive at at some predestined point in time. If you just view the future differently, you can change the world.

Jonathan: Maybe a good transition for the home stretch here, is there any case study from the book that you talk about?

Mike: Yeah. McGraw-Hill is a client of mine and they’re… I think it’s interesting Wiley published my book and McGraw-Hill didn’t, but that’s another story altogether. But McGraw-Hill is a client of mine and they’re a higher education unit. McGraw-Hill Higher Education is a really interesting case study to look at in terms of leadership. So the President of McGraw-Hill Higher Education is a gentleman by the name of Brian Kibby. Brian is absolutely one of those leaders that’s just a… he’s the classic charismatic leader but he’s also very, very thoughtful, very, very empathetic. He’s a nice balance of traits and qualities that typically aren’t housed within the same individual, so he’s really a phenomenal leader. But when Brian came to McGraw-Hill they were lagging the industry. A storied brand, an institutional organization, a really, really storied company, good history, everything you’d want in an organization except one thing: results. On the higher education side with the price inflation of higher education, with textbook companies becoming antiquated really, really quickly in a moving landscape. Brian is a leader who came to a company lagging the industry.

He was in an industry in transition, and he came to the company and in two years he totally turned that organization from an industry lagger to an industry leader. He did it by valuing people, and talent, and really putting the end-user first. So in McGraw-Hill’s case, the professors that are teaching the classes and the students that are learning in the classes, they became a real focus point. Brian took a traditional textbook company and turned it into a digital learning enterprise. He turned probably 70 percent of the talent in that organization over a two-year period of time. It’s a totally different place today than it was two years ago and it’s because Brian had a vision, and he was a very skilled leader with a vision. Mostly what Brian was skilled at was getting his team to either get on board with a vision or get out of the way and make room for somebody who could come on board and get aligned with the vision.

Now that you’ve got an organization hitting on all eight cylinders on a day-to-day basis and in an industry where most people are negative, they’re up several points. When you look at the delta between McGraw-Hill and their competition in the higher education space, it’s a very, very wide chasm and it’s all due to the really sound, effective leadership. I’ll tell you, it’s a turnaround that most people aren’t’ aware of but it was all driven by leadership because these were just simply hard decisions that needed to be made, a cultural transformation that had to occur, and somebody had to lead that charge. Previously there just was no person willing to do the heavy lifting, to incur the brain damage, to take the personal risk, to make the sacrifices necessary to transform an old business in a new world, and that’s what Brian did.

Jonathan: That’s one great story of leadership. In Mike’s new book, Hacking Leadership: The Eleven Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets of Closing them Quickly, you’ll learn more about that story, and you’ll learn about many more. You can also get to work closing that leadership gap, going from a five to an eight. Mike, thanks so much for taking the time. I really enjoyed the conversation. Is there anywhere else that our listeners can go to to learn more about the book and connect with you?

Mike: Yeah. I’m not hard to find. You can Google Mike Myatt and you’re probably going to read more about me than you’ll ever care to. You can Google me, you can go to our corporate website at That’s the letter “n”, the number “2”, the word “growth”, You can find me on Forbes. I’m on Twitter @MikeMyatt. If you look for me, you’ll find me.

Jonathan: Great. All right. Mike Myatt, Hacking Leadership is available December 16th. Mike, thanks so much again.

Mike: My pleasure, Jonathan. Thank you very much.

Photo by Pedro Riberio simoes

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