READ ON TO DISCOVER:
- Why we can’t effectively “lead from empty”
- The leadership lessons we can learn from parenting
- How to balance the different “accounts” in our lives for the better
Michael Hyatt is the Founder and CEO of Michael Hyatt & Company, an online leadership development company dedicated to helping high achievers win at work and succeed at life. Formerly the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, Michael is also the New York Times bestselling author of Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World and the co-author of Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want. He recently joined Ryan Hawk, host of The Learning Leader Show, to discuss how to lead fully, in all aspects of your life.
This conversation has been edited and condensed. To listen to Michael and Ryan’s full conversation, click here.
Ryan: I have a question about leaders that you’ve spent time with who have sustained excellence. From your perspective, what are some of the common themes or characteristics those people all share?
Michael: One of the top qualities is that [excellent leaders] have the ability to lead themselves. Self-leadership is the prerequisite or the foundation for leadership—if you can’t lead yourself, you don’t have the right to lead anybody else. There is also a measure of discipline, particularly when it comes to work-life balance. It’s not a sprint—they know that if they are successful at the expense of their health or most important relationships, then ultimately that’s going to cascade into their career.
I think most people have that kind of balance. They go at it hard, but they are also able to retreat and take care of themselves and the people that they love most. Those are two attributes, certainly, that the successful leaders I know exhibit.
“Self-leadership is the prerequisite or the foundation for leadership—if you can’t lead yourself, you don’t have the right to lead anybody else.”
Ryan: It feels to me that you [balance those attributes] quite well. I noticed that one of your recent blog posts was on a recent two-week social media hiatus [you did with your family]. I’d love to hear you expand upon what that two-week hiatus did for you and, if possible, how others could potentially do the same.
Michael: For the last five years, we’ve taken a month off in the summer, completely unplugged and really focused on things other than work. It’s opened up a whole world of other things—activities, hobbies, reading. I find that when I can fill the cognitive or relational “well,” that sets me up to win when I get back, because my tank is full. Too many leaders are trying to lead from empty. That’s just not a good place to be—something’s going to blow up in your life if you lead from empty for too long.
“Too many leaders are trying to lead from empty.”
Ryan: What about people who have a full-time job working for somebody else? What advice do you give to that person, who has less flexibility?
Michael: I would challenge them to ask themselves, “Is this a constraint that’s being imposed externally? Or is it a constraint that’s internal, because you have this expectation of yourself, or you think that it’s necessary to get an edge on everybody else?”
Look at the performance of professional athletes—they practice a lot, but they’ve got a lot of downtime. One of the things that I’ve noticed among all the elite athletes is that they prioritize sleep and rest. They know that if they’re going to perform at peak performance, they’ve got to take care of their own bodies and their own psychology, so that when they get on the field, they can really kill it.
Particularly for high achievers, when they’re at work, they’re also thinking about home or some health problem that may be dogging them. And vice versa—when they’re at the doctor, they’re thinking about what’s not getting done at work. Prioritizing rest and vacations and time off allows you to be fully present, which, in this culture, is a strategic advantage. If you can be present in the conversations you’re having at work—you’re able to listen well, you’re not distracted by personal problems—you’re going to get ahead.
Stress it the enemy of performance. I’ve got a big family, five daughters, and one of the things I set as a non-negotiable was leaving the office at six o’clock every night. The idea that you’ve got to choose one or the other is a false dichotomy; what if you could design a life that attended to all of those things?
“Prioritizing rest and vacations and time off allows you to be fully present, which, in this culture, is a strategic advantage.”
Ryan: Five daughters, man. We’ll probably have to have another conversation because my wife and I are also raising five daughters.
Michael: Are you really?
Ryan: Yeah, their ages are nine to two, so it’s a little bit different, but we know we’ve got a lot coming for us in the future. Were there moments where you said, “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “I’m lost”? What was it like through some of those years, and when were there tough moments?
Michael: I think that’s what every parent feels, because you don’t get any training in this. Suddenly this bundle of joy shows up, and nobody has given you the owner’s manual, and you’ve got to figure it out as you go. The biggest issue is parents who abdicate responsibility. If you can stay engaged, and keep the channels of communication open, and try to listen without judgment, that is really wise. I think the goal of parenting is to de-parent—you’re preparing them to be on their own. Which, by the way, is a great leadership lesson. I’ve learned so much from my daughters—they’re some of my best teachers now.
“I think the goal of parenting is to de-parent—you’re preparing them to be on their own. Which, by the way, is a great leadership lesson.”
Ryan: I’ve [read your book] Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World multiple times, and the reason I love it is because it’s literally a playbook, where you can implement as you go. How did you put this book together?
Michael: I was the CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the seventh-largest publishing company in the US. I worked at the company 17 years, but I became the CEO for five years, and then the chairman for one year beyond that. Then we sold the company to HarperCollins.
Back in 2004, I started blogging. I’d written before, and I thought, “You know, this blogging thing looks really cool, and this may be a way for me to share some of the lessons I’ve learned, and maybe get the visibility of the company up on the internet.”
For the first four years, I had about 1,000 readers a month. Then I hit an inflection point in 2008 when I went to 20,000 unique visitors a month, and it’s grown every year since. Really, Platform was my attempt to deconstruct what I did, and to help people that had something important to say or to sell, but had no clue how to get heard.
Ryan: A lot of people are working toward leadership roles at a company they love, but also have ideas in addition to their daily work. What is your advice for people who say, “I have a good job, but I also have bigger ideas, so I think I need to have some sort of platform”?
Michael: The most important thing to do is to start. I used to think, as recovering perfectionist, that I had to figure it all out and get it right at the beginning, and not launch until I got it right. The great thing about the internet today is that you can launch and tweak—I’ve approached everything I’ve done in that way.
An online platform gives people an opportunity to know how you think. It establishes your authority, and as you add value to their lives, it begins to build trust.
Ryan: When you mentor others, whether it’s in publishing or any business, what are some of the things we could learn from you, from a career perspective?
Michael: It almost seems trivial, but when you’re dealing with corporations, a lot of times you’re dealing with people that are embedded in a bureaucracy, and they’re slow to respond. One of the things that I decided to do early in my career that I think gave me a tremendous edge was to be hyper-responsive to people.
I didn’t want my clients, who at that time were mostly authors, or bookstores, to have the experience where it took me 48 hours to get back to them. I responded to them almost immediately, even if all I could say was, “Look, I don’t have an answer for you yet, but I got your message. I’m on it.” People really appreciated that, because people that are outside your organization want to do business faster.
I think the other thing is also having courage to act. So many people in corporations think their hands are tied. It’s got to be calculated, but there are times when you’ve got to operate by the maxim of, “It’s easier to give forgiveness than to give permission.”
Another thing is always, always, always keeping your word. Even when it becomes inconvenient, expensive, or just a hassle. Stephen Covey said this, and I think he’s right: “Honesty is when we make our words line up with reality, but integrity is when we make reality line up with our words.”
“Honesty is when we make our words line up with reality, but integrity is when we make reality line up with our words.”
Ryan: Let’s press forward a little bit to what you’re doing now. What brought you to write this book, Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want, with Daniel Harkavy?
Michael: In 2001, I had taken on a new assignment—I was a general manager for one of the divisions at Thomas Nelson. It was a big job, and out of fourteen divisions, that division was dead last in every possible financial metric. The good news for me was, I couldn’t screw it up—I could only make it better. In 18 months, we went from number fourteen to number one in the company, but it came at a big cost. I was working like crazy, I had stopped working out, I wasn’t eating well. I finally said to John Maxwell, who was one of our authors and a mentor of mine, “John, we’ve got all these great results, but here’s the cost, man. I see where the trend line is going, and I know I’m going to have a health crisis or a marriage crisis or something if I don’t get this tended to.”
He said, “You need an executive coach, somebody that has your best interest in mind, and I want to recommend Daniel Harkavy,” who became my co-author for that book. The very first thing we did was go through a process of life planning. He had me answer three really powerful questions. [The first was,] “How do you want to be remembered? Fast forward to the end of your life—imagine it’s your funeral. Who’s sitting in the room, and what do you want those people to say about you?”
Then we went through this next question: “What’s important to you?” I knew what was important to my boss, I knew what was important to my wife—but I never really asked the question, “What’s important to me?” That gave me a clear filter to be able to say yes to the things that are good for me and for my family, and no to the things that aren’t.
The third question was, “How do you get from where you are to where you want to be?” This is kind of the 30,000-foot view of “What do I want?” We used this metaphor in the book—imagine, just like you have a bank account, that you have “accounts” for different aspects of your life: You’ve got a health account, a marriage account, a parenting account. What is the condition of those accounts, and how can you grow them so that there’s a surplus?
“You’ve got a health account, a marriage account, a parenting account. What is the condition of those accounts, and how can you grow them so that there’s a surplus?”
Part of that begins with getting really honest about where you are now. You’ve got to know where you are, and then you’ve got to know where you want to go, what the destination is. What would my marriage look like if I was intentional, and really worked with my spouse to create an incredible relationship? What would my health look like? What would happen if I was in the best shape of my life? What would have to happen for me to have a career that I love?
That’s what the book is about—getting that 30,000-foot view, taking a real assessment of your life, figuring out where you want to go, and then planning how to get there.