As co-founder of Luminate Labs, Seth Mattison advises world-leading brands and organizations on the key shifts happening around talent management, business strategy, change and innovation, leadership, and the future of work.
Co-author of the recently published The War at Work, he has been featured in The Wall St. Journal, Forbes, The Huffington Post and The Globe and Mail.
For the past decade he has shared his insights with thousands of business leaders around the world and has received accolades from many of the world’s best brands including: MasterCard, Johnson and Johnson, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, AT&T, PepsiCo, Cisco, Dow, and Disney.
He recently gave a keynote at IncentiveWorks 2017 in Toronto, about how to improve corporate communication, and the importance of collaboration.
Describe what you do?
Seth Mattison: So, we focus on near-future observations – try to pull interesting, unique insights that maybe people are overlooking – to arm leaders and influencers inside of traditional organizations, to better prepare for the future.
Then, we prepare their existing leadership teams to be able to create a culture and an organization that can not only attract great talent, but compete and win in the marketplace.
What skill-sets do you see are often in need of improving?
Seth Mattison: One of the biggest trends that we are seeing play out right now – that very few people are talking about – impacting the future of work and organizations, and leaders’ ability to meet this new state, is this dynamic tension between hierarchies and networks.
We live in a world of networks – networks of information, resources, talent, and people. The challenge many leaders today have with meeting that new space, is that they have been operating in a world based on the world of the hierarchy, in almost all of their existence.
And the world of the hierarchy and the world of the network are essentially diametrically opposed. They are at battle with each other. As more and more of our marketplaces behave like networks, and as more and more of our talent that we are trying to attract behave in networked terms, it will pose the question: How do we bring in more network-like structures and network mindsets into this traditional hierarchical world that we’ve been, almost, birthed into?
What the research shows is that these organizational structures literally form the basis of our understanding, and the very nature of our reality. Hierarchical structures shape how you see the world, how you think about relationships and communication, almost at a subconscious level.
So, we tried to take leaders through this experience of becoming aware of, specifically, ‘what are the unwritten rules that you have learned to adapt to survive in this world in the hierarchy?’
What are these ‘unwritten rules’?
Seth Mattison: Sometimes, unwritten rules can be as simple as the idea of the chain of command; we’ve separated the top and the bottom. They can be separated in lot of different ways – by parking lots, parking spaces, elevators, lunch rooms. Lots of little signals that says ‘I’m here and you are there.’
In fact, I was at an event at the convention center in Atlanta. Massive. They had a big open room where the association team came into, and when I walked into the room – there’s couches, it’s open and collaborative. There was one artificial structure that had been built with walls – plastic walls built around it – for the Executive Director to have a corner office with a door. There was a nametag title over the door that said ‘Executive Director’.
To me it screamed exactly what I’m talking about: “I need, I’ve earned”. Of course, there is a certain aspect of that, like respecting the perspective, history, knowledge, and experience that comes with putting in the time – but it sends all of these signals, that are very much opposed to the world in which we are moving in.
It’s the symbolism. It’s the manifestation of how hierarchy has impacted how we show up and, particularly, how we lead.
We are not predicting that the network is going to overtake the hierarchy, or suggest the hierarchy is dead, or bad, or not effective. It’s that, for most organizations, it’s trying to find a balancing act between the two. Most are not in a position to blow up their ‘org chart’. But, they recognize that they are carrying around a bunch of historical, unwritten rules that aren’t serving them leading into a network-like structure. To bridge the gap between them, it really broke down into: mindset, culture, process, and technology. Across those four pillars you saw organizations start to bridge the gap.
Leaders have to make an internal transformation before they can make external shifts in their organization. They have to really evaluate how they see the world, and think, and see their people.
What differentiates a good leader from a great leader?
Seth Mattison: One of the biggest things we see is a manager or a leader who is unwilling to be vulnerable, who is unwilling to let the façade and the veil drop. People often feel they have to live up to this title, or this position, and carry themselves a certain way. Ego gets wrapped up in all of that.
They should reveal their most authentic self in an open, communicative, collaborative way as much as possible. Humility is a huge factor in this.
If the unwritten rule was to never question authority, then the assumption is they must have the answers, or it’s authority’s job to squash dissent.
It makes it very difficult to say, ‘I don’t know’. So, for leaders today – for managers – to be effective is to recognize the world’s changing too fast, and they really don’t have all the answers.
They need humility to say ‘I don’t know. We can figure this out together.’ And to seek input and perspective.
As a leader, they look for opportunities, unselfishly, to raise their people up, and bring the spirit of generosity inside the culture.
The one that has really started to emerge is we operate in the age of distraction. We have a whole world of ‘one-minute manager’. One-minute managers come in a room, and you have about sixty seconds to get to the point until the phone is ringing, the text is happening.
One of the most critical skills a leader can have is navigating the age of distraction, and be able to sit fully present, to acknowledge people – to not get pulled down the rabbit whole of the digital trap in this new space.
What is your best entrepreneurial advice?
Seth Mattison: I think one of the most important characteristics for entrepreneurs to embody is grit. Grit is the willingness to persevere and push through the pain. Because, in the beginning, it’s a lot of pain and suffering – a lot of sleepless nights, and little fanfare, a constant voice in the back of your mind saying you are crazy and this isn’t going to work, and you’re running out of money.
Everyone else is potentially telling you that too.
You can’t wait for the motivation and inspiration to come. It’s getting up every day and pushing for progress.
In order to amplify your impact on the business, you have to also rest, take care of yourself, take care of the mind, take care of your relationships. Otherwise, what’s the point of all of it?