In 2014 I interviewed Scott Mabry, a former school teacher with over 20 years of experience as a successful business leader in financial services, a leadership tweeter, and a blogger.
You have worked in the financial sector typically thought of as formal and stuffy; how does leadership differ from other sectors or industries, or does it?
Like most industries, it depends on the company. I would say some of the legacy institutions have retained much of the structure and culture they are known for while laying on some new language and trying to slowly open to changes that have been successful in other industries. There are certainly examples of leading-edge companies in the Payments and FS space pushing the boundaries of innovation and creativity and doing so with much less “formal and stuffy” methods.
Today, you are an SVP, but you have held many roles, including school teachers. Do you see any distinct differences in the leadership from your days teaching to the corporate world?
I see more similarities than differences. The approach to connecting with, engaging, and motivating children as a teacher is not dissimilar to those a leader uses with a team. People respond to genuine care, recognition, opportunity, expectations, and accountability in much the same way regardless of age. The methods may differ, but the goals are the same. It also taught me that inserting some fun and play into the process of learning can make a big difference. The same applies to work.
The workplace has changed drastically over the last 20 years. Do you think what motivates leaders and their teams has changed?
I do not think it has changed. I think we have changed. The things that work today have always mattered; we were just caught up in old thinking patterns and fears about what would happen if we let go of control. Forces in the marketplace, society, and the world have forced us to revisit how we lead and motivate the human beings that ultimately decide the success of our endeavors. The quality of life now available to us has freed us to consider work in a different light. We no longer just see work only as a necessary activity to sustain ourselves but also as an opportunity to live out our purpose and express our personality and passion.
How do you inspire or motivate others in or out of the workplace?
I am passionate about helping people see value in themselves and their potential. I try to create opportunities for them to stretch and learn what they are capable of. I think that’s what leaders do. I also try to build strong relationships with my team based on care, compassion, honesty, and accountability. The strength of our relationships is often the primary driver of our success. Finally, there has to be a vision; something people can believe in, get behind, and feel valued in their contribution. This is the thread that holds it all together.
What are your thoughts on servant leadership and emotional intelligence?
I’m not a fan of the term “emotional intelligence.” It feels like we’ve turned being human into a science or some kind of leadership jargon. Some people know a lot about emotional intelligence and still have no capacity to feel or express their emotions. They treat it as a skill to practice like public speaking or financial acumen versus a way of being. Having said that, I do believe it is very important for a leader to be self-aware and emotionally awake. To pay attention to what is going on inside you, put it into perspective, and choose your response. It is also important to be vulnerable, share your ideas and feelings, and let other people react and speak openly. Finally, developing the ability to observe and listen to others with compassion and empathy, as Stephen Covey coined, to seek first to understand before trying to be understood.
Have there been any leader role models for you?
There have definitely been leaders who have inspired me along the journey. In particular I worked with a leader a number of times in my career who modeled the values of courage, loyalty, integrity, and taking responsibility. He is still a close friend and confidant, and I am working with him now for the third time in my career. I also love to read about the experiences of great leaders in history and explore the creative leadership ideas shared through blogs and social media by leaders all over the world. Historically I am a big fan of Abraham Lincoln. A more recent example would be Richard Sheridan and his work to create joy at work with Menlo.
What has been your greatest success as a leader?
Conversations, letters, and emails from people that I work with telling me I made a positive impact while we worked together and that what they learned has served them in their personal and professional lives. The rest of the stuff, the business results, etc. Are eventually forgotten.
What do you think is the biggest mistake any leader can make?
Well, there are many potential pitfalls, but I think one of the biggest mistakes I see leaders make repeatedly is trying to create dependent followers to maintain control and feed their ego. This is manifested in micromanagement, arrogance, power plays, and the need to be the smartest person in the room.
Today, more than ever, leadership extends beyond the company walls; do you think that businesses have a social responsibility when it comes to leadership?
I believe that leaders (and companies) have the opportunity to impact the lives of people positively, to help them grow as human beings while generating financial wins and creating an amazing product. This is a pretty significant paradigm shift from the shareholder, bottom-line focus that has long been our measure of success. One has to believe that serving people and making a difference in their lives is not a tradeoff but a means to impact the world for a good while making good on your business goals. It’s a “both/and.” To take this further, I believe that in creating a place where we serve others, we increase rather than decrease our chances for business success. The business results are the outcome of a higher purpose rather than the other way around. Clearly, though you can create an amazing place to work but if you do not do the things necessary to compete and win business, there will be no place to work. They go together.
You are passionate about leadership and have a blog; what inspired you to start that?
Mostly, I wanted a place to practice writing and capture ideas that were in my head about leadership and life. I have this mantra I use for the site and try to use in my leadership, “bring your soul to work.” I hope to someday put all of these ideas together in a book by that title. I’d like to write something that would inspire like-minded people, particularly new leaders who are trying to form their philosophy around work and leadership. For that reason, I’ve kept it pretty simple.
If you could have a conversation with one leader, alive or dead, who would it be?
Abraham Lincoln. As a man, a leader, a visionary, an observer, he has my deepest admiration. He was far from perfect, painfully awkward, and yet he steered a nation through its darkest period. I’d love to sit for hours by a fire and just listen to him tell his story.
He also wrote some pretty awesome performance reviews in his letters to his generals.
What would you want most to ask them?
How did you push through your fears?
Scott, thank you for taking the time for this interview, and I invite my followers to check out your blog and other sites below.