One never knows how previous experiences and current contacts can spur new ideas and opportunities. Stern is testament to this. He joined Stern + Associates in January 2002 after 24 years in the lecture industry, and is an integral player of the management team as the firm’s consultant – managing business development and providing high-level corporate and marketing strategy to clients. In his career at the Leigh Bureau and as its president for 10 years, he signed, managed and represented many of the great authorities, speakers, and journalists on business issues of that era. He now translates his expertise, skills, and intelligence in helping great thinkers develop and communicate their messages. Stern + Associates’ clients include thought leaders such as Clayton Christensen, Michael Porter, Dave Ulrich, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Michael Beer, Nicholas Negroponte, Dov Seidman, Jim Champy and Sir Terry Leahy (CEO of TESCO), among others.
Here is an excerpt from my interview of Stern. The complete interview is also available.
Morris: Based on what you have observed over the years, what is the single most important business issue that is most often ignored or under-estimated by C-Level executives? Why?
Stern: That’s easy. Corporate executives still undervalue ethics and the obvious fact that the world has become so flat and transparent that there are no secrets that can be held. That probably has always been the case, but it’s ever more so now and one should just assume it’s going to be ever more so in the future. Dov Seidman is absolutely correct and that’s why Tom Friedman has become so enamored with Dov’s ideas. What is simply stunning is the failure of CEO executives and other leaders to appreciate that they cannot beat this game. Worse, if they try and get away with a lie or even an equivocation, their failure to clearly articulate a message and the truth is going to be exacerbated to such a point that it will be out of their control.
There is no “managing” — much less control of — the traditional and non-traditional or new media. An error is going to be exploited and magnified to such a degree that the cost for repair will far exceed the cost for telling the truth. It simply boggles the mind that political and business leaders of this last two years still don’t get this. And because the reactions can be so hyper-negative and so dramatic the costs, not just to their companies and to their legacies can be extreme, but the cost to the rest of the economy can also be over magnified. These folks need to understand that when they make a choice they are not just affecting their own lives and the people who work for them, but that we are all so connected that the choice they make can affect an entire underdeveloped country or the ability to fund a One Laptop Per Child program in a small village in Darfur.
Morris: Recent Gallup research indicates that, on average, more than 70% of employees in U.S. companies are either not positively and productively engaged or are actively undermining efforts to achieve their organization’s goals. If true, how do you explain this situation?
Stern: That’s another great question. I started out earlier reflecting on the culture that Susan has established for Stern + Associates. I am confident that if you spoke to any employee of our company that they would share with you very positive perspectives about working here. I don’t claim we are perfect but I do claim that we are honest. Noel Tichy wrote a book about Jack Welch years ago entitled Control Your Destiny or Someone Else Will. I believe that is absolutely the truth. I think it was actually better said by Rabbi Hillel in the first century B.C. who stated that “If I am not for myself who will be? And when I am for myself what am I? And if not now, when?” We believe that it’s important for everyone to look after themselves as well as their colleagues, and to do so now and don’t delay it. This sense of things creates an atmosphere for expecting the most from yourself but also from your colleagues. Incidentally, not all of our colleagues work out and last with Stern + Associates. Roughly half of the people we hire don’t work out, but it’s not because Susan or I choose to have them leave. They either realize they aren’t up to the tasks and expectations of the team or the others within the organization feel that they can’t make contributions that are equal to the expectations when they were hired on. It’s a great place to work but we work hard and we work smart.
Morris: Here’s a question you are probably asked all the time. Why are there so many “celebrities” whose only claim to fame is their talent for self-promotion?
Stern: Peter Drucker used to talk about business executives who become so popular that they’re really not important leaders any longer, they are simply celebrities. We don’t represent celebrities.
What we do is represent people who will make a positive difference in this world and who will be unique and thoughtful in the way they do it. Michael Porter, Dave Ulrich, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Nicholas Negroponte, Dov Seidman or Clayton Christensen and others we represent are not only their fields’ foremost authorities, they are passionate about what they teach. It’s why they are without peers. They recognize that their abilities to influence the behavior of organizations or individuals are increased by creating greater awareness for their ideas, names and the institutions to which they are affiliated. When we helped publish Disrupting Class — a book about improving K-12 education in the USA — a couple of years ago there were so many publishers that rejected the book that it was troubling. Essentially, what Clay proposes is to apply the theory of disruptive innovation to education. The book has been number one in its market for roughly 15 of the last 17 months since it was published. This was never, ever about celebrity. It was about helping to show educators ways to make their work better.
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To read the entire interview, please contact me at [email protected]