Candid Answers to Tough Leadership Questions: An Interview

Last spring, Jim Bradford, Dean of Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University, interviewed me on my leadership philosophy and practice. He asked some tough questions. I tried to be as candid as I could be.

I intended to share the video here on my blog a few months ago, but it got lost in the shuffle. However, I thought about it today and thought you might enjoy seeing it.

If you are just getting started with Evernote, I suggest that you buy Brett Kelly’s remarkably practical e-book, Evernote Essentials, 4.0. It will save you HOURS of learning Evernote on your own.

This was filmed before a live audience of students and faculty on April 26, 2010 at Owen for a program called “Inside the C-Suite.” (“C-Suite” means Corporate Suite.) This is me, live, and unscripted—for better or for worse.

Dean Bradford is really the star of the show. He asked me a series of great questions. In this interview we discuss:

  • What I learned from a personal business failure.
  • Why growth can sometimes be your undoing.
  • How we define our business at Thomas Nelson.
  • How the recession has affected the book publishing business.
  • Why you must run a big organization like a small one—in order to survive.
  • The biggest issues I am facing as a leader. What keeps me up at night.
  • How Web 2.0 has changed the expectations of younger employees in the workforce.
  • How I have personally struggled to achieve work/life balance.
  • A situation where I had to take a difficult ethical stand that almost cost me my job.
  • How social media fits into my role as a CEO and why I think it is critical to my company’s success.
  • Why corporations should embrace social media as something that furthers corporate transparency and accountability.
  • Why I believe in executive coaching and have employed a coach for years.
  • The practical value of humility in leadership.
  • How I have learned to challenge the status quo.
  • Why you must go first as the leader and walk your talk.
  • The importance of intentional living and leadership.
  • How do I stay focused on my most important priorities.
  • My favorite leadership book.
  • My least favorite leadership buzzword.
  • My best advice to new leaders.

Vanderbilt is doing a great job with its students, especially in the business school. I have the distinct privilege of lecturing there two or three times a year. If you are thinking about getting an Executive MBA, I heartily recommend their program.

Question: What do you wish Dean Bradford would have asked me?
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  • Jeff Jones

    What can leaders learn from the Gospels where Jesus speaks highly of followers?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Can you elaborate or provide a specific reference? I am not sure I understand the question. Thanks.

  • Laurinda

    I'll have to listen to your video, but looking at the list of questions I would add:
    1. what value do you place on taking risks
    2. how do you encourage risk taking in your company (if you value it)
    3. I like to hear career progression, what steps you took to get to where you are (lateral moves, step down, etc…)
    4. What value do you place on diversity

  • Ramon Presson

    Great interview. Helpful. Thanks for granting the interview and thanks for posting it.

  • April Rowen

    Boy, this was great! Especially liked your comment near the end: We are not as smart as we think we are but we have more potential than we can possibly imagine.

    I also really enjoyed the part about getting a coach. This leads me to my question (and I hope it's not a silly one): Are there any particular conferences or seminars available that you would recommend that served you as an important 'coach'? Thank you!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes! I am a conference junkie, primarily because they stimulate my thinking and get the creative juices flowing. Here are some of my favorite:

      Women of Faith. This conference is owned by Thomas Nelson, and even though it is for women, it is the most inspirational conference I have ever attended. I try to go twice a year—with my wife, of course.

      Catalyst. This conference is for next generation leaders. It offers incredibly stimulating thinking from a variety of top-notch speakers.

      Building Champions Experience. These guys are my coaches, and this is their annual conference. It is smaller than the other two, more intimate, and hugely impactful.

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  • ThatGuyKC

    Just saw this post, but it's too late for me to watch (getting up in less than 5 hours). Looking forward to watching it tomorrow!

  • John Richardson

    Powerful interview, Michael. As a tech guy, I've always wondered what steps a book goes through from the author's original idea to the finished product on the shelves of the bookstore. Some parts of that equation are a total mystery to me.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I need to write a post on that, kind of like we learned in high school civics class, “How a Bill Becomes Law.”

      • Brian Hinkley

        I look forward to reading a post on this subject. I have always felt that everyone has at least one book in them. I wouldn't necisarily want to read everyones book. I know I would like to write someday and have always been curious of the process, different options available and pros and cons of each.

  • Denise Jordan Lane

    Outstanding! I empathize with your statements about the peril of arrogance and that early successes can be your undoings later by growing so fast. The same situation happened to my husband's business in the late 90s. Another of my favorite points you made was about hiding in plain sight—to be transparent by living an authentic life. Love that! I took a page full of notes (like a Sunday at NorthPoint!) that could all be quotable quips attributed to you. As for now, I'm going to be intentional on purpose by spending the day writing and not letting my life simply happen to me. Thank you for posting this interview. Additionally, the interviewer did a marvelous job asking questions that fed off of your answers rather than simply sticking to scripted ones. In a word: remarkable!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Wow. Thanks!

    • Ben Lichtenwalner

      I agree Denise. I captured several great quotes on my servant leadership quotes page. Thank you, Michael.

  • Lisa

    I've tried several times to watch and nothing happens

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m not sure what to tell you. What browser are you using? What hardware? Are you on a highspeed, broadband connection?

      • Ben Lichtenwalner

        FYI – I am also having issues – tried Chrome, IE and FIreFox, all running Flash Player 10. I'll post again if I get it figured out.

    • Ben Lichtenwalner

      Lisa, if you're trying this from your office, try again from home, The video server may be blocked by the corporate firewall. I switched my ISP (internet connection) and it loaded fine.

      • Michael Hyatt

        I didn’t think of that, but I bet you are right. Thanks.

  • Colleen Coble

    LOVED this interview, Mike! It was like just sitting down and chatting. I'm interested in what you said about Google weighing in on the digital reader thing. What would be the perfect digital reader in your mind? I saw on the news that the Android had overtaken the iPhone. Both of my kids have a Droid and love theirs.

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for your comment, Colleen. The perfect digital reader in my mind would be like the Kindle but color. I also want a touch screen with the ability to use a stylus for highlighting, circling, or scribbling notes. I don’t want a multi-function device with email and the Web; I already have that on my laptop and phone. However, I would like the ability to take notes in meeting via a stylus. That would completely replace my Moleskine notebook!

  • BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    Thanks for posting this, Michael.

    As a 'conference junkie' – you give us a little more with a video of yourself.

  • Brian Stewart

    Good video, Michael. Thanks for sharing it. Two years ago I had never heard of you and now I am willing to watch 24 minutes of you answering questions! You have certainly gained credibility in my life (as evidenced also by the fact that last night I started reading "The Executive and the Elephant.") Keep up the good work and God bless.

  • James

    Does asking the right question require a change of mindset in the way we approach everything?

    What is the right question about asking the right question?

    Perhaps the right question is the one that forces the victim of your question to think, but I’m scratching my brain here as to what you mean by it.

  • James

    Does asking the right question require a change of mindset in the way we approach everything?

    What is the right question about asking the right question?

    Perhaps the right question is the one that forces the victim of your question to think, but I'm scratching my brain here as to what you mean by it.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m not sure I understand your question. Sorry to be dense.

  • Gregory Scott

    Great interview! Loved what you said about humility.

  • Larry_Hehn

    Great interview, Michael. One question I wish Dean Bradford had asked: What process do you follow in sourcing and selecting an executive coach? Thanks!

    • Michael Hyatt

      I actually stumbled onto both of mine. I didn’t really have a systematic approach. However, once you have some candidates, I would highly recommend checking references and talking to existing clients. I did this with both of them, and it helped set my expectations.

  • Matt D.

    Thanks so much for providing this video. It adds to the authenticity of your words. I agree on mentoring and getting a coach, and I wonder when is the best time in your career to actually hire a coach.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I think the best time to hire a coach is when you feel like you need to get to the next level but aren’t quite sure how to get there.

  • Derek

    Just got back from Catalyst and finally getting to rest! One of my favorite presentations (sounds cliche-but seriously, it was great) and it was great to meet you (@waughbash15855 on twitter). Such great leadership advice again and such a testimony to the secular world about humility. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom and yourself.

  • ThatGuyKC

    This was fantastic! Thanks so much for posting this video. As a regular reader it's nice to actually see you speak once in awhile. :)

  • guy m williams

    Thanks for this. I appreciate your "distance mentoring" via your blog.

    I think I would have added a follow up to the best book question. You said the bible. So… What has been most impactful on your leadership from the bible — (a) from Jesus/the Gospels, and (b) from elsewhere in the bible? (just to insure variety)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Certainly from Jesus first. In fact, I posted about The Leadership Strategy of Jesus a while back. But the rest of the Bible is also full of leadership stories. For example, I learned how to delegate from Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law.

  • Ryan Jenkins

    Solid stuff as always!

    You are so spot on about intentional living and leadership. Living intentionally can bring life to life!
    I too believe in living intentionally…….so much so that I started The Get Intentional Movement to encourage people to be more intentional so that they can better align themselves with God's calling on their life.

    Thx for all that you do!

  • @AndreaAresca

    Thank you so much for posting this interview!
    I would have asked you those other "tough" questions:
    1 – In your career, did you experience periods of burn-out or depression? How did you overcome them?
    2 – Making decisions is critical. How would you encourage a leader who needs to be more courageous and intentionally in his decision making process?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I have definitely experienced periods of depression and burnout. Usually, these came have times of constant work without sufficient times built-in for rest. Now I try to make sure I am getting sufficient rest daily and make regular vacations a priority.

      With regard to making courageous decisions, I think you just have to lean into them and make them. I don’t know of a shortcut. I just know that procrastination only makes matters worse.

  • @RichTatum

    If I had been interviewing you, I would have asked, "As the CEO of a major corporation, how do you safeguard your strategic need for non-disclosure versus a moral obligation to build trust and credibility through transparency?"

    I was delighted when I heard you say you repudiated everything you wrote regarding privacy in a digital age. I was talking about this issue with a coworker the other day and what I just heard you say about transparency echoed my thoughts.

    This is the challenge for old-school corporations in a modern age. How to balance responsibility with transparency. It's also a challenge for us individually.

    The Bible nowhere speaks of "accountability." Rather, it's more about transparency: Confess your sins one to another. Bear one another's burdens. Pray for the man caught in sin. And so on. Without transparency there can *be* no accountability.

    And for the believer, ultimately, we know there is no such thing as a secret. Not only is the all-knowing Father observing all we do, but we are followed by "a great cloud of witnesses" and all our deeds shall be evaluated in the end. We, of all people, should be mindful of a real, objective lack of privacy. We should live unguarded lives, and it would make us better people.

    Rich Tatum (BlogRodent)

    • Michael Hyatt

      Rich, I think this is art more than science. I think the balance is found in a combination of experience and intuition. I don’t have an exact prescription.

  • David Morris

    Thanks Mike for posting this. A lot of good stuff but really what you said about transparency, accountability, and keeping things in plain view is quite fascinating. I'm sure it's not always easy, but it seems you build trust and authenticity when you keep at it. Thanks again.


  • Jared Brandon

    I really appreciated this interview. Thanks for sharing it.

    I work at a publishing ministry, family owned and operated… a lot of responsibility falls on my shoulders even though I'm young and fairly new at any kind of leadership and management responsibilities. I'm struggling with knowing if this is the place for me and I'm wondering if I can really be taught and conditioned to become the leader of this organization in the future. It's not my first passion, but in these early stages the work engages and interests me and provides an environment of continual learning. What would you recommend I pursue to help me capitalize on my strengths and natural skills, and improve those areas where I'm weak (ie: delegation, stress management, basic business management skills)? I've been thrust into this arena because I have a good work ethic, I'm adaptable, and willing to learn. But it's all rather overwhelming. I'm 27… should I be looking into professional coaching? Reading more (though I read a lot)? Seminars?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Yes, I would definitely look into professional coaching. I highly recommend Thanks.

  • Michael Hyatt

    Kathy, my executive coach makes sure I am clear on four things: my life plan, business vision, business plan, and key priorities. calls these “the core four.”

    With regard to blogging, yes, that is normal. It usually takes me about an hour per post. Thanks!

  • @NowInANutshell

    I saw only the first half of the interview. My connection suddenly went down.

    Other thoughts: Do you have a podcast collection of some of your interviews and speeches? I'm a business administration major and this way of hearing from you can teach me a lot, e.g. giving candid answers during a tough interview.

    Lastly, what do you think a leader who just stays where she is for a long time should do to advance to a higher level like you did in Thomas Nelson?

    • Michael Hyatt

      Unfortunately, I don’t have a podcast collection of these. My wife is on me to do it, but I just haven’t had a chance.

      With regard to advancing to a higher level, I don’t know. It may be surprising to hear, but I never really had a career plan or even a desire to advance beyond the level of a publisher (divisional manager). Maybe someone else can jump in with some advice.

  • Karim Shamsi-Basha

    A question he did not ask that I wish he did: Name the top three reasons Mike Hyatt rises out of bed each morning. Otherwise, a fantastic clip that gave me an insight on who you are…First time ever to see you speak…loved it. Thanks for posting.

  • Chris Gammill

    Encouraging interview. It's helpful to hear that failure is a part of being successful and in inspiring to hear about someone who puts principles and family first. I've been reading your blog for close to a year now – one of the few I read regularly – because you are concise enough to be interesting and have insightful content. Thank you for being willing to share. Didn't realize you were a fellow Baylor Bear till this video. Wish you and your family the best. -Chris

  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Besides the given questions, I wish Dean Bradford should have asked you the following–
    • How do you climb the career ladder during your initial years?
    • What are the serious obstacles you face in your work life?
    • How do you multi-task successfully as a leader?
    • How do you manage your time efficiently without any slackness?