Mike Paton: An interview by Bob Morris

PatonMike Paton has spent a lifetime learning from and sharing with entrepreneurs. The product of an entrepreneurial household, he cut his teeth in banking before running (or helping run) four small, growing companies. For the last seven years, he’s been helping entrepreneurs clarify, simplify and achieve their vision by mastering the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS).

Mike discovered EOS while trying to run a $7 million company in Minneapolis. Drawn to its simplicity and usefulness, he quickly became a passionate advocate of the system and leader of a vibrant and growing community of professional EOS Implementers, clients and fans. An award-winning speaker and best-selling author (Get A Grip: An Entrepreneurial Fable, with EOS creator Gino Wickman), he has conducted more than 1,000 full-day EOS sessions with leadership teams of more than 100 companies. He’s also helped thousands more business leaders at dynamic, value packed keynote talks and in-depth interactive workshops. Whatever the venue and format, Paton attracts large audiences, receives consistently high ratings and introduces a complete set of simple concepts and practical tools that help leaders “get a grip” on their business.

Mike lives in Minneapolis with his wife Kate and his sons Henry and Charlie. His older son Jon lives and works in Clinton, IA.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of Mike.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Get a Grip, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Paton: My grandfather, Art Pfeil, who taught me how to learn, how to teach, how to work hard, and how to love doing all three.

Morris: The greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Paton: Gino Wickman and his business partner, Don Tinney — without whom I’d have never discovered EOS and become a passionate teacher of the system. They’ve helped me simplify, clarify and achieve my vision as an EOS Implementer, a business owner, and a man.

Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.

Paton: I was fortunate to grow up in a household where teaching and learning was cherished. My sense of curiosity and wonder were encouraged, and it’s something I bring into every class, every book, every job, hobby and personal relationship I’ve ever encountered. The only epiphany is that very few things in life – professional or personal – don’t fulfill that desire for discovery and wonder – if you just open yourself up to it. From a career perspective, that desire to learn and grow – and to have that impact on others who want to do the same – has always driven me.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Paton: What I know now is that we are all in complete control of our own choices, and accountable for the outcomes those choices create. I spent way too much time early in my career focused on people and things that didn’t have anywhere near as much impact as I imagined on my work and my life. I’d refocus all that time and energy on my own actions and outcomes.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Paton: This may get a laugh – or bring an abrupt end to this interview – but Tommy Boy has always been a favorite. As silly as that movie is, it fairly accurately identifies some issues (and solutions) common to entrepreneurial companies. First, you have a gifted, gregarious, driven founding entrepreneur who doesn’t adequately develop the next generation of leadership in his company, thereby exposing the organization to risk. Upon his death, a power struggle develops between his pedantic number two, his oaf of a son, his trophy wife, a risk-averse board/capital partners, and an unscrupulous competitor. And the company is saved when the son partners with the people in the business, reconnects with the “soul” of the business, and begins making great things happen. That story is played out each year in literally hundreds of entrepreneurial companies – admittedly with less hilarity and more frequent failures than successes. And, as an added bonus, it’s really funny.

Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Paton: I agree completely. At some point in every young company’s growth curve, it hits a ceiling. Often that ceiling is caused by the limited capacity of the person (or people) who make most of the decisions, handle all the most important projects, and do the most valuable work. When a “great man” or “great woman” becomes overwhelmed, the company often either flat-lines or fails. Truly great leaders see the need to hire and develop extensions of themselves, so that collectively the team begins achieving more than the sum total of its parts.

Morris: In your opinion, why do so many C-level executives seem to have such a difficult time delegating work to others?

Paton: Many leaders and managers – at every level of an organization – struggle with delegation. There are literally dozens of “root causes” to this issue – some owned by the leader and some caused by their organization. In the language of EOS, we find most of those root causes can be traced back to weakness in one of six “Key Components” of a well-run business – Vision, People, Data, Issues, Process and Traction. And delegation issues can truly be traced back to weakness in all of them.

For example, sometimes a leader fails to delegate because he or she doesn’t have the right people on his or her team, or isn’t cut out to lead and manage. That’s weakness in the People component. Sometimes, the company’s core processes aren’t documented, simplified, and clearly followed by all – the Process component needs work. Sometimes a strong data component (with metrics that alert the leader to an issue and help keep people on track) will help solve a delegation issue.

* * *

Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Mike cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

EOS Worldwide link

Mike’s Twitter link

Mike’s LinkedIn link

Mike’s Amazon page link

Mike’s YouTube video link

“EOS Story” YouTube video link

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