Best Boss Series: Minter Dial, speaker, author, filmmaker (France/UK)

Before striking out on his own, Minter Dial led a 16-year international career with the L’Oréal Group – including 9 different assignments in France, England, USA and Canada. In his last post with L’Oréal, Minter was a member of the worldwide Executive Committee of the Professional Products Division (PPD), responsible globally for e-business, business development, education, sustainable development & communication. Previously, Minter was Managing Director of the Canadian subsidiary (L’Oréal PPD) and before that MD Worldwide of the brand REDKEN, 5th Ave NYC.  Prior to working at L’Oreal, Minter began his career in Product Marketing for the investment bank, Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, NYC, for 4 years. Then, he joined a startup, The Myriad Group, Travel Agency for Entertainers, based in Washington DC, for two years, before returning to Europe to do his MBA at INSEAD.

Now as a storyteller, author and filmmaker, Minter is an international speaker and consultant on Branding and Digital Strategy. His latest book, co-written with Caleb Storkey, Futureproof, How To Get Your Business Ready For The Next Disruption (Pearson / FT Sep 2017) is a finalist for the Best Business Book Awards 2018.  In 2016, he produced the award-winning WWII documentary film and  penned the book, The Last Ring Home,  A POW’s Lasting Legacy of Courage, Love, and Honor in World War II.  

Tell me how you define a successful leader.

A successful leader should be defined by three things: (1) Vision. A successful leader is someone who inspires others to want to join, lead like and/or replace him/her. (2) Team. The quality of the upcoming tier of managers. (3) Winning. There is no getting away from bringing in the numbers; however, a great leader also leaves a legacy in the form of ongoing results after he/she has left.

When in your career did you find you really began to be an impactful leader and what gave you proof of this?

I first enjoyed roles of leadership early in my life on the sports field. Being captain of the team felt like a tremendous privilege and I always took the role to mean that I needed to model the best attitude, show up on time, work hardest no matter the weather and provide encouragement, especially in the jaws of defeat. But, even when I wasn’t captain of the team, I still felt empowered to buck up teammates’ spirits. My on-field energy brought a good measure of credit off the field. In business, the defining moment was certainly when I took over as MD worldwide of Redken.

Proof of the impact of my leadership, to my mind, comes in the form of seeing many of my team in very high positions in corporations throughout the world.

I’m also reassured by the evidence that Redken is now the #1 brand in the US when it was roughly half the size of the then-number 1 before I began at Redken. It’s also moved up the scale in world rankings.

Share with me your greatest leadership success/experience.

My greatest experience might also have been my hardest. I was ordered to come to Paris right after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks to lay out the vision of how Redken would drive its growth over the next three years. It was a rather surreal moment as I addressed the 500 top managers of L’Oreal in Paris, having seen the second airplane fly down Manhattan with my own eyes, then watching the WTC go down and losing several friends. Rather than have the usual dog and pony show orchestrated by 12 members of my team, I was the only person on stage to give the 2-hour speech myself. Rather than get caught up in all the details of the product launches – which was what the country GMs typically wait for – I focussed on the cultural components of the brand and how Redken incarnated the spirit of New York, well beyond being a haven of trends and nifty products. It’s in the difficult times, where your mettle is tested, that you find out if you are cut out for leadership.

Recall your biggest managerial challenge. Tell me how you handled this. What did you learn that you might do differently next time?

My toughest challenge was when I became MD of the Canadian subsidiary of the L’Oreal Professional Products Divison, overseeing four general managers who each ran their own company in Canada. I had never held such a position before. Moreover, I had never even been a General Manager of a single operational brand, either. Furthermore, this was a post creation, meaning that the role had not existed before. Needless to say, the GMs, who had previously reported into the country CEO, had to get used to having another layer in between. The challenge included instituting the right processes and protocols. How many meetings should there be? How to encourage “sharing” and cooperation? Under the circumstances, the key was actually given to me by one of the 4 GMs who took me aside and gave me some advice that I still follow today. “You’ll only get established if you lay out what your legacy will be when you leave.”

What I took away from this experience was the value of being open to listening deeply to your team and earning their trust.

Who have been your greatest mentors? Were they a colleague or did you hire a professional coach? What about this person or the experience had the biggest impact on your growth?

I have had a number of important figures in my life. One was a colleague, Pat Parenty, who really was a mentor for me largely by the way he operated. No matter the situation, Pat showed me the power of listening and the importance of being fair. A second was Sam Villa, a very talented hairdresser who, as a “global performing artist” (an independent contractor) for Redken, and was the person who inspired me to become the speaker I am today. I also think back to my school days and the incredibly important roles that my headmaster, Patrick Jordan (prep school), and housemaster, John Peake (public school), played in my development.

Common opinion states that in order to succeed in business one has to be ruthless. A quick survey of the world’s most domineering companies seems to support that view. Do you think it’s possible to be very successful in business and still be a nice person?

The answer is indubitably that it depends. Certain situations and industries will require more ruthlessness. In certain cultures, meanwhile, being nice is viewed as a weakness and something to be rooted out.

Fundamentally, I believe that niceness is less appropriate than the two qualities of fairness and reliability.

But, inevitably, different qualities are needed for different situations. At times, listening and humility are the premium qualities. At others, it might be about inspiring, coaching or informing. Finally, leaders also need to take decisions, some of which are hard and not “nice” by definition. At the deepest level, a great leader instils and inspires trust. It is my conviction, though, that trust is necessarily personal and that, for most situations, it’s better to have someone whom you trust, rather to focus on their competencies. Obviously, you’d like both. But, on balance, I’d rather hire for attitude than for skill.

Let’s talk about managing pressure – how do you control your own emotions and temper when things don’t go to plan? Not lashing out on those around you is a skill – what are your tips?

I tend not to lash out verbally, but inevitably, one can still see when I have been crossed. Even so, I feel it is better to defer your outpouring to (a) a better moment and (b) when you’ve had time to reflect. If you feel legitimately aggrieved, you ought to express yourself within 24 hours, preferably in person or, worse case, over the phone. If you choose to write your dissatisfaction in an email, for example, then I would suggest waiting 12 hours before re-reading and sending.

At times, we all hit a low point. How do you motivate yourself?

The key to keeping myself motivated is to check back on in my “North.” What is my mission, why am I doing what I do and how is the bigger picture job fitting in and fulfilling my sense of purpose.

What are your top three book titles that were most impactful for your leadership development?

  • Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey
  • Hug Your Customers by Jack Mitchell
  • L’Art du Temps (1990) by Jean-Louis Servan-Schreiber – with an updated version Le Nouvel Art du Temps (2000) – but Servan-Schreiber’s books are only in French it seems.

Also from Best Boss Series – Bronwyn Kemp: “As a leader, you’re the creator and manipulator of the world around you, you’re the gateway to your staff’s experience, happiness and productivity”.

Working in an organisation where business culture isn’t people oriented, how do create an environment where people want to work for you/in your department?

There is no getting around that the culture – as defined by the behaviours, language and rituals – comes from the top down. If you run a department or a division of a larger firm, the challenge is creating an environment that you wish, but that doesn’t undermine the larger corporate culture. If you want to do such, it’s important to understand that whatever environment you are creating, it should be crafted in such a way as to shield it from the larger (and presumably less desirable) corporate culture. When I went about doing exactly, I understood that I needed to operate according to the established culture whenever I was dealing outside my brand. Whenever I was “inside” my brand, we had established a specific attitude and rules of engagement that did not apply when I was working with corporate staff.

Most large organisations today have a strict bonus and pay raise policy, which makes it difficult to reward people even when you know they truly deserve it. Have you found a way of dealing with this?

Money can’t be brushed over. However, people will do a lot more if their work environment is deeply satisfying. This starts with having a good boss, but also means feeling like they are part of something meaningful, that has a strong purpose, aligned with their personal values.

The other major levers involve making sure that individuals feel that they genuinely belong, have the chance to participate in and accomplish specific projects as well as understand how their role contributes to fulfilling the brand’s strategic imperatives.

Finally, especially when money and time are rare resources, the underexploited option is time. When I was at Redken, we set up a system whereby, if the objectives (which had to be clearly laid out) were achieved, teams were given extra time off.

Companies often refer to themselves as “family”, yet only a few supports their employees like a family supports its members – unconditionally. Aside from professional training, what support do you offer your employees?

I want to tackle two parts in the question. The first is the notion of dealing with conflict. The second is with regard to support in the form of motivation.

The talk of family is generally misplaced in business. It makes me think of companies that attempt to suggest that fun is one of their core values. Fun is not a value. It’s the consequence of enjoying your work, achieving together, getting through tough times as a team, as well as having a lark. Some businesses are actually family businesses.

But, trying to create a “family” environment is probably the wrong term. It can conjure up a very wrong image.

Family is hardly the best (or only) model for acohesive team. Families bicker and fight within all the time. As Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The issue is that most families have quirks and their fair share of unhappiness.

Along with the leadership team, the key is to establish the shared values, how those values are expressed in terms of tangible and/or visible behaviours and language and then to model them within and without the boardroom. As a leader, when the inevitable (and necessary) conflicts occur, the ideal scenario is first and foremost for the individuals involved to find out how to resolve it satisfactorily among themselves. Stepping in and arbitrating is rarely the best solution. The best support I could provide was to show how to listen without having a pre-formulated opinion and answer.

As far as providing support in the form of encouragement and motivation, nothing beats making sure that effort is duly recognised in public. It’s crucial to have your eyes and ears open to gauge how and to what extent your staff is engaged. If you see someone struggling, it’s best to make a mental note and find time to talk discretely. Being observant and having empathy are two of the most valuable ways to support your team.

Some managers believe in a strict hierarchy and the “do what I say approach”, sighting cultural norm as an excuse. What are your thoughts on this?

If hierarchy does serve a legitimate purpose — as in the “buck stops here” – it need not necessarily also be associated with dictatorial ordering around. To the extent decision-making is a key function of the boss, one is often forced with ordering an action be taken where one side ‘wins’ and the other ‘loses.’ I believe that there are three ways to avoid or at least diminish the impact of such watershed moments. First, it’s important to get inputs from the key players (notably customers, for example). Secondly, and this must be part of a consistent behaviour, you need to link your decisions to the strategic imperatives. Thirdly, it’s key to figure out how the ‘losing’ side will remain engaged. Otherwise, you might end up with damaging sabotage. If your brand’s North direction is clear, it becomes easier to get everyone back on board together.

Tell me how you decide what to delegate and to whom.

Delegation comes hand in hand with two things: setting clear objectives and ensuring the favourable conditions for success.

Although you always want to trust your team, delegation is something that needs to be earned.

Team building has become a buzzword in the corporate world, yet many still do not see the value in applying it to their group or organisation. What are your beliefs and or successes around team building?

It might be a provocative, but it’s possible that, in some cases, the notion of team building has actually contributed to the problem (of ironclad silos). Personally, I think of good team building exercises as a chance to let down one’s hair, where one gets to know one another as a person.

To the extent one works 40+ hours per week, I feel that one should be able to be oneself at work. Yet, we all know how difficult that line is to keep between the professional, personal and private self.

Given the increasing importance of cross-functional and cross-departmental collaboration, there are many new ad hoc teams being formed and reformed, which belie the utility of the traditional team-building activities. The more powerful ‘system’ is to build a full team (and congruent culture) that shares values and a common higher mission. As such, it’s critical to evaluate how much weight you give to attitude versus competency when hiring.

When it comes to morning or weekly briefings do you conduct those in person or via a memo?

This question depends on the nature and scope of the job. When running a large and complex organisation, financial reporting inevitably drives much iterative discussion in publicly traded companies. As such, financial briefings need only be done electronically.

My bigger idea is also to make sure that every day I carve about some spare time. Call it air time, contingency time or, in the best of times, planned serendipity. In the ideal world, I wanted half of my day to be kept free, available for thinking and writing strategic notes, handling unexpected events and encounters, or going out in the field.

How do you decide to be available to your team (i.e. text/Email/voice call/video call)? How do you determine the best way for them to contact you that does not interrupt your workflow?

Unlike many executives, I learned to type well and accurately at a young age (with a hat tip to Lester Thurow). As a result, I preferred to keep on top of all my own emails and notes. When typing important memoranda (especially in French), I always made sure to have my fluent assistant read them over. For incoming calls, I have always been liberal with my cell phone number. It (my personal landline back in the day) and my personal email were always on my business card. My attitude has generally been that people will know to use restraint when trying to call or text me. If they abuse, they can only make the mistake once. The only real offenders are those hideous spammers. Otherwise, I have always had an open door policy with my office (unless the door’s purposefully closed) and I tend to encourage communicating with me.

On another but related note, I also discouraged being included in CC (or BCC) and would tell people so directly. On conference calls and the like, I am happy to use all the new tools. Three rules of thumb for good conference calls: (1) make sure you have an agenda ahead of time and that the right people are online; (2) start [and stop] on time, which usually means making sure the network is good and the connection works in advance; and (3) make sure the key actions (with attached responsible parties and deadlines) are part of the conclusion and that these are immediately circulated after the call.

How much do you value transparency of information at work? To what extent do you share information with your team?

First principle is that fluid communication is the lifeblood of an organisation. Transparency is, in theory, a great thing, but there are caveats. Calls for transparency absolutely do not warrant sending out everything all the time to everyone. There is a balance to find between that which is confidential – on a need to know basis – and too much information. I believe it’s better to veer on the side of too much communication, on balance, since it’s so easy for information get stuck in a black hole. For example, it’s important to repeat over and over the story and strategy of the brand. That should never get old.

How do you best separate work life from personal life – for a healthy balance? What are your biggest challenges around this? How does this impact you personally?

The answer this has to be contextualised around two important factors: (1) how ambitious you are; and (2) how aligned you are with the brand you are working with/for. In general, I don’t believe in work-life balance. I believe it is always in a state of movement and imbalance.

Moreover, I believe that work is a subset of life and, as a result, it’s best to make sure that you are aligned with the values and purpose of the brand where you are spending at least one-third of your wake-time. Then you can find a greater sense of balance within yourself.

Explain how you work with HR for recruiting and interviewing. What works for you and how do you handle the interviewing process for vetting candidates?

Human Resources are often a rather discredited function on the executive committee. And yet, HR is a deeply strategic position. Companies continue to parade out the clichéd expression “our people are our biggest asset.” Yet, never has this actually been more true because of a combination of three new facets: (1) the younger generations have much less ambition to stay stuck at the same company unlike their parents; (2) in a world where the consumer and employees have a voice, the brand and the customer experience is carried by employees, far more so than in the past; (3) the competition for and hiring of new forms of talent has completely disrupted the traditional hiring models and procedures. For HR to be successful, it’s important to involve them in the strategic conversations upstream and to make sure that they have strong business acumen. Their voice needs to be heard at the ExCom table, but they also need to earn the right.

Sometimes an employee is not working out despite your best efforts and you know that this relationship is not serving them or the business. At which point do you decide to part company and how do you go about it?

In an ideal world, when an employee is not working, he/she is as aware of it as you. It should never be a surprise. In the best case, the employee even comes to you. But, reality is that most “bad” employees are or become attached to their station. Overall, I start with the premise that everyone has something to contribute but that they may be in the wrong position. If they don’t have the necessary competency, training is the typical first answer. But, in my experience, the bigger issue is when there isn’t a cultural fit. Then the decision to part ways is far more important.

Hiring for attitude means establishing observable traits and behaviours. When the employee in question seems no longer engaged, it’s important to call this out quickly with an initial conversation. As long as your top team is also modelling the right attitude, then this becomes easy to identify and address. Best to start cleaning your kitchen first (your top team) before sorting out the way your table is set.

One last piece of advice: never kick a person when he/she is down.

Also from Best Boss Series – Bronwyn Kemp: “As a leader, you’re the creator and manipulator of the world around you, you’re the gateway to your staff’s experience, happiness and productivity”.