Episode 9: Michael Melcher: Becoming a Better Leader

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In this episode of the Manage Your Message podcast, host Jim Karrh sits down with Michael Melcher, one of America’s leading executive coaches and an expert on leadership and career development. Michael is a partner at Next Step Partners, and his career experience spans the fields of business, law, and the United States foreign service, including work for clients such as Google, Goldman Sachs, and Doctors Without Borders.  Jim and Michael focus their conversation on one of Michael’s central areas of expertise: business leadership.

The first topic is goal-setting: a practice all business leaders should engage in to develop their careers. Michael describes his model for personal experience-based goal-setting. Goals are usually prospective and based on what we think we should do or should have liked, rather than on what we want to do or actually have liked.  Michael encourages listeners to evaluate the past year looking for key moments and themes, which may then be translated into goals. These goals should be goals that give energy, bring value, and are grounded in experience.  On a related note, Michael also clarifies that an awareness of what gives energy and brings value may lead to the development of strong new career ideas. Such ideas are generally not developed based on logic, but experimentation with an exciting thought or notion.

Jim and Michael also discuss the so-called “war for talent” and the related topic of listening. Jim asks what leaders need in terms of relationships and communication to fare well amid competition for strong workers, and Michael answers that the differentiator business leaders should pursue is the ability to help people develop and grow. He challenges them to take an interest in other people and consider how to help them in this way. This advice leads directly into a consideration of active listening. Poor listening is prevalent, Michael says, and good listening centers on being present in conversation and seeking to keep the spotlight of a conversation on the person with whom you’re speaking. Listening is crucial to the critical thinking needed for leaders to help move their team and business forward, and Michael challenges the audience to give active listening a try by speaking only 20 percent of the time in their next few conversations.

Finally, Jim raises the topic of Michael’s books, The Creative Lawyer and Twenty Minutes a Day.  The first book prompts Jim to ask about communication tone. Michael notes that, in an effort to not sound full of themselves, people tend to give a bland and generalized account of their careers, often using insider language. This does not tend toward much conversation, and so people would benefit from both considering interesting conversation starters, and from determining whether their industry has a negative lingua franca and, if so, whether they should adopt or avoid it.  His more recent book, Twenty Minutes a Day, encourages a wellness approach to career development that takes twenty minutes daily to work on rather than in one’s career.


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