How to Lead Without Demanding Authority | A Q&A with Keith Ferrazzi

24 February 2020

Entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, Keith Ferrazzi came into Speakers Corner to answer a few of our burning questions on becoming a CMO at Deloitte at 30, creating positive organisational change, and how to build authentic relationships in business.

You became a CMO at the age of 30. How did you get to that position at such a young age? Can you tell us a bit about your journey?

The short answer is that I led without authority! I joined Deloitte as an entry level analyst right out of Harvard Business School, and learned quickly that I didn’t enjoy that work. So I filled my off-hours doing things I felt would be more beneficial to Deloitte. I booked myself as a speaker on weekends at small conferences all around the country, hoping to generate buzz and drum up business for Deloitte. I made calls to my ex-classmates and professors to ask them for new business leads. My supervisors saw what I was doing, and created a new business development role for me. Eventually I became Deloitte’s CMO and their youngest partner. Then I moved on to Starwood Hotels, where I was the youngest CMO in the Fortune 500.

You've worked with BT and GM and work to identify behaviours that block global organizations from reaching their goals. How did you instigate the change needed to take GM out of bankruptcy?

All credit goes to Mary Barra, Mark Reuss and their team for GM's amazing turnaround. Our role at Ferrazzi Greenlight was to help GM transform the relationship between its district sales managers and its network of independent car dealers. We introduced a new a mission-driven approach to collaborative problem solving and teamwork that we call co-elevation. The district managers became strategic partners for the dealerships, helping them grow their businesses while also enhancing the customer experience. The results were extraordinary because co-elevation nurtures a powerful spirit of generosity, candor, and commitment to the shared mission. We say that co-elevation is all about “going higher together.”

You mentioned that 'To learn how to be a change agent, you need to learn how to change yourself.' How can leaders use vulnerability and authenticity to lead more effectively?

It’s so much more than “be nice.” To lead with or without authority, your vulnerability and authenticity has to come with radical candor and accountability. Hold yourself to high standards of behavior, then ask others to be candid with you and hold you accountable. Being a leader means you also go first. You take the leap of faith and make yourself vulnerable. That’s at the foundation of every strong co-elevating relationship.

You wrote, 'Never eat alone', 'Who's got your back?' and 'Leading Without Authority,' what was your aim with those books and what message do you hope to get across?

The common theme in all three books is the importance of generosity in building relationships. Keep giving and never keep score. Be of service, share yourself, and demonstrate that you care about the other person. Before starting anything new, try to remember that no one cares how much you know unless they know how much you care.

We live in a time of overly perfecting our online perceptions. How do we then build authentic relationships?

Everyone knows the answer to this one. An authentic co-elevating relationship is one in which we commit to each other’s co-development as people. We often have that in our most intimate relationships and friendships, but not so much in the workplace. Most workplace relationships are built on polite co-existence. That’s not going to get the job done in this age of digital transformation. We need to lead without authority by finding people who share the mission at hand, and then seek transformative solutions through our co-elevating commitment to go higher together.

If there was one message that you would want an audience to take away from your talk, what would it be?

We are at a crossroads in human history. We are long overdue for big changes in the way we work, and advancing technology has made that change an urgent necessity. Cross-functional teamwork beyond hierarchy is how almost all meaningful innovation is taking place today. That means leading without authority is unavoidably becoming the new organisational model. The new book shows how co-elevation is the essential workplace operating system for navigating this new landscape.

Finally Keith, what's next for you?

I want to do everything I can to build and nurture co-elevation into a global movement. That’s my highest purpose in writing Leading Without Authority. I think co-elevation will become a core human competency for living in a world that keeps growing ever more diverse, fast-changing, and interdependent. Co-elevation offers us all new routes to joy and personal growth, within our workplaces and beyond. I believe it has the power to bring about real cultural transformation, not only within workplace teams but throughout entire organisations and into the world at large.

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