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7 Questions with JD Miller

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Jonno White

7 Questions with JD Miller

Name: JD Miller, PhD

Current title: Chief Revenue Officer

Current organisation: Motus

With a PhD in organizational communication, JD has spent over 20 years exploring the intersection of business, technology and humanity.

This has included a career leading the rapid growth of B2B software companies, often with a global or international flavor. Prior to joining Motus, JD was the CEO of the Americas for Italy-based BravoSolution and the VP of the Americas for UK-based Workplace Systems.

He is Chairman Emeritus of the Board of Directors at Care For Friends - a Chicago-area organization working to eradicate homelessness in the city.

7 Questions with JD Miller

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1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

The higher up I've gotten in organizations, the more important it has been to simply, simplify, simplify.

When you have a wide span of control, you have many team members who make hundreds of thousands of decisions each day that you know nothing about - let alone how they are going to answer them.

I've told all of my team members that if we share a common set of values from which these decisions will spring, I'll always be able to defend their choices - even if the results aren't what we might have wanted. So boiling my key values into a brief, memorable list that can be used as a lodestar in a variety of different kinds of circumstances has been one of the most important leadership tasks I've done.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Early in my career, I worked for a large multinational tech company who had a really nice leadership development program in place. They knew that growing internal talent was important, and they developed a lot of time and money into doing so.

For a year, I attended a variety of online discussion groups with peers across the world, had quarterly offsites where we heard from the company's top executives about how they communicate, manage tasks, plan, and attend to personal development, and - most importantly - I had an executive outside my reporting structure assigned to be a personal mentor.

That mentor met with me at least monthly, and we talked about all sorts of topics - including my long-term career vision.

One day, I came to our coaching session and said "you know, I've had an offer to be the CMO at an outside organization, and I think I might want to do it to round out my sales and marketing skill set." I wasn't sure what to make of that choice, since I'd just finished a year of our company spending lots of time and money to develop me as one of their own future leaders. And even though he was my company-provided mentor, he told me that he thought the role sounded great - and he felt like his job was to help me be the best professional I could be - whether or not it meant staying at that organization.

Three weeks later, I walked into a new company with all of the authority that an outside expert is generally expected to bring - and a executive-level leadership career was launched.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

So many people talk about "work/life balance" like there are two distinct interests that need to be traded off with one another. Yet for many years, I've found that I'm most productive when those two are highly integrated.

I'm fortunate that at Motus, we share this philosophy of "find your own balance" - so that if you're achieving your goals, we care less about the specific location and time they get done on in a day.

I'm an Ironman triathlete, and so most days begin for me around 6am with morning run or bike ride. I'm back home by 7:30 and in the tub with my iPad, catching up on email from the night before.

First "real" meetings of the day start around 9, and carry me through the day - although I'm usually out at the gym or picking up groceries in a mid-day break.

My last calls of the day are at 5 - which I do on a mobile headset so that I can multi-task with prepping dinner - my husband and I generally sit down for a meal together at 6:30 or 7 each night if I'm not on the road or entertaining clients.

After dinner, I hop on my iPad again for another half hour or so of email (or hop on Zoom for a board meeting at Care for Friends - the homeless organization IN chair), and then it's a movie and bed by 10 or 10:30.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

My academic research in group decision making taught me long ago that diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous ones. They produce more work, at higher quality in a way that more than offsets the slightly longer time it takes them to get there.

Yet, I'm continually recognizing that "diversity" is a lot more than just the age/race/gender kinds of demographics that you might find on a survey. In fact, those are the basic and boring ones.

Building and working in teams that have different types of diversity - people who come from really different socioeconomic backgrounds, or radically different parts of the world - rural country and very large city, only children and people with 12 siblings - all bring a special zest to their organizations, and the more we can find and celebrate these many differences, the richer we'll find our work experiences.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

In one of the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore warns his students that there will come a time when they need to choose between what is right and what is easy - and it's a line I find myself repeating all the time.

For salespeople, we always need to be chasing a number - AND doing it with integrity. I've seen some reps push bad business or mislead their customer in order to get a deal done - and those are reps that I will never hire or keep in my organization. They give a bad name to the profession, and they have ruined their own reputation, so that even if they got a big commission in the short term, they've got a burned customer who will never trust or buy from them again.

The "easy vs. right" paradigm applies in so many other places, though. We have just finished our cycle of quarter performance reviews, and my managers are delivering development feedback to their teams of individual contributors. Sometimes, delivering honest feedback is hard - you know it's going to hurt an employees feeling, or be received differently than intended. And it might be easier to simply not give the feedback at all, or find a half-truth of "you're not getting a promotion because there's no budget this month for it" (without mentioning that even if there were, you wouldn't be getting it). In the long term, that's not fair to the employee - it does them a disservice to not have honest feedback on what's going well and what's not in their role, and it doesn't help the organization to grow and evolve either.

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

Like my experience at the multinational years ago, it needs to be an intention investment made by everyone in the organization.

I'm a firm believer that everyone in the company should have an ongoing development plan that they revisit with their manager every 90 days. What are the company's major goals, how does this employee's job advance those goals, and what are the skills and experiences they need to have in order to take on increasing responsibility? Write these down, talk about them in weekly one-on-ones, and re-assess each quarter.

Yet beyond this basic development for all employees, the senior leadership team should also have an identified cohort of employees who are the future leaders of the company - identified as the potential successors to the current leadership team - and be sure they're getting extra coaching. That includes bringing them along to observe important parts of you doing your own job, connecting them with mentors (inside and outside the company, and definitely outside their own reporting line), and empowering them to go try new things (while also allowing them to make mistakes ... we have a saying that our people can do things where they might lose a metaphorical finger, but not a whole arm, and it's the coach's job to help find that line.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

Working at that intersection of business and humanity, I love it any time that I can see how our professional lives have made a difference for an individual personally.

I've been fortunate to work at many successful companies - and it's great when I get to deliver a large commission check to a successful rep. But it's even more exciting when I get to see that it's money that a young person can use to become the first person in their family to own rather than rent a home, or to help advance an adoption, or finance a college education.

We spend a lot of time "at work" (even if it's not happening in a physical office). Yet primarily, work exists to enable us to make money to live our lives and make our families and communities stronger and healthier - so making those connections explicit is the most rewarding thing I get to do.