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7 Questions on Leadership with Michael Baum

Name: Michael Baum

Title: Founder and Principal Consultant

Oranisation: Baum CX

Michael has more than 20 years’ experience leading organizations in the assessment, development and implementation of digital experience transformation strategies and the attendant change management. One of his superpowers is his ability to quickly align senior leadership and stakeholders on the plan to improve and innovate employee and customer experiences for B2C and for B2B companies. He has worked extensively in the healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing (auto and hardlines), retail and technology industries.

His work has resulted in double digit increases in incremental revenue and decreases in churn. He is proud that his clients either ask him back for repeat engagements and/or refer him to others at a rate of over 90%. Michael also has written the curriculum for and taught courses on CRM and CX to both undergraduate and MBA students at the University of ST Thomas, St Catherine University, both in Minneapolis.

He was also on the faculty of AB Tech Community College in Asheville, North Carolina and Montreat College in Montreat, NC. He is currently an advisor to the CX Certification Program at California State University, East Bay. Michael currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where he and his wife enjoy good food, hiking, and traveling.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Michael's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

All of us have our own agenda and priorities in the work we do.

In my role leading business transformations - digital and experience - it is imperative to garner the support of stakeholders and other leaders. For me, the biggest challenge is almost always to find a way to engage others in a way so as to open us both up to seeing things from a different perspective and reach common ground around the attention to and the design of the transformation I am accountable to deliver.

I have found that if I am willing to be patient, remember that others know things I don't and set my goal to learn what they know that can help me, a way forward almost always presents itself. And this "opening up" has led to leading teams and designing transformations that are successful.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

In my early 20s I drove a concrete mixer. On one occaision at the end of the workday, I was washing down the truck (as was the practice). The Operations Manager for the company happened by and saw me. He scolded me for having removed my hard hat while near the loading plant.

When I explained that when I stuck my head inside the the concrete truck drum in order to wash it out thoroughly (so the remaining concrete would not harden and decrease the capacity of the drum), he simply repeated his scolding. It was clear to me that this person had no real understanding of what I did, even though he was the "Operations Manager".

And I realized I could probably do a better job of leading than he was doing. At that moment I resolved to take a path to ensure I had a seat at the leadership table and didn't have to suffer any more incompetent leaders. (Unfortunately, the path didn't completely eliminate those less qualified leaders but it did give me more tools to deal with them 😁 ).

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

I work from home. I spend the first few hours of my day catching up on emails and other communications. Depending on the day, I may also have meetings in those first few hours. I work for about 5-6 hours with few breaks and then do take an hour off to go for a walk. I then come back and finish my day in the early evening. I try not to work past 6 or 7pm, my time.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

There's are few advantages to being the most verbose person in the room.

There are more benefits to being the best listener.

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?

Stephen Covey's book, " The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People". In particular, Habit #2: "Begin with the end in mind".

Almost every day, as I ponder how to approach a problem or deal with a challenging situation, asking myself "what is the ideal ending or achievement?", is amazingly clarifying in that it helps to give me direction on the best way to solve the challenges or design a solution.

In my work of designing experience improvements, this axiom is key to figuring out how to design the new and improved experience - what end does the customer and/or employee want? Armed with that information, it is relatively straightforward to design the experience.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

You don't have to have all the answers. The sentences "I don't know. What do you think?" are all powerful and show remarkable strength, wisdom and competence.

Caveat:!! Learning when to say these sentences and when not to is more challenging and is the key to early and on-going success as a leader.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Early in my senior leadership career, I managed a business unit of a large company. It was the practice of the company that each team could take a day dedicated to team building and fun. I had, what I thought, was this great idea that I would surprise the team with our day.

I organized a trip to a local amusement park that was very popular. But I didn't tell anyone on the team. It was to be a surprise. I told everyone, individually, that they had been selected to work on a special project - offsite- and so they should dress casually and meet in the parking lot on the day, at a specific time. When everyone arrived and realized that everyone else was there, they were definitely suprised and suspicious. And they collectively concluded that our team had been eliminated so everyone was going to lose their job. Some even had emptied out their desk and loaded it in their car. So when I arrived and happily announced that we were all going to the amusement park for a day of fun, I was met with fury instead of surprised joy.

I learned a valuable lesson about the importance of honesty/transparency in bulding trust. And I learned suprise parties are a horrible idea in the workplace.

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