What defines a great leader? This week on “The Heartbeat of Main Street” podcast, Adam Witty – founder of Vantage Media Groups and ForbesBooks – dives deep into leadership. Tune in for great tips and insights for entrepreneurs and business owners.
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Adam Witty: Leadership is a journey that candidly does not have a destination. You will not be crowned king or queen as a leader. You will not arrive as a leader. Whether you're 30, 40, 60, or 70, no matter how old you are and how many years of experience you have, the leadership journey will continue because there are all these new things that you can learn, there's new insights you will glean, and there are better ways for you to lead.
Gregg Stebben: Adam Witty is the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. Advantage Media Group is one of the largest business book publishers in America. In fact, just a few weeks ago it was named to the Inc. 5000 List of America's most rapidly growing private companies for the sixth time. His latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant,” with Rusty Shelton; the forward was by Steve Forbes. No surprise, Adam is the CEO of ForbesBooks.
Gregg Stebben: I want to say, Adam, we're thrilled to be doing this “Heartbeat of Main Street” interview with you. Of course, we're doing it in partnership with Bank of America and ForbesBooks. I've known you for a long time, and only recently have I been part of a ForbesBooks team, but one of the things I have always admired about you, marveled, is that you are an incredible leader, and my sense is you have always been working to be a better leader every day. So when we, here at “The Heartbeat of Main Street,” decided we wanted to do an interview about leadership, I knew you were the guy to talk to.
Gregg Stebben: Welcome to the show. And I want you to talk a little bit about your interest in leadership and how that drove you to create a company like Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks.
Adam Witty: Well, if you think about any business in the world that's world class at what it does, and if you think about any business that's a big business, there's one thing that they all have in common, and that is that they all require lots of skills and talented people on a team working together towards one mission and goal. As an entrepreneur who is an ambitious guy, who has a dream and a vision to create a very, very large company that makes a significant impact on the world, I think a long time ago I came to the realization that if I was going to build a large world class organization, the one skill that I would have to have that would be better than any other would be that of a talented leader, and understanding what true leadership is.
Adam Witty: So candidly, in a selfish manner, I really pursued a path of learning, and I took my own leadership journey. But as I've now realized as our company has continued to grow quite rapidly, is that at the time, before it felt selfish, now it's a gift that I realize that I can share with others, and creating a world class company is not something that's selfish at all. In fact, it's something that's very selfless because when you have a world class organization that's filled with skilled and talented people that are working together to achieve something far greater than anybody could achieve on their own, it has a pretty significant impact, a positive impact on the lives of not just the people within the organization, but all of the people that are a part of your team members' families and close centers of influence.
Adam Witty: So it's become quite a fulfilling journey for me, and it's reaped a lot of benefits, not just for me, but for everybody associated.
Gregg Stebben: Well, and you've said two things, Adam, that I think are really interesting. Just everyone associated with you benefits. But I want to paint a picture of how big I think that circle is, because there's lots of leaders in the world, and there's lots of leaders that share their leadership through their company or their organization, or in other ways that are very focused. But you became a great leader and built a company that empowers other great leaders to share their expertise.
Gregg Stebben: Were you always planning on publishing books on leadership and business books? Was that a coincidence that that's where you took your publishing company, or was that always the goal?
Adam Witty: Well, I've always been a great lover of books. I've always been a voracious reader myself. Each year, I'll typically read somewhere between 25 and 40 books, and in most cases, almost all of those books are business books or leadership books or some type of nonfiction topic related to personal achievement or personal bests, if you will. So I've always had an interest in books, and what I realized was that some of the greatest wisdom in the world, some of the greatest knowledge that I believe can propel society forward is contained within the pages of books.
Adam Witty: And to have the privilege to lead a company that helps entrepreneurs and business leaders and CEOs share their story, their passion, and their knowledge with the world, it's a really great honor because I truly believe that books are our windows to the world, and I believe that the right book in the right person's hands can change that person's life forever. So having the great responsibility to lead a company that this year will publish over 200 new books into the world, and those 200 books will sell hundreds of thousands of copies into the marketplace and affect so many lives, it's a pretty awesome responsibility.
Gregg Stebben: I'm talking with Adam Witty. He's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks is at ForbesBooks.com. Advantage Media Group is at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam's latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant.”
Gregg Stebben: I want to go back to something you said, Adam, that really interests me, because not everyone in a leadership role is actually a very good leader, and many of them don't know they're good leaders, or they know they're good leaders but they don't even know where to turn to transform themselves from where they are to a great leader. There's also a lot of people that are just young and being put into positions of leadership that also don't know what to do to be the great leader that their job will call on them to do.
Gregg Stebben: What would you suggest for people who recognize in listening to you the value of being in great leadership, the recognition that they could and should be doing better? Where do they go? How do they start to get started on the kind of journey that you've been on?
Adam Witty: Well, the first thing I would say is I believe that most people in some type of leadership position want to be a good leader. If they want to be a great leader, to your point, Gregg, they may not know how, and they may not know what to do. But I think most people genuinely want to do good as a leader. The second thing that I would say is being a leader in any size organization, whether it's five people, 50 people, 500, or 500,000, leadership is one of the greatest responsibilities that there is. And the person that holds the baton, the person that leads the charge in any size organization, they number one have to see it as the honor that it is. The second thing that they need to know is to serve is to live, and leadership is one of the greatest services that you can give to your fellow teammates. So pursuing a path of improving and growing as a leader is simply pursuing a path of increasing your service to the world.
Adam Witty: So I would say, to answer your question directly, the first thing is, you got to want to be a better leader. The second thing is you got to be self-reflective and have enough self-awareness to know that no matter how good you think you are, number one, you're probably wrong, and you're probably giving yourself more credit than you deserve, but there's always ways to be better.
Adam Witty: If I look at myself and the leadership journey that I've been on since I founded Advantage and ForbesBooks, this was in 2005, that was now 13 years ago, the leader that I am today pales in comparison to what I will become, but if you look at where I am today to where I was 13 years ago, it's amazing the strides that I have made. So as I like to say, as a leader, I'm not where I want to be because I know there's so much growing that I have to do, but I'm certainly not where I used to be. I've made tremendous growth as a leader.
Adam Witty: That's what I think every leader should attain for, is that leadership is a journey that candidly does not have a destination. You will not be crowned king or queen as a leader. You will not arrive as a leader. Whether you're 30, 40, 50, or 70, no matter how old you are and how many years of experience you have, the leadership journey will continue because there are always new things that you can learn, there's new insights you will glean, and there are better ways for you to lead.
Adam Witty: So to me, the sign of the best leaders are the ones that are always wanting to learn and grow because they know that they have not arrived, they are merely on a journey.
Gregg Stebben: Your latest book is titled “Authority Marketing,” and I want to talk about that because just as we just talked about people who are in leadership roles who should or can know that there's more they can do to be better leaders, in fact you're encouraging that forever, but I also suspect that there are people who are leaders in their company, in their industry, where have you, that are afraid or timid or don't understand the value to the world of making their position as a leader, as a thought leader, as an authority, available to the rest of the world. I imagine that that was probably at the root of what had you start your company Advantage Media Group and then ForbesBooks, was that recognizing there's people who know things that should be shared with their world to make their world, and perhaps the bigger world a better place. Can you talk about what you mean by authority marketing and why it's so important in business today?
Adam Witty: Well, to your point, Gregg, there are so many leaders that have so much incredible knowledge and great passion. They have phenomenal stories that can educate. And unfortunately, most people feel very reticent about, let's call it tooting your own horn. So because we're humble and we don't want to toot our own horn, we leave the music inside of us. It never comes out. I believe that there are so many phenomenal leaders that have so much to share that if they did share, they could have a very positive impact on others. That is what we hope to accomplish by helping leaders become authorities in their field.
Adam Witty: Now, from a technical side, Gregg, authority can be manufactured. What I mean by that is that authority marketing, as defined, is a strategic and systematic process of positioning a person as a leader and an expert in their field. And the reason people want to be seen as a leader and an expert is because of the influence it gives them, and the, for lack of a better word, unfair advantage it gives them over their competition. But between us, the other big reason, the important reason is because these people have incredible stories, passion, and knowledge that can and should be shared that can help others improve their lot in life.
Adam Witty: The others that they improve can be customers, they can be employees and teammates, they can be spouses and children. So we take our authors on a journey where we help them strategically and systematically build their authority status in the world, and we help create a leadership and expertise halo that surrounds them, that makes them magnetically attractive to customers, to prospects, to future employees, the people that want to work with them because they're an authority in their field.
Gregg Stebben: And part of what you're saying is recognizing that you have within you or your organization or your company that kind of authority, and not to share is, you're wasting an asset, you're not leveraging an asset. So when you say it's manufactured, of course, one of the most important raw materials is actual authority to start building with.
Adam Witty: That's right. You're doing yourself and the world a disservice by keeping that knowledge bottled up inside of you. And when we help business leaders build authority, how do we do it, Gregg? We first help them author a book, because when you write the book on the topic, not only is that a great piece to then amplify your stories, your passion, and knowledge with the world, but of course, you know and I know that people perceive authors as experts. Because you wrote the book on it, you must know a lot about this topic. So by writing a book and getting a book in people's hands that you can truly help, you're immediately doing the world a service, but in addition, you're doing yourself a great service because now as the author of that book, you're the guy or you're the gal that everybody wants to talk to and everybody wants to work with because you wrote the book on it.
Gregg Stebben: Will you talk a little bit, Adam, about the relevance of books today in 2018? Because most people think we live in a world that's 90% digital today and it'll be 100% digital tomorrow, and books can be digital, but that's not really the root of them, and I think statistically, we're even reading more and more hard copy books today than we were a few years ago. So can you talk about the relevance of books today and why they are not only so important today, but why they're going to be even more important in the future?
Adam Witty: Books are extremely relevant and continue to be relevant. In fact, the percentage of all book sales that are digital, electronic books, right now is at about 27, 28%. So that means that about one out of every three books purchased are digital. It hit its peak three years ago when that number was 31%. Over the last three years, the percentage of book sales that are digital have actually declined slightly. It looks like, based on trend lines, that it's going to stay in that 28 to 30% range.
Adam Witty: So, this, of course, has confused and confounded so many all-digital folks that thought by the year 2020, physical books would all but disappear. As it turns out, we humans really love the tactile feel of a printed book in our hands. And sitting on the couch or curling up next to a fire where you have a book where you can literally flip the pages, there you can take notes, it still is something that is really, really important to people.
Adam Witty: So I believe that physical books have a story place in our history and will continue to have a significant place in our future. I can tell you that based on the number of books published and the number of books that are consumed, whether it be electronic or physical, books will remain a very, very relevant way in which we as society learns, grows, and educates the next generation.
Gregg Stebben: We're talking with Adam Witty, he's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks. ForbesBooks is at ForbesBooks.com. Advantage Media Group is at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam, I'm going to ask you a couple of loaded questions because you're the publisher of a lot of business books, and you have been for a long time. Is it fair to ask you which business books have had the greatest influence on you and others in the field of thought leadership and leadership that have had a great influence on you so others can check them out and learn from them as well?
Adam Witty: Absolutely. I do have my favorites. I try to temper that as the publisher of now over 1,000 business books. I try not to pick favorites, just like a parent ought not choose a favorite child. But I do have some books that have had a significant impact on my life, so I'll throw out just a couple.
Adam Witty: One of my favorite leaders, and one of the leaders that I've studied intimately over the last five or six years is a guy named Alan Mulally. Alan Mulally was the CEO of Boeing, and he was also the CEO of Ford Motor Company. Probably listeners would remember Alan Mulally because he was the guy that saved Ford from bankruptcy when GM and Chrysler both declared bankruptcy. In fact, Alan Mulally is largely credited with saving the American automobile industry. And Alan is an incredible leader. A great book was written about him and his leadership skills, and how he put those to work turning around the Ford Motor Company. The title of that book is “American Icon,” subtitle is “Alan Mulally and the Fight to Save Ford Motor Company.” That's a phenomenal book that has had a deep impact on me as a leader.
Adam Witty: Another book that I really like, titled “Scaling Up.” “Scaling Up” is one of my favorite books because it really gives a phenomenal blueprint on how entrepreneurs of fast growth companies can scale up their business. The reason most businesses don't get big is because there's so many traps, there's so many potholes, and there's so much danger as we try to grow. And the book “Scale Up,” which was authored by a gentleman named Verne Harnish, really goes a long way in providing a blueprint and an operating roadmap of how entrepreneurs can take that growth journey and do it successfully.
Adam Witty: The final book that I'll share with you is titled “The Discipline of Market Leaders.” “The Discipline of Market Leaders” was a phenomenal book written many, many years ago, where it emphasizes that leaders in businesses must choose what category of business they want to create: product innovative companies, customer intimate companies, or operationally excellent companies. The author makes the point that most businesses try to do all three and they fail at that. Instead, pick one that you're extremely good at, and be mediocre at the rest. That's how the true world class companies created industry dominating strategy that makes them world class and a leader in their field.
Adam Witty: So there you go. There's three quick book recommendations to help your listeners on their road and leadership journey.
Gregg Stebben: He's Adam Witty. He's the Founder and CEO of Advantage Media Group and ForbesBooks, ForbesBooks at ForbesBooks.com, Advantage Family at AdvantageFamily.com. Adam's latest book is “Authority Marketing: How to Leverage 7 Pillars of Thought Leadership to Make Competition Irrelevant.” Adam, I want to thank you so much for joining us, and we hope you'll come back and join us again on “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”
Adam Witty: Thank you, Gregg.