LENZ views leadership broadly and encourages leadership development among everyone on our team. In this series of interviews, several of our leaders reflect on their principles and practices, and on the lessons in leadership they’ve learned along the way.
Mike Killeen is the vice president of marketing at LENZ and an adjunct professor of healthcare marketing at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health. He has worked for LENZ since 2002.
Excluding colleagues at LENZ, who taught you the most important lesson that guides your work at LENZ today? What did you learn from them?
My father is a great leader. He carries himself with humility and without a lot of pomp and circumstance. If I’m doing what I aspire to do, that’s the model for me. You can be very effective as a leader without all the bravado, without seeking attention.
People are smart. You don’t have to tell them everything. They learn a lot from watching what their leaders do. Good leaders do what they say they’ll do. They admit when they make mistakes. They bounce back from failure.
You don’t need grandiose speeches to teach these values. There is a time to stand in front of a room and give a pep talk, but I don’t think it replaces showing up every day and doing your job, and showing rather than telling what the team is there to achieve.
My dad quietly embodies what he needs to do, and people understand.
What is an important lesson about leadership that you learned from a client?
You don’t have to be a jerk to get what you want. We work the hardest for the clients that we care about. We believe in them and in their mission. We believe in the work they do and their character.
I’ve learned from some clients that you can build a world where people working with and for you are invested in you and give you their best work. You can get a lot of great performance without bossing people around.
What impact that you’ve made through your leadership at LENZ feels most meaningful to you?
I hope that I’ve helped people enjoy their job. I do think that you spend so much time at work, so much time with the people you work with, you might as well enjoy it. “Fulfill” is a better word. You might as well find it fulfilling. What a drag it would be to have to come to work every day and just count the minutes until you’re done.
Good leaders help those hours that you’re working be enjoyable and have meaning. They listen to people and care what they have to say. They try to act on their wants, spoken or unspoken.
Tom Coughlin once said, “Coaching is making players do what they don’t want to do so that they can become what they want to become.”
And while I hope I’m not too often making the people of LENZ do things they don’t want to do, I try my best to help them become what they want to become.
What’s a mistake that you made as a leader at LENZ? What did you learn from it?
How much time do you have?
Here’s an analogy. Sometimes when you’re coaching a basketball team, you have to tell one player to pass less and shoot more, and the other to shoot less and pass more.
I have learned that, at times, I need to be more hands on. I am still working on trying to figure out when it’s time to be assertive.
We have a great team at LENZ. We trust them with everything. We’ve had all kinds of success through leaders getting out of the way. We let people be themselves and do what they need to do.
But there’s also a time as a leader to see what’s going on, then recognize and act on an instinct, because you have a different perspective. You have to assert yourself and say, “Actually, we need to do this right now.” Or, “I don’t know a lot, but I know this.”
I try to live by the rule of staying out of the way and letting great people do their jobs. But I’m also trying to listen more often to my own instincts.
What’s a belief or opinion you have in your field that most people in your field don’t share?
I believe in marketing. I think marketing is powerful. I think marketing is very often the missing ingredient. But a lot of people in my industry think that if you have a great commercial, or a great logo and website, that’s all that matters. Good marketing can sell anything.
I think what really matters is product design. The product is the thing. Our role is to help tell the story, but success depends on the product.
I was at the Rolling Stones exhibit in Nashville recently. I saw a video interview there of Don Was, who produced several of the Rolling Stones’ albums. He said something like, “They make the music. My job is to turn a knob or help them decide the song order. That’s important, but at the end of the day, they’re the Rolling Stones.”
In marketing, you need to have some humility to do your job well. You play an important role, but it’s just one role. It’s all about the client and their product.
Fast forward as many years as necessary. You’re leaving your present role, whether for a promotion or a job change or retirement. What advice would you give to the next person who fills your position?
Close the blinds in summer because it gets so hot in my office.
More importantly, try to set people up for success, then let them do their things. Trust them.
If you get the right people, they will care a lot, and they’ll probably be better at what they’re doing than you are. Ask them what they need to do their job as well as they can, and then give it to them.