The Path to Effortless Leadership
Nic Maisano is the Founder & Managing Director at Effortless Labs and Partner at Cultivating Leadership
Nic’s Top Values
How I know Nic
I met Nic 10 years ago on our first day of orientation as full-time employees at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA. Back then, Nic said he left a successful career in management consultant to “learn how to stop being a bully”. Standing at 6’5″ tall, he was a force to be reckoned with. When we reflect on those days today, he admits that there was a lot of insecurity, self-doubt, and suffering under the surface. And yet today, I would describe him as a corporate Yoda. Last year, Nic left Google to scale his own executive coaching practice. Now, he works with founders and senior-level executives at top companies to help them master effortless leadership.
I wanted to kick off this monthly Leaders Spotlight series with Nic because I’ve seen his personal transformation first-hand over the last decade. I have also had the privilege of being one of his coaching clients and it was transformative. He is the inspiration for launching my own coaching practice, is one of the first people I call when I need to phone a Yoda, and is a friend, mentor, and inspiration all in one. I am beyond excited to share some of his wisdom in the Q&A post below. Enjoy!
Q: Your career path is pretty unique… What drove these career choices for you?
Great question! The way I describe my story is that I spent ~10 years in management consulting, working on strategy projects and solving problems. Then when I got to Google and started putting theory into practice, it dawned on me that the way I was used to solving problems didn’t really work and that the best strategy can fail if people aren’t behind it. A lot of it came down to interpersonal dynamics. So I pivoted hard to coaching to understand what makes teams and leaders really effective. I spent my last 5 years (out of 10 total) at Google working with senior engineering executives as an executive team coach, creating and implementing development programs for them to drive cultural change. Then last year I went full-time into my executive coaching practice, Effortless Labs. I’m committed to working with leaders who are trying to achieve something bigger than themselves and want support in service of that goal. Ultimately, I help leaders achieve sustainable results more effortlessly.
Q: Are there a general series of steps that lead to effortless leadership that you could share?
Most career sequencing looks roughly like this. Most of my clients have mastered #1 and to a certain extent #2 before they start working with me. Building the foundations early on in your career becomes the stepping stone towards effortless leadership in the long term.
- Master the core skills required for the job or function – this can take a decade or two
- Master the interpersonal dynamics necessary to get work done in groups
- Master yourself, your purpose, and what is authentic to you
Q: What is the most important habit for leaders at all levels?
Meditation. No-brainer. If you are a white-collar professional and are being paid to think for a living, your primary muscle is your brain. So what do you do to exercise that organ? If you are just going to work and frying your brain every day, it’s exceptionally sub-optimal. It would be like talking to an Olympics athlete who doesn’t train. It would be absurd right? But that’s how a lot of white-collar professionals today work. I meditate 45-60 minutes every day. For the last 5+ years, I have seen compounding effects of this practice.
Q: Interesting… why is it so important to tune into one’s body and intuition?
Most people have a tendency to want what they want to want, rather than what they really want. In order to unfold what you really want, you need to explore your inner space. When you tune into your body, you highly sensitize yourself to find what brings you joy and what doesn’t bring you joy. What experiences do you want to have more of versus want to have less of. And this helps you to better understand where you really want to go.
Q: How can leaders practice bringing their authentic selves to work?
There are two things that are really important to do this and they’re both hard. The first is knowing what it really means to be authentic to yourself. I would posit most people don’t know what this actually means. The first time I really got this was when I did a 10-day silent meditation retreat and got to the point of “oh, that’s really me” by day 5. The second is knowing what consistently knocks you off that state every day. Do you know what those triggers are? Can you recover from them? How quickly? These practices will save you hours of work, conflict, and personal emotional suffering. But they take a lot of work.
Q: What distinguishes a good leader from a great leader today?
McKinsey did some recent research on this in the context of the Great Resignation and they found that #1, 2 and 3 things that had the highest delta between Employee Importance and Employer Focus was (1) Belonging, (2) Valued by Manager, (3) Valued by Company. We’re getting better and better at producing value in corporations and becoming more efficient. But what’s missing is a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging.
Good leaders can lead you through the battlefield of capitalism in a way that avoids the landmines, allows for progress, and shares the spoils fairly. Great leaders give purpose and meaning to the adventure. They let you know why this is important, not just for the company but create space for it to be important to you personally – because the two don’t always align and that should be okay.
In this moment of COVID, there’s a lot of value being created, and yet there is still something missing for a lot of people. What’s missing is that feeling of connection and belonging. So the question is, how can more leaders create more connection and belonging? As the workplace gets more virtual, this will increasingly be a critical skill set to bringing teams together.
Q: How can each of us create more connection and belonging on-demand?
Have you ever walked into a room after your family or parents just had a fight and you didn’t see it or hear it – but you can feel it? You intuitively feel that something’s going on. As humans, we know what that feeling is like. The converse of this is when you meet someone and you like being near them but you don’t know why. It’s not necessarily because they’re the funniest, best-looking, smartest people you’ve ever met… but you want to be close to them. Does this resonate? Humans are feeling beings that have evolved the ability to think. If you think of it this way, humans can pick up on frequencies and emotions from the people around us (especially people in charge). If you impact how you’re feeling, you can transmit those feelings to others. Changing your physiology changes your state. So going back to an earlier point on meditation, you can meditate to practice different physiological states. One of the most valuable practices is embodying loving-kindness. With advanced clients, I spend time actively practicing this with them.
Q: Is there any advice you wish you had known earlier in your career?
#1- Being open to being wrong is marvelous. There’s so much you can learn when you’re open to being wrong. Conversations are so much more fun and connecting. Earlier in my career, I see how much my own fears and insecurities actually held me back. If I didn’t know something, that put me at personal identity risk. Therefore the solution was always to know. It was unsafe for me to be honest with myself because there was too much fear associated with it.
2- You’ve got to be trained properly during your formative years. This relates to the phases of one’s career we talked about earlier. Some of my early consulting years were miserable. But I’m so grateful I went through it because I learned critical skillsets that I wouldn’t have learned otherwise. I think about this constantly with my kids: how do I train my kids to get by in the world as it is? For instance, I don’t want my kids to be capitalists but I need them to get capitalism. I want them to balance realism with hope, just like I think it’s important to balance value creation with connection.
I say this easily now, yet I know this is really hard. For instance, it took me years and years of therapy to be able to sit with being wrong to understand what was at risk for me. I’d be lying if I said I did this all on my own.
This is part of a monthly series on values-led leaders. Do you know any inspiring and values-driven leaders whom the world should know about? Shoot me an email at email@example.com