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Welcome to the first episode of Season 5 of the Automotive Leaders Podcast. In this season opener, Jan Griffiths interviews Michael Colleran, Senior Vice President and Corporate Officer at Nissan North America. Michael started his professional journey as a US Marine Corps Captain and later worked at General Motors and Saab before joining Nissan. This diverse experience gives him a unique perspective on the shifts in the auto industry.
The conversation starts with a study from Great Place to Work, revealing that 77 percent of Nissan’s employees deem it a great place to work. Mike shares what factors contribute to this recognition, exploring the essential elements that shape Nissan’s exceptional workplace culture.
Michael highlights the changing dynamics of customer interactions, emphasizing the shift from transactional to experiential relationships. Essential leadership qualities, accountability, and the significance of setting examples within leadership teams are discussed, and challenging norms by acknowledging past success behaviors may not ensure future achievements. These perspectives not only give a glimpse into how leadership operates at Nissan but also offer valuable lessons for adapting to the ever-changing world of the automotive industry.
Themes discussed in this episode:
- Nissan's journey and transformation.
- The necessity for behavioral and cultural changes to drive success.
- Adapting to changing customer expectations from transactional to experiential.
- Evolving dynamics of leadership in the automotive industry.
- Balancing innovation with a strong sense of accountability in leadership.
- The influential role of leadership teams in setting positive examples.
Featured: Michael Colleran
What he does: Michael is Corporate Vice President at Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., and Senior Vice President for all sales and marketing activities for the Nissan and INFINITI brands in the US. A former Captain in the United States Marine Corps, Michael brings a dynamic blend of strategic vision and operational excellence to the automotive industry.
On leadership: “When leaders replicate good behaviors, people will follow. They want to follow; they want that example out there... Leaders can get out there, set an example, and use their experience.”
Mentioned in this episode:
- Podcast interview with Navy SEALs:
- Episode with Clint Bruce - Former Navy Special Warfare Officer
- Episode with Nick Norris - Former Navy SEAL
- Book Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink
- Podcast episode with Stefan Krause
- Podcast episode with Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company
[00:02:53] Michael's corporate odyssey: Follow Michael’s journey as he transitions from a US Marine Corps Captain through roles at GM and Saab to his impactful position at Nissan, revealing the changes in leadership dynamics along the way.
[00:08:36] Cultural transformation at Nissan: Exploring the essential cultural shifts and behavioral changes that positioned the company as a great workplace amidst the rapid transformations in the automotive industry.
[00:20:01] Innovation through accountability: Jan and Michael tackle the fear of failure that is prevalent in leadership. Michael advises leaders to encourage risk-taking, emphasizing the importance of learning from failures and swiftly moving forward. They also discussed accountability dynamics, steering away from blame and fostering a culture that encourages positive accountability.
[00:33:29] Authentic leadership traits: Discussing the 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership, Michael emphasizes the essence of being a leader with Gravitas, summarizing the comprehensive qualities required for authentic leadership.
[00:35:54] Executive beyond the boardroom: Explore the personal side of an auto industry executive as Michael Colleran shares insights into his life outside the corporate world, uncovering exciting details such as his music preferences and hobbies.
[00:40:37] Michael’s advice: In an industry where stability once prevailed, Michael urges leaders to stay attentive to the shifting ground, continuously questioning and adapting while acknowledging the influx of new competitors.
[00:04:17] Michael: “Where to place your trust, how to earn trust, and how to make sure that your people and the teams around you trust each other are crucial… That's true in our business today. Employees want that level of trust and transparency. It was probably one of the key things I learned from my days in the Marine Corps.”
[00:09:55] Michael: “Most would say the big challenges in the industry are ICE to EV, autonomous drive, or connected cars. At Nissan, we reject that. Big change is coming, no question. But the biggest change is the battle for the customer. At the ultimate decision point, the customer has to make a decision for your brand.”
[00:11:16] Michael: “We're going to make the best ecosystem possible, one that people just don't want to leave. They truly love the brand. Right now, we're reinventing our team into a very customer-focused team, moving the business from transactional to experiential.”
[00:14:30] Michael: I truly believe that really great leadership is forged in the furnace of experience.
[00:14:54] Michael: “I'm a big believer in looking for curiosity in people; curiosity to me means you're still growing, and I can't coach and mentor someone who stopped learning.”
[00:32:13] Michael: “Leaders, focus will set you free, and it also allows you to be true to your core values. When you're focused, and you know what you're trying to accomplish, and you never lose sight of that goal.”
[00:34:11] Michael: “If a leader sees the business as their own, they're going to make better decisions for the company, for their people, for their partners, and for their customers.”
[00:41:15] Michael: “I would say, keep your head on a swivel. You need always just to be looking around and asking yourself, why?”
[00:00:00] Jan Griffiths: Welcome to the Automotive Leaders Podcast, where we help you prepare for the future by sharing stories, insights, and skills from leading voices, in the automotive world with a mission to transform this industry together. I'm your host, Jan Griffiths, that passionate rebellious farmer's daughter from Wales with over 35 years of experience in our beloved auto industry and a commitment to empowering fellow leaders to be their best authentic selves. Stay true to yourself, be you, and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership. Let's dive in.
[00:00:58] Jan Griffiths: What is happening at Nissan North America? According to Great Place to Work, 77 percent of their employees say exactly that. It is indeed a great place to work, but why? Well, let's find out, shall we? Today, you're going to join a conversation with Mike Collaran. He is the Senior Vice President and Corporate Officer at Nissan North America. You'll learn about his career path. He started out as a US Marine Corps Captain. Then he worked his way through General Motors. Saab and then Nissan. Mike really understands how brands and ecosystems are changing in this industry, how the customer is moving from being transactional to more experiential. And he clearly recognizes the need for culture change. In his words, the behaviors that got you here are not going to get you to where you need to be. He rejects the status quo at every turn. And you'll learn about that. You'll also learn about what he learned from an orchestra. We talk about failing fast, innovation, and yes, my favorite subject, accountability, and setting the example as a leadership team. And what happens when those leaders step out of line? What do you do? And we'll take a turn into the personal realm, and you'll learn about the instrument he loves to play and the band he loves to listen to. Mike Colleran, welcome to the show.
[00:02:31] Michael Colleran: Thanks, Jan. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
[00:02:34] Jan Griffiths: I am thrilled to have you on the show today, and I want to go right back to the very beginning.
Now, you have a senior leadership role at Nissan today, but that's not where you started. You did not start your career in the auto industry now, did you?
[00:02:50] Michael Colleran: No, I didn't. I think my career started out years ago. I was getting ready to be a stockbroker and a gentleman called me and said, “Hey, I'm joining the army.” And I said, “Drew, I don't think that's such a great idea. You know, maybe I should come down there, be your wingman.” And I did, I won't tell you the whole story, but he ended up never going to the army. And I ended up in the Marine Corps as a result, completely unplanned, but that's how it all started 1981.
[00:03:22] Jan Griffiths: I've interviewed several Navy SEALs on this podcast. And you know, Mike, one of the things that strikes me about leadership coming out of that kind of environment, I always thought that it was all super aggressive command and control. But I learned about this idea of decentralized command and how trust is so important. What did you learn? What leadership lessons did you learn from your time in the Marine Corps?
[00:03:50] Michael Colleran: Wow. There's, there's so many, I'm not even sure where to start. I think one was, early on, learning to trust people. You're a young leader. You've just graduated from university. You're newly commissioned. There's a lot of things that you don't know. Hopefully, you know that you don't know those things because, in that line of work, you could get someone injured or worse very quickly. So, you learn very quickly. Where to place your trust, how to earn trust, and how to make sure that your people and the teams around you trust each other. Because if you don't have that, you're in a lot of trouble in the military. And I think that that's true in our business today. Employees want that level of trust. They want that level of transparency. It was probably one of the key things I learned. From my days in the Marine Corps, and I've learned a lot more since and I bring a lot of the Marine Corps with me every day into work. But I would say trust is at the key right at the heart of what I learned.
[00:04:52] Jan Griffiths: Hmm. We're not good at that in the automotive industry as a whole.
[00:04:56] Michael Colleran: I agree.
[00:04:58] Jan Griffiths: Oh, we'll get into that in a little bit later on. So, then after the Marine Corps, then you went into Saab and at sales, sales at Saab.
[00:05:06] Michael Colleran: It was a longer journey than that actually, ended up getting ambushed, so to speak, by a bunch of General Motors executives years ago at a little place called Gilhooley's in Thousand Oaks. I think it's gone now. And, they said, "Hey, we'd love to see you, join our team at Pontiac." And so, I was at Pontiac for a number of years, a number of roles at General Motors, left as VP of sales at Cadillac. Then, I ended up at Saab had an opportunity to go private equity. We took the business private, bought it from General Motors and didn't exactly work out the way we had hoped. I remember one of my good friends that are a competitor of yours said, you know, working capital, in this business, it begins with a B. You need billions. And I don't know that you have it. And that person turned to be very prophetic. Mr. Keith Crane, by the way.
[00:05:55] Jan Griffiths: Oh yeah, that's true. You spent several years in the General Motors system too, right?
[00:06:01] Michael Colleran: Yeah. In a lot of different places at General Motors, Pontiac, and Pontiac GMC. Ended up working for all the brands for a short period of time. You may remember those days. And then, my last couple of years I was with Cadillac, those were the difficult years. General Motors was emerging from bankruptcy. You learn a lot through adversity. And I certainly sharpened my skills during those days, especially on the financial side, but also it led to an opportunity. Where GM was to sell Saab, Hummer, and Saturn, as you may recall, and only one of those deals ended up going through: the Saab deal. While it didn't work out in the end, for a lot of different reasons, it was quite an adventure, quite a learning adventure for me.
[00:06:45] Jan Griffiths: And then, after that, then you moved into Nissan. Tell us about that.
[00:06:51] Michael Colleran: I did. I was actually getting ready to join an RV maker after my days at Saab. And I got a call from Nissan HR right before the tsunami in 2011. And they said, hey, we have a role for you that we'd like you to think about up in Canada. And I think my wife was convinced the only place we could move would be south because we were in Detroit. But somehow, I still ended up going further north. And we did a great run there, a great team, and we were able to move a business from kind of mid-seventies to 80,000 units a year up to over 110 by the time I left. So, a good solid business up there for us and it remains that way today.
[00:07:32] Jan Griffiths: And then more career progression within the Nissan system to where you're at today.
[00:07:38] Michael Colleran: It's been really rewarding. I had some time in the Northeast, going back to a place that's near and dear to my heart, New York. Well, I ran our East Coast business for a number of years for Nissan. Then, I was asked to become the INFINITI Group Vice President for the Americas. So, U. S., Canada, all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. And then that role morphed into, ultimately, to the chairmanship in Hong Kong. And so I spent a number of years in China. And then, COVID hit, had to find my way back home, which is a fascinating story. And then, when I got home, we were looking, to change our business here in the U. S., as we brought out Nissan Next, which was our midterm plan introduced in late 2019. And I took on the role of senior vice president and corporate officer for the Americas.
[00:08:28] Jan Griffiths: That's great. I love that. What an interesting background with the marine backgrounds at the core, at the foundation, right? Then a traditional GM, traditional legacy OEM kind of company, and then a little bit of European exposure with Saab and Japanese. You know, what an incredible sort of well-rounded journey to bring you to where you're at today. And my question for you, Mike, is this. And it's a big one. We talk all day long about ICE to BEV, about electrification, about EVs, and we're very, very focused on the product. We know we're going through a massive transformation. I interviewed John McElroy on the podcast a while ago, and he said, "Hey, we're going to see more change in the next seven than we've seen in the past 100." And it is true, we are going through transformation now that is along the lines of the days that we switched over from horses to cars. This is where we're at. I think people don't understand the magnitude of this change, but my concern, Mike, is this, what about the people and the culture to go along with this product change? What are we going to do about that Mike?
[00:09:49] Michael Colleran: Yeah, Jan, I think you've really hit at the core of the issue when it comes to transition in our business. I think most would say, the big challenges that are facing the industry are ICE to EV or autonomous drive or connected car. And I think in Nissan, we reject that. Certainly, big change is coming. No question about it. But I think the biggest change is the battle for the customer. And at the ultimate decision point customer has to make a decision for your brand. And as you can see with Apple or Google or Amazon, they're big brands and they lock you up into their ecosystem. The car companies are doing the same and you can see it through our connected car services and the technologies that we offer. And so, I think that as people get more and more locked up into their brands and their car becomes an extension of their life, it's going to be harder and harder to move them. Well, you better, one, be ultimately paying attention to your customer, but you also ought to have the workforce that really is empowered to take that on and make sure that the customer experience is world-class and that no one ever leaves you because I think conquesting will be much more difficult in the future as we enter into the EV world, maybe not in the short run, because there's certainly a lot of conquesting going on at the moment. But as consumers get locked up, you better have a team that can see that and says, we're going to make the best ecosystem possible and one that people just don't want to leave. They love the brand, truly love the brand, and right now we're reinventing our team as we speak into a very customer-focused team, one that's moving the business from transactional to experiential.
[00:11:36] Jan Griffiths: I love that, from transactional to experiential because that goes right along with the culture change in this industry, which is we are moving from a compliance kind of culture to conviction. Leading by compliance versus leading with conviction. And I would love to take credit for that tagline, but that credit goes to Stefan Krause, who I interviewed on the podcast a while ago. And it is so true. In this industry we're very much, yeah, we know about command and control, but it's all about compliance. It's all about, what are the rules. What is my silo? What is my box? What do I need to do to play the game to succeed? Now we're talking about a switch to people leading with conviction, where it's more about the leader's ability.
Not to establish all the rules. Yeah, we need accountability, we'll get to that. But this ability to really articulate a vision for the company, for their function, for their team, and to connect with people at a very deep and meaningful level, human to human, how on earth, Mike, do you do that at a company the size of Nissan?
[00:12:48] Michael Colleran: Yeah, Jan, it's a great question. You know, cultures are probably one of the hardest things to change, right? People's behaviors they learn them over time, they come to depend on them. In many cases, those behaviors got them to a certain place, and those behaviors that you've learned in this career over 40 years or career similar to mine, probably those behaviors that got you here, aren't going to get you where you need to be as a company or as an individual.
And so, one of the things that we try to do at Nissan is reject the status quo. Now, certainly, there are things that we've learned over the years that are really good, around quality and taking care of customers. And we don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater because we've learned so many good things. But at the same time, in this period of transition, you better learn to reject the status quo and at least question yourself and say, "Are those things that we've done going to get us to where we need to be? If not, let's stop doing them. Let's start doing new things." That's a big culture jump. And every day, I would say it's rolling up your sleeves and ensuring that the old behaviors don't come back and that the new behaviors are deeply embedded into the organization. And, I have an old saying, it's kind of simplistic: wash, rinse, repeat, it's like right off the box of the old laundry detergent, and I believe that repetition is, especially when leaders replicate good behaviors, people will follow, they want to follow, they want that example out there, and so I think if leaders can get out there and set the example and use their experience, you know, you said it a minute ago, experience has a breadth aspect to it, and some of that, you just, need over time. And I truly believe that you know, really great leadership is forged in the furnace of experience. But for leaders today, I think experience matters. But if you rely on the behaviors within that experience, you might find that you're just doing the same thing you've always done. And so, we're working really hard to break people out of their paradigms and to essentially ask questions. And it gets back to something, you know, I discussed before the show: curiosity. I'm a big believer in looking for curiosity in people. Curiousness to me means you're still growing and I can't coach and mentor someone that stopped learning, but someone that's thirsty for learning, they'll ask, why, why? Just like that five-year-old child. Perfect, I want to hire you.
[00:15:14] Jan Griffiths: Yeah, I agree. Let's talk about, you know, people's ideas or views of a great leader, right? Because you talked about leadership behaviors at Nissan, but so often people have an idea of what they think a leader should be. And, I did, early on in my career. I always thought that as a leader, you should be in charge, you should lead the meeting, you should set the agenda, you should be the one to speak first, you should put your opinion forward, and you should never show a weakness. If you didn't understand something, or you didn't know something, you were expected to have the answers and lead the people to the promised land that way, right? I learned over several decades that that is not what true leadership is about. That is management, and there's a huge difference. And when I'm coaching clients, I have to get inside their heads to really understand what their view is of a successful leader. And if it's that, if it's a manager, then it goes back to your point about being transactional, right? Then it's very transactional, it is very rule-based. It's all about compliance. And that's how they see themselves as a successful leader. Now, leaders for the future are leaders that yes, are grounded with the right experience level, but are comfortable in their own skin, that express and display vulnerability and look to the team for the answers and they speak last and that took me a long time to learn, Mike. How about you?
[00:16:59] Michael Colleran: I did. It took a really long time. It's a great story. Matter of fact, this came up just recently, we did a leadership seminar at Vanderbilt and they asked us to write down two things that we really wanted to change. And one of the things I wrote was something from a mentor from Chase, years ago.
And she's the old CFO there. And she wrote down, this is your final piece of advice from me, WAIT. And I'm like, wait, what am I waiting for? Because I don't like to wait, I'm impatient. She goes, no, it's not wait. It's "Why am I talking?" And I've always thought that that was brilliant. And I still write it today. Most days when I'm getting ready, I'll put wait at the top of my notebook for the day, date it in, you know, with my agenda. And the three things I want to accomplish for the day. And I write the word, wait, because I know that if I talk less and listen more, I'm going to have a better day. But ultimately, I think at the end of the day, when you're really trying to pull people out, I love your description of true leadership, of authentic leadership, and you know, the Gravitas 21 principles that you have put forth, I think are really good in defining leadership versus management and management's not what's needed today. We need leadership, people that will come in and be willing to do all those things that you said and have the gravitas to lead. But at the same time, you're listening. And you're engaging with your employees and you're giving them an opportunity to be great. Part of that trip to Vanderbilt, we sat with the Vanderbilt Symphony Orchestra.
We actually sat with them. And it was fantastic as we watched the conductor. And the conductor took us through a number of different iterations. Very controlling, you know, very, very much hitting adagio and making sure that, you know, the fortissimo was giant and it felt a little stilted. And he goes, now I'm going to show you the difference. And he said all I'm going to do now is let the musicians know what's coming next. Is it a right turn? A left turn? All I have to do is let them know in the score where we're headed and the music will be so much better. And so, he played and he took half a step back and he just, he let them know that, you're going to have to bring it up a little bit. You're going to have to bring it down a little bit here, in a moment, right? And it was all leading direction. And guess what? The music was so much better. Not surprisingly, because the artistry of each of those employees or musicians, in this case, came through. I really love that moment. Because it told me, wait, let them show you how good they are. And they're almost always going to overachieve. They're almost always going to beat your expectations. And I love that. I hope that that's part of my legacy is that I was one of those leaders that let people be everything they could be. That sounds like an army commercial, not perfect for a Marine, but good enough.
[00:19:58] Jan Griffiths: And I think a lot of that goes back to trust. There are so many leaders out there that are afraid to fail. And so, they cling on to more of a micromanagement type of approach because they know that they're on the line if something fails or something doesn't happen. So, they don't want to let go. So, they don't want to give people that environment so that they can play the music that they want to play the way they want to play it. What advice do you give to those leaders that just are so afraid to let go?
[00:20:29] Michael Colleran: Usually, it goes something like this: take a risk, fail fast, and learn. I would rather see leaders take some risks, get in there if there's a failure, learn from it fast, and then move on. Fix it and let's go. If we don't allow our young managers, senior managers, and directors to fail. They're never going to really learn. They're never going to have been in that, that furnace of experience. And they're going to get to a spot where the wind's going to blow hard and because their roots weren't sunk into the ground, they didn't have that breath. They get blown over. And we see this in many cases where leaders haven't taken the time to garner that experience and really soak, let it soak in a little bit. And leadership hasn't let them learn that and then they fail. And we wonder why, why did they fail? And many times, failure, permanent failure comes because you just didn't learn along the way. And I'm really trying to make sure that my team learns along the way, fails fast, and then finds that success, quickly.
[00:21:36] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. And I find like a lot of executives in the industry talk about failing, failing fast. And we all know that if we want to create an innovation culture, by definition, we have to fail because it's about iterating. It's about learning that lesson quickly and moving on. But when you're dealing with an industry that is often paralyzed by fear, I mean, many times in my career, I've been scared to death to speak up, to put my voice forward. And I'm not shy. Because the fear of being judged, the fear of failing was so great. And at the time, single mom with a mortgage, you know, a kid in an expensive school, I wasn't going to push the envelope too far. But that, those days are gone. We cannot allow that culture to drive this industry anymore. So, how do you help people break through those fears so that they can feel comfortable and safe, that if they fail, it's okay, like you say, learn from it and move on.
[00:22:40] Michael Colleran: Yeah, I think it just comes from setting the example. If you fall backward and you fall into the kind of the old command and control paradigm, you're going to accidentally make people afraid and no leader wants that, and no leader wants that. I mean, maybe there are a few that think that that's a good way to control, but you're never going to see those results. And so, for good leaders, it's about giving people the rope to fail but you can't just leave it at that. When it's going off the rails and it's not going in the right direction, as a leader, you need to get in. Roll your sleeves up. Let them know where they took the wrong turn and how to make those right turns again and get them back on the right course again. It's a bit of mentoring. And if we expect that type of performance from our team, as leaders, we have to jump in. It can't be directive. it has to be, you know, just to borrow something from popular culture; you have to be a good coach, and that implies some accountability. And I think sometimes today, in this kind of newer world that we live in full of transition, where leaders are trying to find that right spot. Sometimes, they will pull out their accountability and then they don't get what they want either because they haven't held anyone accountable. And you still, at times, have to find the right situation where the organization knows visibly that there's accountability because when there is, then they understand, okay, look, I can fail, I can fail fast, I can take some risks, but I am going to be held accountable. But it may not be accountability in the traditional sense of "You're fired." Okay, might be more of, "Hey, you know what, we're going to have to take a step back from this or we're going to have to take a different course correction." When the teams see that accountability is in place, it raises the bar for them. It's almost like they want to achieve more but they have to see that the organization is willing to keep its leaders, especially its leaders, and its teams accountable.
[00:24:48] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. You know, I have a love-hate relationship with the word accountability. Early on in my career when people said to me, I'm going to hold you accountable. What that meant was, "If you don't do this the way I want it, when I want it, I'm going to blame you." And there is an association with the word accountability and blame. And it was explained to me once that if you view accountability as a future event, then it's not blame. We tend to use it if we look back, and we say, I'm going to hold you accountable for something that happened in the past. And that tends to be more of a blaming culture, which is not something that we want. But I've learned a lot, and actually, through COVID, I started an accountability lab and it's still running today; and it's about positive accountability. So, we call in and it's about verbalizing something that you're going to do that day, that's it. It takes peer pressure, which again, is something we associate typically with teenagers taking drugs or smoking or something, but it's the same psychology and it turns it on its head and it's positive accountability and it's peer pressure used in a positive way, so there's no judgment. People verbalize that commitment to each other, to the team, and Mike, I've been doing this since right when we started COVID for several years now. People will never come back a fourth day in a row and say that they didn't do something. So, they'll make a commitment and they may miss it the first time, the first day, because something happened. They may miss it the second, occasionally they'll miss it the third. They will never miss it the fourth because nobody wants to make a commitment to themselves, but the team, to a group of people, and fail. And a leader that can encourage that safe space for people to hold themselves accountable, that to me, I think that's the magic.
[00:26:45] Michael Colleran: Yeah, it is the magic, Jan. And I, you know, I've seen it in operation. I've also seen it the other direction where I've pushed into the wrong areas on accountability and not been proud of the results. But at the end of the day, when you see a team that holds each other accountable within that team, that's a pretty good sign because that means they're depending on each other. And you love that when you get it. Sometimes it's fleeting. Sometimes, you can keep it together for a long time, but it is probably one of the more rewarding things. When you see a team that wins together, but also holds each other accountable together when things don't go in the right direction, but let's take that and make it something better.
[00:27:26] Jan Griffiths: I interviewed Doug Conant. He's the former CEO of Campbell's Soup. He turned around Campbell's Soup and he has a saying and he says, "You have to be tough on standards and tenderhearted with people." And what I love about that is, it addresses the balance. And that balance is difficult to achieve because if you're too far on the soft side and you're too caring and loving. If you could be too caring, I don't know that you could, but you could be too focused on the soft side. At the end of the day, you have a business to run. You have metrics. There are results. There's a P&L. There are results you have to achieve from the business. But it's the way you do it, the how you do it, and the environment that you create. And getting that balance right is tricky. How'd you get that balance right, Mike?
[00:28:14] Michael Colleran: Well, I'm not sure I have it right. Every day it's a struggle. We have a really good team right now at Nissan. We're really proud of the team. There were many that were betting against us. A lot of challenges that were, I would say, very cultural and very systematic. And, you know, one by one, we rooted all of those things out. And I think at the end of the day, what has people believe is we pick some low-hanging fruit where we knew we could win where we knew we could get a strategic advantage and we showed our team members. You can win. You can make this change. You just have to go out there and do it. And when they saw a couple of things go away in our leadership culture that were really the root, the genesis of some of the bad behaviors that, whoa, if leadership can change, I can change and it gets back to that. We're setting the example really. And we're starting to see the benefits of it right now. You know, one of the things that I'm particularly proud of is, if you go back five years ago, Nissan, almost twice a year in the NADA survey finished at the very bottom or very near the very bottom. At that point, I think there might be 34 brands that were measured, and it was roughly about the same today, but we were 34th or 35th every time. We're now squarely in the top third. We're really proud of that. And I think it really signals the cultural change that we made. Yeah, all the mechanical things that we changed along the way, we had to do those things. But the team now believes they believe they can make change. And I think it comes because they saw that leadership was open to changing their behaviors, and when you see it at the top, it's a powerful example and it can really resonate through the company. But more often than not, it's where senior leadership will fail, and that they'll adopt core values. In those core values, well, they're for, for you guys, and sometimes senior leadership doesn't follow. And senior leadership should never follow, the senior leadership should lead and be the ones that say, okay, these are our core values and we are going to live them. Okay. Some days, it's going to be easy. Some days, it's going to be painful, but one thing's for certain: if we do it, we'll be a better company. And four or five years later, Nissan is a better company. We're more profitable. We were just named by our own employees a great place to work. Something that we couldn't even have imagined four or five years ago. We just told you about our NADA scores are now in the top third of the business. People believe now. They believe in that vision and they're rallying to it. Makes my heart swell.
[00:31:02] Jan Griffiths: I can see that. It's easy to talk about, this is how I see the leadership. This is how we're going to operate as a leadership team. These are the values, you know, you've got all that straight. It's all, everybody's on the same page.
But what happens when one of those leaders reverts back to commander control, or you start to see those leadership behaviors that are not in line with what you believe that leadership model should be? How do you handle that?
[00:31:27] Michael Colleran: Yeah, this is something we struggle with every day. I'm sure the industry does as well. Nissan, maybe a little bit more than most just because of our former culture, which is still fairly close to us, because all those employees are, not all of them, but a good measure of them are still the same. Very easy to slip back when leadership slips back, though; it's very visible and it's very recognized. Employees will very quickly see that and trying to undo that is really hard. It's really hard to do. It's a bit of a violation of trust and It's just something you have to work on every day. I said a little bit earlier, I picked three things to work on, you know, every day and do them well. I truly believe that, as leaders, focus will set you free and it also allows you to be true to your core values; when you're focused and you know what you're trying to accomplish and you never lose sight of that goal.
And it just, it’s kind of its own regulator, to some extent, you know, if more leaders every day said, look, I'm going to accomplish this. I'm going to do it the right way.
These are the most important things of the day, whether it's helping out employees or pushing a new program into the marketplace, or designing a new vehicle.
When, you know, you focus on those things and leadership focuses on them, they tend to stay on the good behaviors. It's when you start to lose your focus and start to get away from your core values, that things start to unravel. And you have to very quickly push it back onto the path. And if you don't push it onto the path, it will just roll downhill. The problem will get larger and larger. You can't put a band-aid on cancer. When you find it, you got to take the chemotherapy and fix the problem.
[00:33:11] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. Because you've got all the, all your associates, all the leaders, all the way through the company looking at that behavior and saying, oh, okay, so this is what I need to do to be successful in this company. And then it spreads and then you're in trouble, right? Yeah. Of the 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership, Mike, I know you've studied them and thank you for that. What are some of the traits that really, truly resonate with you?
[00:33:40] Michael Colleran: There are so many good ones in there. Number one, be a leader with gravitas. I think that sums up the other 20, to be perfectly honest.
It's a nice way to sum up a more complete, as-you-use, authentic leader. But within those, there's a couple that really stood out: ownership, accountability, responsibility. You mentioned that you've interviewed Navy SEALs. I know Jocko Willink. I should say I know him, I know of him, and I've read Extreme Ownership.But I relate to that one. I truly believe that if a leader sees the business as their own, they're going to make better decisions for the company, for their people, for their partners, and for their customers. And so, ownership to me is part and parcel of what I do every day. And it really kind of drives me when I feel that this is my company to make better, even though it's not. And I have shareholders and employees that, and all the key stakeholders. When I feel it's mine, I feel like I do a better job. The other one is resilience. It's the last one, actually, and number 21 in your list. And I like resilience. I look for people that are resilient on my team. I look for talent that is able to take one on the chin, get knocked down, but still able to, you know, pull themselves together, dust themselves off, get ready for the next day, the sun will always come up. Be resilient and be determined and you'll get to where you want to be. Just don't give up.
[00:35:12] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. And resilience really does go to the heart of authentic leadership. Because if you are comfortable in your own skin, you are leading your life both at work and outside of work, in line with your values; then you know that you made the best decision possible with the information that you have, and you're leading your team through something that's happening, whatever, whether it's COVID or a chip shortage, whatever it is. And you're doing everything that's true to you and it feels right, then you are an authentic leader. So, I think it goes right to the heart of authentic leadership.
[00:35:52] Michael Colleran: I agree.
[00:35:53] Jan Griffiths: Well, let's switch to the personal side. Ready?
[00:35:56] Michael Colleran: Okay.
[00:35:56] Jan Griffiths: Okay. Get ready.
[00:35:58] Michael Colleran: Oh boy.
[00:35:58] Jan Griffiths: What do you like to binge-watch when nobody's watching you?
[00:36:01] Michael Colleran: Oh, really?
[00:36:04] Jan Griffiths: Don't tell me, oh, I don't watch TV. Okay, maybe, but come on. Let's, let's hear it. What do you like to binge-watch?
[00:36:11] Michael Colleran: I'll give you two. I do love Ted Lasso. And then on Amazon Prime, this will tell you a little bit. There's a new series called Wheel of Time. So that's all you get. That's all you get.
[00:36:23] Jan Griffiths: Oh, no, no, no, no, I think I was late to the game with Ted Lasso because I thought it was about football. I didn't realize that it was so much about coaching and leadership and people. And I'm, yeah, I'm all on board with Ted Lasso. No question about that. All right. Music tastes, favorite band.
[00:36:41] Michael Colleran: Boy. So, everybody that knows me knows my favorite band is Rush. So yeah, I'm a little bit of a heavy metal trio guy. I probably doesn't fit with the coat and the look, but at one point, I did have long blonde hair, 25-year-old, like to surf every day. So that goes way back into my past and I just saw recently Stevie Nicks here at Nissan Stadium. I saw Billy Joel at the Nissan stadium as well.
Just, I love all kinds of music and still occasionally will pick up a saxophone and play it.
[00:37:19] Jan Griffiths: Oh, that's awesome. I love that. If your team had a saxophone there right now, I would say, put it in your hand and let's go.
[00:37:27] Michael Colleran: You might regret that. I still got to practice a little more.
[00:37:32] Jan Griffiths: The surfer that plays the saxophone. Oh, I'm coming in with a tagline. It's coming. It's coming to me. Give me a minute. Now, Mike, we all suffer from the demons of distraction. They're around us all day long, whether it's social media, you know, whatever, there's demons of distraction around us. What is your number one demon of distraction that you have to fight with every day?
[00:37:58] Michael Colleran: Coffee.
[00:37:58] Jan Griffiths: Coffee!
[00:38:00] Michael Colleran: Years ago, my administrative assistant came into me and she said, "You know what? We've taken a vote and we don't think you should drink coffee anymore." And then that's interesting. I said, I've actually been thinking about quitting. I drink, you know, 15 cups a day. I really need to calm it down a little bit. So, I did it. And a month later she came in with a giant, you know, Grande Starbucks and pushed it towards me. And I said, what's this? She goes, "We've taken another vote. We think you're better on coffee." So, but number one distraction, there are so many time constraints in this particular type of role. And because you have, you know, you have Japan at night, you have US operations during the day. Some American operations, as well, are in there. So, you're operating across a lot of different time zones and so, for me, you know, one of the toughest things is shifting gears all day long, as opposed to being just the salesperson or after sales or manufacturing. You know, when you have to be a jack of all trades across all those different areas. There are just times when you really want to just, you know, I want to focus in on just this one thing and really do this well. And sometimes you just can't do that in these types of roles. And so, time management for me is probably one of the tougher things to manage through the day. I'd love to have 48 hours in a day and just be able to get everything done that I want to get done.
[00:39:31] Jan Griffiths: Yeah. And you bring up an interesting point. Certainly, during my experience in the tier one supply base, as a global leader of a team, you are responsible for establishing the vision for the future. You are responsible for strategy. But then there are day-to-day responsibilities that you have as well. And it's always that advanced thinking and the creative space that somehow gets pushed. You kick the can down the road. And I used to very intentionally schedule two global meetings a year where everybody just went off-site and we talked nothing but strategy and future focus, but it is a very, very difficult balance. Again, it goes back to balance as a leader and with you, I would encourage leaders out there to make that time, even if it's an hour, a week, an hour, a month. Getting your team off-site to really get them out of the weeds and looking onward and upward is more important now than ever as we go through this transition. Would you agree?
[00:40:34] Michael Colleran: I absolutely agree. A hundred percent.
[00:40:37] Jan Griffiths: And that brings us to the last question. And that is of, you're speaking to an audience of leaders in the automotive industry. What is the one piece of advice given your career, your success, where you sit right now, as you look at the massive transformation we're going through right now? One piece of advice that you could give out on this show to leaders in the auto industry, something that they could start doing or thinking about, right now, what would that be?
[00:41:10] Michael Colleran: Well, given the level of transformation that we're seeing right now, I would say, keep your head on a swivel. You need to always just be looking around, looking around, asking yourself, why, why, why? But don't take your eyes off the ground either because the ground is moving underneath us. And for so many years, the ground in the automotive industry, the ground, if you will, it was very stable, right? We kind of knew the playing field. Now you've got the ground moving underneath you and you have all these new competitors that are coming in. I think you need to really just keep your eyes open and keep asking why.
[00:41:49] Jan Griffiths: Yeah, I love that. Keep your eyes open and keep asking why. Mike, thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:41:56] Michael Colleran: Jan, it's been a real pleasure, and I love the work that Gravitas does. Thank you for having me.
[00:42:01] Jan Griffiths: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for listening to the Automotive Leaders Podcast. Click the listen link in the show notes to subscribe for free on your platform of choice. And don't forget to download the 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership PDF by clicking on the link below and remember, stay true to yourself, be you, and lead with Gravitas, the hallmark of authentic leadership.