Published on: July 16, 2013by Michael Sansolo
Content Guy's Note: Over the past two weeks, while I was taking some time off, we posted a continuing series called "The MNB Interview," which was designed to engage with business thought leaders who I like and respect, and who have something to say. It has a simple format. I posed to each of the interviewees the same 13 questions and requested that they answer at least 10 of them; I told them that their answers could be as short or long as they wished, and as serious or irreverent as they liked. What I was looking for was a window into how they think and feel.
Well, now that I'm back from vacation, I thought it might be fun to pose the same questions to Michael Sansolo, and let him use his first post-vacation column to provide some answers...
The MNB Interview...
What's the most important thing you've learned in your career?
Michael Sansolo:: The importance of listening! I’ve got a terrible weakness in wanting to blurt out the answer as soon as I think I know it. A very good friend urged me years ago to learn to stop, take a second and make sure I was actually listening to everything around me. That one-second pause (and usually longer) and the acknowledgement that I need to listen before I speak can make all the difference. There are so many bright people around us and so many different perspectives to consider that you can only get through listening.
And it’s a skill I always need to improve—at work or at home.
What's the biggest - and in retrospect, the most important - mistake that you've ever made, and how did you grow from it?
Michael Sansolo: I was promoted to management very early in my career because of skills, not management ability. And I was a horrible manager because I behaved like a cynic and failed to lead. A very honest co-worker urged me one day to accept that I was now the manager and to start acting like one. It was incredibly important advice. Leaders have to lead, they have to make hard decisions and they have to say no. I needed that kick in the pants badly.
Along with that I learned the importance of passion. If you are cynical or just go through the motions you accomplish nothing and your perceived coolness actually comes off as apathy or worse. Find a way to be passionate about whatever you do and remember that there are no small or unimportant jobs. I’ve seen cart collectors at supermarkets perform their jobs with passion and a sense of difference. Learning to engage and doing so with energy changes the world.
What is the most significant thing you do each week, and why?
Michael Sansolo: This may sound ridiculously self-serving, but it’s writing my column for MorningNewsBeat.com. Here’s why:
That weekly deadline and my desire to find something new and different to talk about forces me to have my eyes open for all kinds of information. It forces me to read more, to examine issues from new angles and to challenge myself to do something I haven’t done previously. The column even has engaged my family to look for topics that they stumble into that provide interesting and unexpected business lessons.
That one weekly blog challenges me in ways that keep me on edge and I love that feeling.
What is the most irreplaceable or essential piece of technology you own, and why?
Michael Sansolo:: I couldn’t live without my smartphone, laptop or 24-speed bicycle, yet the most important tech item I have is my piece of the cloud in Dropbox. I’m constantly on the road with speeches and meetings, yet Dropbox lets me carry around my key files and access them whenever and wherever. It’s an amazing program and a free download that I cannot imagine being without.
What is your favorite movie (and is there a business lesson in it)?
Michael Sansolo: There are so many—it’s why I wrote a book with Kevin, but a couple stand out. First, In the Heat of the Night always reminds me of the importance of keeping an open mind and not thinking I know it all ever. Like everyone I fall prey to making the facts fit the story the way I want to see it. That one movie is a powerful reminder of what trouble that can cause.
Second, When Harry Met Sally provides the single best business lesson in the power of word of mouth advertising. I need say nothing more than: “I’ll have what she’s having.” If you didn’t’ get that, go watch the movie. You’ll never forget it.
Third, my favorite is Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Sometimes we just need to laugh. “Tis but a flesh wound.”
Kirk or Picard? And why do you prefer one's management/leadership style over the other's?
Michael Sansolo: Picard all the way. He listens better and utilizes the skills and strengths of his team. Plus he behaves in a consistent manner that helps steady his crew no matter what the circumstances. Even in his absence they are able to perform at top level because he has created such a cohesive environment. Plus, Patrick Stewart embraces his baldness, unlike Shatner. You have to give him points for that.
Who has been the most influential person in your business life, and why?
Michael Sansolo: I’m lucky to have so many, starting with my dad (also my first boss) who taught me about hard work and customer service.
My second great boss was Ina Meyers, my editor at the Mamaroneck Daily Times who helped me mature and learn the importance of details, how to mix creativity into my writing and how to get the job done no matter what the circumstances. She knew when to scare me, when to praise me…and used both well.
But I was extraordinarily lucky to work with the FMI board, which gave me the opportunity to learn from business giants of the food industry. I never got to attend business school, but getting to work along side people like them was a non-stop master class in business leadership in every way possible.
Keenest insight (so far) from your life and/or career?
Michael Sansolo: A very good neighbor of mine used to mark his trash bins with two simple words: “I care.” Just by doing that he sent a message about his house, our neighborhood and everything in his life. Caring matters, passion matters and growth is always possible. I have not enjoyed every working day or my life, nor have I liked every person or task I encounter. But I have enjoyed every step in my career, tried to learn something from everything I’ve done and I plan on doing just that for a while to come.
When it comes to food, what is your greatest pleasure and your greatest weakness?
Michael Sansolo: I’m a native New Yorker, so my greatest pleasure is getting really good New York pizza, folding it properly and chowing down. Trust me, we don’t have the equal in Washington and with all respect to Chicago: it’s not the same. My greatest weakness is that I still need a push to try new foods even though I end up loving them most of the time.
Most memorable meal? Where & what & why?
Michael Sansolo: I love baseball and there’s nothing better than a hot dog and beer at the ballpark - and I mean any ballpark. So the most memorable is probably the hot dog I had with my son during game 1 of the 2000 World Series between the Mets and the Yankees. Oh yes, the Mets managed to lose the game and give me heartburn.
Favorite place to go to eat/drink, not your home?
Michael Sansolo: As soon as I moved to Washington I fell in love with the Bombay Club, a fabulous Indian restaurant one block from the White House. The Tandoori salmon is out of this world and there is no other restaurant on earth my kids prefer. And yes, there was a time someone had to push me to try Indian food and it was life changing. It is my favorite cuisine by far.
What is the thing that you haven't yet done that you would most like to do?
Michael Sansolo: There are many places I still want to visit, but I really, really want to finally get good at Spanish. I’ve been studying for years, but I still struggle with turning my thoughts into sentences. Someday I will deliver a speech entire in Spanish and hopefully it will be to an audience that actually understands Spanish. Then again, it might go better if they don’t understand Spanish…
If you had to define the most important aspect of leadership, what would it be and why? (And, if you are so inclined, could you give an example of this quality in practice?)
Michael Sansolo: I’m going to go back to the same lesson I learned: caring and passion. I’ve watched CEOs of massive companies pick up trash or collect carts in the parking lots of their stores. I’ve seen top executives walk a shopper to a specific product or take a second to talk with a clerk.
That kind of caring and attention to detail sends a message to everyone they work with. If you care enough to do the small things, you care enough to tackle the large things. It’s something I’ve always tried to do and I hope I never stop trying.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Asking questions is strength, not a weakness.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
- KC's View: