Michael Maslansky | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Michael Maslansky

Background:  

Maslansky + Partners specializes in helping clients use language effectively to communicate their message. From its roots as a political polling firm, the company has grown to offer communications strategy and research of all kinds, with offices in New York, London and Washington, D.C.

The Mistake:

The first two decades of my career were spent in aggressive cultures with little support and tremendous pressure to succeed. Over the top expectations were normal. If you were capable then you must succeed.

From political consulting to a big law firm, there was always a push to keep up. In 20 years, I never received a formal review of my progress. I never had a coaching conversation. I learned how to improve through strongly worded emails often received late at night. I carried this experience into my own company.

To me, management and leadership meant focusing on clients and expecting my team to keep up. I was abrupt, direct, and talked much more than I listened. My employees were among the best in the market and my expectations were off the charts.

I was frustrated with an engaged and talented staff that I really believed wasn’t hearing me. Nothing was meeting my expectations and I wasn’t having the right conversations. It wasn’t until my first 360 that I started to fully appreciate that my frustration was more about me than about my team.

It’s been a liberating experience for me and energizing to spend more quality time with my teams.

The Lesson:

I thought I was giving clear direction. I thought I was supportive. It turns out I wasn’t. I was seen as volatile, overly direct and impatient. As a professional communicator, I learned that I wasn’t practicing what I preached.

As a result of the feedback, I made a dramatic shift in my mindset. I recognized that my desire for speed was getting in the way of my ability to rapidly develop my team and help them grow.

Instead of focusing externally, I committed to spending a third of my time on talent development. I committed to creating a more open and development-focused culture. At first, my shift was met with cautious optimism. I earned the nickname Maz 2.0, to reflect my own style upgrade, but many feared Maz 1.0—the abrupt, impatient one—would return.

What I’ve learned is that I love mentoring and coaching and watching as it drives genuine talent. It’s been a liberating experience for me and energizing to spend more quality time with my teams. When I talk about it with clients, they can relate and it brings a much more personal element to the table.

While I’m still driven, it comes from the inside now as opposed to the outside. Maz 2.0 is also much more aligned with our brand, as a leader who takes time to mentor and coach his people with positive and constructive feedback. I’ve learned my actions speak words and it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.

Follow Michael Maslansky on Twitter at @m_mas.

Pictured: Michael Maslansky. | Photo courtesy of Maslansky + Partners.