Case Studies

Leadership Interview – Michael Hyatt

CEOs that make great decisions are rare these days. Humble, authentic leaders who really understand their craft are equally scarce. Chief Executives who actively engage in social media also find themselves in the minority among their peers. Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyattwww.michaelhyatt.com) is that rare commodity. As Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, the largest Christian publishing company in the world, and the seventh largest trade book publishing company in the U.S., Michael’s track record of leadership has stood the test of time. After reading the following interview you’ll know why…

Mike Myatt: What is your first recollection of really knowing that you were called to be a leader?

Michael Hyatt: When I was a junior in high school, I noticed that I always went first. I didn’t wait on others if I thought something needed to be done. I took initiative. When I did this, I noticed that others would jump in and follow me.

Mike Myatt: Has your leadership style changed over the years, and if so, how?

Michael Hyatt: Very much so. I had a lot of success early in my career. I became arrogant and began to think of myself as the guy who had all the answers. Fortunately, I experienced some stunning failures soon after my string of successes. They humbled me. I refer to this as receiving “the gift of ears.” I learned to listen more and talk less.

Mike Myatt: What was the single biggest “ah-ha” moment you’ve had as a leader?

Michael Hyatt: When I realized that my thinking had a direct impact on my actions which had a direct impact on my outcomes. It all starts in my head.

Mike Myatt: How has social media impacted you as a CEO?

Michael Hyatt: It has given me more direct access to my employees, my customers, and the media. It has raised the visibility of our company and given me the opportunity to shape how people perceive us. It has provided me with a personal platform and a way to teach and learn.

Mike Myatt: How has your faith impacted your leadership style?

Michael Hyatt: I hope it informs everything I do. Jesus is the ultimate leader. I have learned so much about leadership from reading the Gospels. I intentionally try to emulate Him. Kind of “HWJL”—How would Jesus lead?

Mike Myatt: Who had the most significant influence on shaping you as a leader?

Michael Hyatt: Two previous bosses, one positive and one negative. (Don’t ask for names!) Additionally, two executive coaches, who have helped provide objective feedback and input.

Mike Myatt: What has been the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?

Michael Hyatt: Putting my job on the line over a principle I was unwilling to violate. This has happened several times in my career. The stakes have always been enormous, and I was so frightened each time that I was physically shaking and sick to my stomach. But I had to make a stand. Thankfully, in retrospect, those decisions were critical. I don’t regret a single one.

Mike Myatt: What’s been most rewarding to you as a leader?

Michael Hyatt: I think giving people hope that you can lead effectively without compromising your character. Young leaders today are desperate for role models. They can quickly become cynical if they don’t have positive examples. This has motivated me to live my life intentionally in every sphere. (I should also point out that I often fail. But even there, being willing to admit it is a type of modeling.)

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the primary role of a leader?

Michael Hyatt: To model the five aspects of leadership: insight, initiative, influence, impact, and integrity.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as the single biggest stumbling block for leaders?

Michael Hyatt: The idea that they have to have all the answers. The more humble and transparent a leader is, the more effective he or she will be.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest strength as a leader?

Michael Hyatt: My commitment to modeling the behavior I expect in others.

Mike Myatt: What do you see as your greatest weakness as a leader?

Michael Hyatt: I am too trusting. Trust is good. It builds rapport and connects people to you. However, if it is granted too early, without sufficient experience, it can be disastrous. I have made this mistake many times—and keep making it. Apparently, in this area I am a slow learner. Over the years, I have learned to surround myself with people who are less trusting and can look out for me.

Mike Myatt: Is it more difficult to be a leader today, why or why not?

Michael Hyatt: Yes, I think it is way more difficult. For starters, we are in the middle of a giant shift between generations who think very differently. As a result, they have to be led differently. Leaders have to be flexible in order to succeed. In addition, the economy makes it very difficult to succeed in business. We are having to re-think how we do business and adjust our value propositions.

Mike Myatt: What’s the best and worst example of leadership you’ve observed in recent times?

Michael Hyatt: The best example is former boss who kept his word, even when it cost him personally. He demonstrated tremendous integrity that impacted me deeply. The worst example—and I have actually witnessed several of these—is of leaders who can’t let go. They appoint successors then turn on them.

Mike Myatt: What should leaders today be focused on with regard to the future?

Michael Hyatt: I think it is more difficult than ever to have clarity about the future—in any field. Between the economy and technology, everything is changing. As a result, I think it is more important to build a culture that is flexible and nimble, so you can respond to changes quickly. This is more critical than trying to figure out where everything is going.

Mike Myatt: If you could give our readers one piece of advice on leadership, what would that be?

Michael Hyatt: You are not as good as you think when things are going well; you are not as bad as you feel when things are going poorly. Retain your perspective and surround yourself with people who will love you and will tell you the truth.

Mike Myatt: Do you have anything new in the works that you’d like our readers to know about?

Michael Hyatt: I am working on a couple of books, one on leadership and one on productivity, but they are still a ways off.

Mike Myatt: How important is “legacy,” and how do you hope to be remembered?

Michael Hyatt: I have given a lot of thought to this, particularly in the Life Planning process that I advocate. I want to be remembered as a man who loved God, gave himself to others, and was faithful to the very end.

If you’re a fan of Michaels or if you just want to share a thought with him, please let him know by leaving a comment below.

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    Bridget Haymond

    October 27, 2010 at 3:28 am

    I am a huge fan and read Michael's blog regularly!

    I agree with his comment about needing to, "build a culture that is flexible and nimble, so you can respond to changes quickly. " I'm curious to know what methods he has found work best in order to achieve this?

    Thanks for putting forth such great questions Mike!



      October 27, 2010 at 8:38 am

      Hi Bridget:

      Thanks for your comment. Fluidity is clearly an important part of leadership at many levels. Building flexibility into your planning, modeling, and processes simply allows you to better react to both internal and external changes. Perhaps Michael will address this topic in a future blog post. Thanks for stopping by Bridget.


      Michael Hyatt

      October 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      Open of the things I have found is to keep meetings small and focus on “shipping” (a Seth Godin concept). In other words, focus on faster iteration and improvement, rather than spending months in planning. By then, the world has changed!


    Barry W.

    October 27, 2010 at 5:45 am

    Just by connecting to Michael through his social networks, I have grown to value his leadership insights. He has some great nuggets of knowledge here, some of which I have witnessed myself on my leadership journey. He continues to model effective and compassionate leadership even to those that have never met him.



      October 27, 2010 at 8:44 am

      Hi Barry:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Your comment about the ability to develop as a leader by gleaning insights via social media from other leaders whom you've never met gives validity to three things: 1.) the power of social media to influence change and distribute knowledge; 2.) that leaders willing to share their knowledge make significant contributions; and 3.) that other leaders looking to develop and improve will grow as a result of their efforts. Thanks for the great insights Barry.


      Michael Hyatt

      October 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      Thanks, for your kind words. Barry.


    Linda S

    October 27, 2010 at 7:25 am

    I appreciate your words of wisdom, Michael -I would like to hear more about the five aspects of leadership: insight, initiative, influence, impact, and integrity that you talk about.



      October 27, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Hi Linda:

      Thanks for your comment. I know that Michael has a number of posts on his blog that touch directly and indirectly on these 5 items. You can also find other posts here that address them as well. While there are cleary more than 5 aspects of leadership, the 5 that Michael outlines here are focus points and filtering mechanisms that ensure both personal and organizational leverage. Thanks for stopping by Linda.


      Michael Hyatt

      October 27, 2010 at 12:43 pm

      Mike is right, of course, there are more than five. I have tried to group them within these larger buckets. I blogged about them under The Five Marks of Authentic Leadership. It is also a speech I give.

      Thanks for your comment.


    Dan Collins

    October 27, 2010 at 10:31 am


    Thanks for this. From those of us who love the big guy and don't say it (or show it through our example) as often or well as we should – I applaud you. Thank You Sir.


    Angela Bisignano

    October 27, 2010 at 12:10 pm

    A wonderful interview!
    I really value Michael’s leadership insight and wisdom.

    I agree with Michael’s comments on the shifts of leadership going on between generations. If older leaders want to maximize their influence with a younger generation they will have to understand these changes. To me this is paramount.

    I also agree with Michael’s focus on life plans and legacy. It serves as a reminder of how intentional we ought to be with our time, resources, and lives. Michael it seems to me, you are living out your legacy now. Mike (Myatt) you said it well on your radio interview yesterday, “The best legacy is one that can be experienced while you’re still living.” Very inspiring men!



      October 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm

      Thanks for stopping by. On behalf of both Michael and I, thanks for your kind words and your insights Angela.


      Michael Hyatt

      October 27, 2010 at 12:44 pm

      Yes, indeed, thank you for your kind words!


    John Gates

    October 29, 2010 at 6:44 am

    How great to find someone at Michael's level that let's everyone know that Jesus is his model for leadership. How refreshing to hear from a CEO that admits human imperfections. How brilliant to recognize those imperfections and surround himself with people that make up for that. Truly a blessing to read this article.



      October 29, 2010 at 8:29 am

      Hi John:

      I agree completely with your assessment of Michael, and I think many others likely feel the same way as well. Thanks for taking time to comment John.



    October 29, 2010 at 6:46 am

    While bringing faith into the office is fine for religious businesses, it is not appropriate for corporate America where it sends a message that to get ahead, you have to be "one of us." Perhaps if the culture is both diverse and inclusive and management's actions are not based on "being like us," showing articles of faith is not a problem. I would like to hope so. But in most companies, you are simply begging a discrimination lawsuit.



      October 29, 2010 at 8:40 am

      Thanks for your comment. For me it's sad that faith could ever be perceived as divisive. I'm a Christ follower, but not all those who work for me are, nor are most of my clients. That said, I haven't had any lawsuits as a result of my faith, nor have I lost any clients (at least to my knowledge) over issues of faith. I guess my feeling on this topic can be boiled down to a few thoughts: 1.) I'm in the leadership business and Jesus, in my opinion, is the best example of leadership EVER, so not to be attempting to model His behavior would seem strange; 2.) The world is comprised of those who believe and those who don't so I interview both sides. and; 3.) I don't push my faith on anyone, nor do I hide it – I just try and model Christ. My only wish is that I could do better in this regard as I have stumbled many times over the years. The thing is, being human, and understanding the importance of love and forgiveness is part of the equation and what prevents the "one of us" attitude you describe, which by the way I also don't care for. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts…


    Phillip Klein

    October 29, 2010 at 9:15 am

    As a believer and senior executive I want to thank you for your quest to lead like Jesus. The wisdom nuggets were inspiring. Could you share about how you deal with the common paradigm of executives mistaking your humble approach with being weak?



    October 29, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Very well said and totally agree with you!!!


    Ron Goerz

    October 29, 2010 at 9:48 am

    Michael, I love your comment: "You are not as good as you think when things are going well; you are not as bad as you feel when things are going poorly. Retain your perspective and surround yourself with people who will love you and will tell you the truth." I recently read Jim Collins' book "How the Mighty Fall" and recognized myself and some of my friends and colleagues in his research. I think coming to terms with both errors in thinking is crucial to long-term success as a leader. And we can't do it alone. Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Success and failure | Ron's Blog

    October 29, 2010 at 11:45 am

    […] “You are not as good as you think when things are going well; you are not as bad as you feel when things are going poorly. Retain your perspective and surround yourself with people who will love you and will tell you the truth.” Advice from Michael Hyatt, Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, from an interview by Mike Myatt of N2Growth (https://hub.n2growth.com/ceo-decisioning/). […]



    October 29, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    This is an excellent blog…an excellent post/interview. In each arena (on his blog, in seminars, on twitter, etc) I find Michael Hyatt to be consistently humble and a lead-by-example kind of guy. Thanks for providing another snapshot of this – chocked full of good wisdom.



    October 30, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    Thank you Mike & Michael for a great interview. I love the demonstration of strength and humility demonstrated in your answers. It is a rare thing to see a leader who can lead, even a fierce with equal humility. I honour and appreciate you both so much.



    October 31, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Michael, great stuff! My last stand on principle cost me my job, but like you, no regrets. I too believe that my faith informs all I do, including how I coach and teach leadership. I appreciate your work and knowing there are principled leaders willing to stand in the breach and model for people that strength. Keep doing, being, and sharing!



    November 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    brilliant questions mike and great reponses michael 😀 very insightful and non-typical questions that helped bring to light fresh perspective… well done. I think something that i have learnt from the interview is not to take questions for granted… the importance of structuring them in such as way that one doesn't get typical answers… thanks Mike and Michael!

    […] Advice from Michael Hyatt, Chairman and CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, from an interview by Mike Myatt of N2Growth (https://hub.n2growth.com/ceo-decisioning/). […]

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