Interview With Author John Manning On The Disciplined Leader


I feel honored to be able to  participate in book launches, and last week I helped to spread the buzz about John Manning’s first book; The Disciplined Leader.  John’s book is a valuable tool for any leader (new or old). I think that Marshall Goldsmith sums up The Disciplined Leader perfectly:

Peter Drucker famously said, ‘Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.’ John Manning shows you exactly how to identify those right things and get them done as effectively as possible!

Last week I published this guest post from John; Busy Isn’t Better. I was thrilled to be able to speak with John about his new book. The following is the discussion that we had.

Chantal Bechervaise: For people that have not yet read your book, can you describe to them what The Disciplined Leader is about?

John Manning: The origin of the book relates to the consulting firm MAP (Management Action Programs, Inc.). MAP is one of the industry’s leading management consulting and executive development firms, and has helped tens of thousands of top leaders accelerate their leadership and management performance. MAP was started to bring companies discipline – for the leaders and entrepreneurs and to help them develop. The founder of MAP looked at companies and studied them and found that on the system side of the business they had payroll, customer service, etc. in place but did not have any management systems in place. The foundation of the book is to capture the discipline that we have brought to companies and the heart of leadership in organizations.

Chantal Bechervaise: What made you decide to sit down and write this book?

John Manning: It started with my blog. I received positive feedback from the leadership posts and information that I was sharing, and realized that people were hungry for the information that we were sharing. Why not take what we learned and develop bite size information around it and turn it into a book.

Chantal Bechervaise: In your book you talk about the disciplined leader focusing on the 20% of activities that drive 80% of the results. Can you explain what that means and what the 20% is?

John Manning: One of the bedrocks that we bring to companies is the Pareto Principle which is the 80/20 rule (the vital few). The best way that I can describe the vital few is that it is the things that really matter in your job. And you can apply this to your life too. At work it is the 20% that really drive results. For example, if you are in sales – selling a product, it is engaging in the activities that help you sell your product. It is focusing on the activities that lead you to a sale and not getting distracted by other things.

On a life level, for most of us watching TV is not a vital few. It may be focusing on things such as your health. It could also be spiritual.

For a company the vital few may be focusing on a quality product, or outstanding customer service. If you think of all the rigours of running a company, there so much that you could focus on, but companies that do a better job of focusing on their vital few and keeping everyone aligned to that, accelerate their results.

For people that struggle with the concept of the vital few, I use the example of vacations. The day before you take vacation, it feels like nothing can stop you. You have things that you have to get done, so you are totally focused – nothing gets in your way and you are productive and have a goal to accomplish. That is the vital few.

The idea of the book is that it is a collection of great leadership habits. The idea is that you may not have to do all of them; there may be only one that you really want to work on. Don’t tackle them all at once. Focus on one at a personal level, team level, or organizational level because it can be overwhelming to make change. Tackle it one at a time. Focus on the vital few.

Chantal Bechervaise: Out of the 52 lessons in the book, do you have a favorite?

John Manning: It is so hard to narrow it down to one. Probably one that stands out right off the bat is Push beyond the Comfort Zone. The reason why I like that one is because it is personal.  When I look at my career and whatever I have accomplished it resonates with me because I had a really great mentor early in my life that really encouraged me to do that. He encouraged me to take on tough assignments that I thought were beyond my reach. I got tremendous personal growth out of that and it accelerated my career so much. It made me face what I feared. Another reason why it is one of my favorite chapters is because I can also relate to it writing this book. It pushed me way outside my comfort zone.  I have never written a book before and there were times that it was way beyond me, wrestling to get it finished and published.

Chantal Bechervaise: Since you mentioned mentoring, what do you feel the value of having a mentor or being a mentor is?

John Manning: For me, I would not have accomplished what I have without having good mentors around me.  I think it has to do with the pureness of that relationship. The fact that it was not based upon conditions but more about wanting to give, about other people’s experience and wisdom. I cannot place a value on that. For me, it is probably the thing that made or broke a lot of my success and also someone to go through my failures with. I feel blessed in my life that I have had good mentors. Without them I would not have gotten to where I am today.

On the flip side of that, it is personally rewarding to reach out to someone who is struggling and pay it forward. I know that at the end of my career that is what I am going to remember. In life and business it is all about people and relationships.

Chantal Bechervaise: Since I have a background in HR, I really enjoyed the chapters that focused on talent and finding the right people. I find that some managers have a hard time with that and just want a warm body to fill the position. Can you elaborate on the importance of talent and why it is vital for an organization?

John Manning: We talk about in the book that people are your greatest assets. Based on my experience and my company’s experience, an organization or a team is no better than the people that make up the team. It has to be one of your vital few, to surround yourself with great talent and to develop that talent. If you don’t do that, then you are not going to get to the next level in terms of your leadership, or your team or even your results. We work with a lot of companies that struggle with the selection process; they don’t put the right discipline into their hiring. Companies that we find that put more rigour into that and get the right people on board, see it as an opportunity to get that next star for the team to get them to the next level.  Managers really need to see it from a strategic level, not just an activity.

Another area that I think that managers need to focus on when hiring is making sure that the person’s values align with the company. If you are a customer service company, you need to make sure that the person has a client service focus.

Chantal Bechervaise: What advice would you give to managers and leaders who have not focused on talent and perhaps don’t have the right people in place right now? How can they go about fixing that?

John Manning: If you don’t have the right people in place, don’t try to take it all on. As I mentioned earlier about the 80/20 rule, the same usually seems to apply to people. It seems that 20% of your people give you 80% of your problems. It is always the smaller percentage of people, so don’t try and take on everybody at once. If you need to get the right people in place or think that you don’t think you have the right people, focus on and tackle the most vital thing, one person at a time, one position at a time, or one opportunity at a time. It is less disruptive, it is more manageable and over time you move the needle versus trying to tackle everything at once.

Chantal Bechervaise: Can you describe and explain how a disciplined leader affects company culture?

John Manning: Trust is so important. If you don’t have trust you can’t really impact an organization and their culture. I think that a good leader sees beyond their own reports or the people that report to them and looks for opportunities to impact the overall culture. Teams and organizations take on the personality of the leader. If you walk into an organization and everyone is having a bad day, you will see that it is a reflection of the leadership there. A good, disciplined leader is someone who consistently practices those good attributes and good habits and influences the company and its culture because the culture will start taking on the personality of that leader.  Especially positive leadership, because I think that most people come to work and want to do a good job, they want to be part of a winning culture. I think a leader’s job is three things when pertaining to culture;

  1. To communicate what culture they are after and what their vision of that culture looks like.
  2. To model the right behaviors personally; it is not just enough to say it. i.e. If teamwork is important to company culture, they need to model and demonstrate that.
  3. To reinforce that culture, recognize the people that display the right behaviors.

Chantal Bechervaise: Final question. In the book you talk about paying it forward. Can you describe your philosophy behind that and why it is important?

John Manning: On a personal level, it is one of my reasons for being; to give back. It not only makes for a great workplace, but also for a better world. We are all given certain gifts and when we use those gifts and help others, unselfishly, by paying it forward without expecting anything in return, it is one of the most important things that you can do in life. There is so much negativity out there, in the news, but there are so many great stories out there. One of the most important things in business is paying it forward by helping people grow. If you are using your gifts and helping others without the expectation of getting something back, then you are fulfilling yourself as a leader.

I am grateful for the opportunity that I had to speak with John Manning about his book, The Disciplined Leader. The Disciplined Leader offers fifty-two succinct lessons to help you home in on your own Vital Few in three critical areas—leading yourself, leading your team, and leading your organization. I hope that you will pick up a copy for yourself or as a gift.

About John Manning

John Manning is the President of Management Action Programs, Inc. (MAP), a general management consulting firm based in Southern California. Since 1960, MAP has tapped its talent and expertise to help 170,000 leaders in over 15,000 organizations nationwide create breakthrough results.

John has diverse experience in business leadership, having held executive positions in Fortune 500 companies in operations, marketing, and sales. Formerly the Director of Operations for McKesson Water Products, Inc., he was also part of a leadership team that took the company national.

A resident of Southern California, John enjoys mentoring young professionals and entrepreneurs. An avid cyclist, John is passionate about spending time in the great outdoors. He is devoted to his wife Robin and his entire family.

Learn more about his work at, or connect with him on Twitter @JohnMManning.

If you have read it I would love to hear your thoughts on it. Please leave a comment below.


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