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February 23, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

Meeting the Demands of Modern Leadership with James Mylett, Part 2

February 23, 2022 | 25 Mins Read

Meeting the Demands of Modern Leadership with James Mylett, Part 2


In part two of this two-part deep dive on leadership with James Mylett, SVP, U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric, Sarah and James talk about additional leadership characteristics that prove impactful today and James shares his words of wisdoms for tenured leaders looking for fresh inspiration as well as new leaders just starting out.

This is part two in a two-part episode with James Mylett, Senior Vice President for U.S. Digital Buildings at Schneider Electric. If you missed part one, you can listen here

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Now, I think another reason that you are well respected as a leader is you're very vocal about appreciating your team, but not just your team of leaders the entire team to the frontline, and their role, and their impact on your customers and the business. And to your point the difference they are making every day. I know we were both at the service council conference in the fall of last year. And you made a statement there that make sure we're appreciating these people and vocalizing that. And I know you invest a lot of your time in spending time with the frontline workforce and understanding what their reality looks like day to day. Let's talk about the benefit of doing that a bit.

James Mylett: I think the customer's experience is going to be framed up by the interaction they have with our frontline employee. So when you think about whether it's the person that's helping with the coordination of the work, the follow-up on the billing, the actual work being done on site, the salesperson going out there. Those moments of truth is what frames up the experience, just like when you go to Starbucks. If you've got an employee that's friendly and engaged and all that, but you have a different experience than the alternative. So I think for us, it's important that when we put our front line out in front of the customers that they're in the right state of mind, and they feel genuinely appreciated in what they're doing. And they understand how, what they're doing is helping us.

James Mylett: I was in New York City a couple weeks back and had a chance to meet with the head of security for one of the most iconic buildings in the U.S. let alone in the city. And I was expecting to talk about technology, facial recognition, all this stuff. No, all he wanted to talk about was Geo and how Geo would fix things on a Sunday before anybody even knew they had a problem. He got an alert about it. He was in, he did it remotely. He came in and he just appreciated so much this frontline employees, personal commitment to making a difference for them.

James Mylett: In order for us to sustain that, we have to have a personal commitment to helping to clear a path for people like Geo to get their job done in a way that's meaningful for them so. I haven't forgotten what it was like so it's been a long time. But I've got a long list of stories I could tell that just you shake your head at some of the situations that frontline employees get put in some days. So I haven't forgotten that. I think the comment I made at the conferences we were leaving was relative to the airline industry and we're all flying back, don't forget what those folks are going through as they're trying to help us get home safely. And the interactions that some people are creating for them that makes their lives miserable. It doesn't take them to be kind to somebody so.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. Okay. We have quite a bit more to get through here so, all right. So willingness to take risks.

James Mylett: Yeah. Don't bet the franchise, that's one lesson I learned from a CEO I worked for. And in one of the recent one that came up to me is try to go through two-way doors. So go take a risk, but don't take a risk in a way that's a one-way door where there's no way back. And I'm not a fan of burning the bridge behind me so that there's no path, but the path forward because the impact to the organization is huge. But part of what I've tried to do here in this role is to create more space for my people to take risks. We have a core value called data disrupt that talks a lot about this specific topic. So I'm trying to create experiences with my team to where they know that because of the experience, they know that they have an opportunity to go take those risks.

James Mylett: An example I point to is one of our leaders decided that we wanted to open up a bigger operation in the city of Nashville. And so, I looked at all the potential cities we could be going to and I'm like, "Why Nashville? It doesn't make any sense. We should go someplace else." So I wasn't a supporter at first. I gave them a homework assignment to go get me the data, trust in God everybody else brings me data. So I had them bring me the data and they proved the case out. I still wasn't bought in. And frankly I wasn't bought in, but I gave them the runway to go do it and they crushed it.

James Mylett: They doubled the business, they doubled it again and they were on this unbelievable trajectory of taking market share out there. And had I not been willing to take that move to create space for them, we never would've got the benefit. So I think it's for a leader it's getting more comfortable being uncomfortable and trusting people more and not building out an organization of helicopter parents to where people don't feel like there's an army that's hovering over them all the time to check on what they're doing so.

Sarah Nicastro: Which, I'm mean really is another element of more modern leadership philosophy. You don't have to have your hands in everything. You said you weren't really sold, but you let them do it anyway because they had conviction and you believed in them. I think we talked the first characteristic we talked about as we resilient. And I think to some degree, if you want to build resilience in a team, letting them know it's okay to fail helps them be resilient. If they have this fear of failure, and obviously these folks can fail. But I'm just saying your willingness to let people take chances lets them know that they can make missteps and course correct. And that fuels that sense of resilience instead of having this fear-based culture where then people don't want to try anything new, or if they try and it doesn't go well, they just want to quit. Because they don't understand that that's all part of the game.

James Mylett: Yeah. It's a storytelling happens after the failure that drives the belief system. What happened to that team that didn't do what we expected them to do? How did we as leaders capture that? Did we treat it as a learning opportunity to get better or was it punitive? Whatever we do is going to drive the belief system for the organization, and that's going to determine how people act after the fact so, yeah. Trust comes in two flavors, character and competency. If you're on my team, it's because I trust your character. The competency thing, it just depends on the assignment.

James Mylett: And we're going to continue to evolve skillsets, all of us continue overall our skillset so the competency continues to go up. But yeah, I do. I trust my team. Early in the year, we were struggling with what our sales forecast was going to be. And my sales leader was putting up a number that I was struggling. I wasn't sure we were going to get there. And I was like, "You sure you want to put that number out?" And she said, "I wouldn't be against this team." And it’s just a comment that stuck with me that I haven't forgotten, and I agree with her. I wouldn't bet against this team.

Sarah Nicastro: And how often do you have a leader are saying, you're saying are you sure? And she's saying yeah, no, we should go with this. Usually it's the other way around, they're trying to hedge bets or present a different case, so I think that's great. James, do you have a hard stop?

Sarah Nicastro: The next characteristic, and you mentioned this in your comments trust in God, but everyone else bring me the data, so analytical. But there's a balance here because you just said in that example, you're analytical and you wanted the data. But then when you aren't reconciled with that, you're still willing to bring these other characteristics into play. So trust in your team and the willingness to take risks. What role does being analytical play in all of this though?

James Mylett: I want to make sure that our team is focused on root cause analysis for problem solving. And so, like most organizations when you think about a problem, everybody wants to go to ideation, let's go solve and we spend not enough time defining what the problem is and then doing the root cause analysis and we've got brilliant people. Every organization I work with is popular, brilliant people and you get in a room and God help us if there's a whiteboard, next thing you know you've got all these great ideas up there and then there's a program that gets deployed. And so, my bias is to start at the problem or start with the customer and work backwards from that and put a solution in place that's supported with data. That'll really move the needle because you know that that's the root cause for the problem.

James Mylett: What I've experienced along the way is you get these group things, and next thing you know there's a hammer that gets developed and then leadership takes the organization on a scavenger hunt for nails. Here's a hammer, go find a nail. And our interactions with customers change because it's no longer about helping them solve problems, it's about hey, I've got this hammer and I need nails, do you have one? And it's not a healthy environment. It's tough for, no argument about that. It's a lot of fun doing ideation, the brainstorming, all that.

James Mylett: It takes hard work to really dig in and to get the root cause. And it takes courage to face into the data when it doesn't support what you thought the root cause was, and that happens a lot. And it happens to me a lot when you get into the data. Because I've got my mind made up that we should be moving in this direction but time out, let's go do the data. And the data comes back and it doesn't support. You know what? As the leader, what I wanted us to do, what do you do at that point? Do you rationalize the way the data or do you trust your team? And follow what the data is saying. So that's my bias. The challenge is you don't want to micromanage the data. You don't want to get paralyzed by the data, but it has to have role in the conversation.

Sarah Nicastro: And I mean, in the example you gave about Nashville, it doesn't have to be the be-all and end-all. It's part of the consideration. It's an important piece of the puzzle, but sometimes you might choose to take a risk against the data or sometimes you might choose to wait that differently in your decision than other times. I do like the point though, that you're not just talking about data for data sake, you're talking about this idea of root cause analysis and understanding what you really need to be investing time and energy in. And I think that's the best use and maybe underused fit for data in terms of we're not just talking about measuring output or measuring internal KPIs. We're talking about understanding the root cause of issues and opportunities and using that to guide a path forward.

James Mylett: Yeah. What's the problem you solve is probably one of the best questions you could have in your arsenal tech ask, is people to bring ideas forward. It's a simple question. What's the problem we're trying to solve? It comes back.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Simple question that doesn't get asked enough. So the next characteristic is empathy.

James Mylett: Yep. I believe there's a difference between empathy and sympathy, and it's a line that is a leader you have to be able to walk effectively. As we're dealing with it like we talked about the vaccine issue, as we were navigating through that internally, the government had issued this mandate that, if you want to continue to do business you had to be in compliance. And when you run the math on that, it's a very simple decision. When you look at the amount of business that any organization might be doing with the government against the loss, for some companies it could be crippling. Put them out of business. So from a math standpoint, it gets to be simple on that front. Look at the people impact of it, not as simple.

James Mylett: And for a lot of organization, when you look at the population of people that have been vaccinated, depending on the state you're in whether it's 30% on vaccinated or 40% on vaccinated, apply that to the population of the team you might be leading, that's a big number that you put at risk. So you get into this, but at the end of the day for big companies that are doing a lot of work with the government, the map made sense to go forward with decisions to comply with the mandate.

James Mylett: It doesn't change the fact that there are individuals that have been part of the family that have made a personal decision that we should respect and empathize with and keep that at the forefront of the way that you handle that situation as people decide to exit an organization. And not everybody gets that. You can get in a room, looking at spreadsheets and convince yourself that this is just very simple. Boom, it's done, move. But I think if you lose sight of the impact that the individual might not change your decision because you've got a business to run. But the way that you do that it will communicate to the organization who we are as a company.

James Mylett: I think when you put anything under stress, the characteristics of it come out and you get in these situations, characteristics of organizations rise to the top and become very, very visible. It's a moment of truth and we're fortunate enough to have a very clearly articulated set of core values. And it becomes a touchstone for us, as we start thinking about how to handle any situation, consistent with core values. So when we come out this thing, we're better for it, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Right.

James Mylett: It tests the team, it made the team better. And we didn't lose ourselves along the way, both as an organization and individually as leaders. I've had conversations with leaders that have gotten to that point where I'm listening to what they're talking about and that's not the person that I know, it's not who they're. And it's a reflection point where they've lost themselves and they have to force them.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. All right. A couple more are ambitiousness. So you said there should be a healthy distance between where we are and where we aspire to be.

James Mylett: Yeah. So I'm fan of the Valvano speech, where I was, where I am and where I'm going that's what dynamic. We use the ocean planning process here which is its pretty elaborate process. It's got this thing called an X matrix and a bowler. But the simple version of it is what we do is we do gap closure analysis. So we look at what best in class performance is on any metric. And we look at where we are, where we were and how do I just get 30% better than where I am? I'm not going to get to there, but can I get 30% better than where I am? And if I did, what would that be worth? On any particular metric, whether it's recognition, safety performance, employee turnover, customer set.

James Mylett: How do I get 30% better to whatever the best in class is in the metric layout? What we try to do is set those aspirational targets to where we know we're stretching ourselves enough. And we use a simple color coding, where if I'm on the target that I said at screen, if I'm worse than I was last year, it's red. And if I'm better than I was last year, even if I'm not to the target it's yellow. And a successful scorecard doesn't have any red in it, it has a healthy mixture of yellow and green. That's a hard calibration for teams that they look at that and they want everything green. And the thing we've learned especially this past year is if everything's green, we haven't been aspirational enough.

James Mylett: If you get a dose of yellow and green, we got better at everything. So here's where I was, here's where I am, everything has moved forward, that's a successful year because we continue to evolve the organization in the right direction. But it is, it makes for fun conversations. My belief and my experience has been that most of the leaders that I've worked with are exponentially better than what they give themselves credit for. Most of the teams that I've been involved with are exponentially better than what they give themselves credit for. And when you take the time to reflect back on what you've already done as a team, or as an individual, it's surprising when you think of inventory, progress.

Sarah Nicastro: I think too, there's people for whom this drive, this aspirational drive is just more natural than others. Doesn't mean people that aren't as hungry for it, can't make that progress and be aspirational. But I think it's just, it's more innate in some folks. But I do think there's this element of connection between some of the leadership traits we're talking about today and aspiration because in a more traditional leadership model, again, it celebrates the intelligence, the capabilities, the results of the people at the very top without a lot of credit to those on the teams and on the front line.

Sarah Nicastro: And I think the more that we evolve into this more modern management mentality where we're celebrating the contributions of the team, and we're considering the role of the frontline and we're being more empathetic, I think it creates more ambition. Because to your point, people are connected to that purpose, they're connected to the individual role they play in a big picture of a company that within the culture cares about everyone. And I think that causes people to be more aspirational instead of just more complacent, or more disconnected or disassociated, those values are something you can use to connect people. Like you said earlier, get the buy-in and that creates more aspiration within the team.

James Mylett: Yeah. It's cultural. When I think about culture for me I go back to the Oz Principle stuff and it's all about creating experiences that shift the belief system that get people to act in a different way tomorrow than they're acting today, that delivers the result that we're looking for. It's very simple model. So as the leader, what are the experiences that I'm creating and are they consistent with the belief system that the organization will need to hold in order for us to move in the direction we want to move? On any topic, whether it's diversity and inclusion, customer satisfaction, retention, hyper growth, all those key things that we talk about the model applies for all those. I think being purposeful about the experiences makes a big difference for us.

James Mylett: I get a report out every month, the end of every month on our net satisfaction scores for the whole organization. And my exec assistant goes through and teases out all the nines and tens that we've got, and we've got a recognition portal here that we use. And once a month I see everybody that got a nine and a 10 and I recognize everybody on the team. If nothing else, just to let them know that I see what they're doing, and I appreciate it. And again, back when I was a frontline technician if I was getting a note from the president of the division or senior vice president, it made a difference. And so, if even it's not me if it's just a title, it makes a difference to people. I think we underestimate that sometimes when we get to these positions, just the impact that we have on lifting people up.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Last question on the traits and then just a couple things to wrap up. So authenticity is the last trait that I have on the list. And what is it that you think makes a leader authentic? You know that feeling you get when you're engaging with someone where they either are, or they aren't. And I think it's something people get a sense for so quickly, and that doesn't mean it can't change, but it's just something that you get a very initial impression from someone when you engage with them that they're either very authentic or, eh. What do you think that is?

James Mylett: I think agenda makes a difference. My agenda is to help teams win and to help people who want to get better, get better. That's simple as that. I think the light went on for me back in 2004 I was in New Orleans leading a bit business and got challenged by the mayor to get involved in the community, so I went and signed up with the school district there to do some stuff. And I got invited to do a leadership conference at Frederick Douglass High School in the inner-city. And one of the things they wanted me to do was to bring my quote that represented who I was. And so, the reflex was be true to yourself. What I didn't know was who that was attributed to so I looked it up in crazy moment, Frederick Douglas so.

Sarah Nicastro: What are the chances?

James Mylett: Serendipity moment for me. And the more I kind of reflected on that, I think that's been my guidepost along the way, and probably even more so since that light went on for me, and I think that sets the stage for the authenticity piece of it. I think the imposter syndrome piece that I talked about earlier. And as I work with some of the resource group, they talk about code switching and that whole piece. I think there's some of those things that you have to navigate through on that path. But I think at its core, it's being comfortable enough with the eye, with who you are, to where you can bring the best version of yourself into any situation.

James Mylett: The key is, are you a part of an organization that is willing to create an environment to where you can do that? And I think as we all talk about the war for talent, as people get experiences with organizations or see game film on organizations that are doing that, that allow them to be their best version of themselves there, and to be their genuine self there, the tolerance level for the environment that they might be in that's not that goes way down. And it's just like I always say that none of us realized how miserable yellow cab ride was until Uber came along, we just kind of went along, right?

Sarah Nicastro: Dealt with it.

James Mylett: Then all of a sudden it changed. Well, I think is organizations evolve. And we're more purposeful about creating these environments and people see it, tolerance level changes. I think progressive organizations, it's going to be a competitive advantage.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. All right. So we've talked through these trades, you talked a little bit about you personally have evolved your belief and your methodologies, and the way you lead. Are there any practices, resources that you would give in terms of how you do that? How do you continue personally to evolve and grow and educate yourself and change as a person and a leader versus just sitting still?

James Mylett: I do a lot of mentoring. That's probably the thing that's top of mind. And I tell the folks I work with that I get more out of it than I think they do. Because I get insight into what's driving them, what's motivating them, what's demotivating them. What is it that we're doing that's making a difference that's resonating? Where are we missing the mark? Where do we think we're moving the needle and we're really not? What's important? And all of those things, that whole inventory that I just rattled off, what I'm experiencing today is different than what I would've experienced 20 years ago or 10 years. I think as a leader, getting that insight, going close to where the front line is puts you in a better position to make decisions about where you go forward. 

Sarah Nicastro: No, I think I shouldn't be surprised by that answer because it's just very representative of you as a person, meaning you're not just picking up a book and all of a sudden it's changing you. Not that I'm saying you haven't read good books, I'm sure you have. But the real change, the real perspective for you is coming from that engagement and those conversations and being hands on and being personally invested. And I think that's actually really cool.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. Two final questions. One is, so what advice would you give a peer who has committed to improving and evolving their own leadership style?

James Mylett: I think for me take taking inventory of where you've been and where you want to get to is a good starting point. When we talk about leadership style, it's having clarity around what you want that to be, and what you want it to represent. Excuse me. Otherwise, it's difficult to understand whether or not you're making progress. I think when we talk about collaboration for example, it's something that's top of mind for all of us as we think about expanding out into the industry and creating new relationships. What are the specific skillsets that I can be developing to be more effective on that front would be part of it.

Sarah Nicastro: Last question is what advice would you give a brand new leader who's just starting out? So looking back on your own journey, what words of wisdom would you share?

James Mylett: I think if I had it to do over again, so let me come at it from that perspective. When I look at the investments I made in my personal development to become the best technician I could be, it's nonstop. I was reading all the time, I was getting on the right assignments, all that stuff. And that opened the door for me to move into sales and then into management. My early stages of management, I didn't make that same investment in me. And I didn't recognize that there was a whole new set of skills that I needed to go develop.

James Mylett: There were attributes that I had built out in the prior roles that put me in a position where I was ready for the first leadership role, but there was a whole different set of skill sets that needed to be built out for this new role that early on I didn't recognize that. So the advice I would give people is to recognize that you've just promoted yourself into a new position, a new journey for yourself personally. Get the inventory of the skillsets that are going to be required in order for you to excel at this new position, and then go put yourself on a learning path to get those acquired built out.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I think that's good advice. It echoes the point you made earlier when we were talking about having hard conversations and the culture of wanting to hold each other accountable, and things like that. And you said, "We have to understand as a company, have we invested in the skills for our leaders to do this?" And so, it's a very two-pronged thing. I think it's great when someone has the personal recognition and takes the initiative to continue their own journey of self-improvement.

Sarah Nicastro: But on the other end companies have a responsibility to invest in the skills of their leaders as well. And I think sometimes what happens is companies promote to a certain level and then that just stops. And there's a statistic I read not too, too long ago. I think it's like 70% of companies don't invest in leadership training and development because it's just assumed that by the time someone gets to a point of being a leader, they know it all or something. I don't know. But the idea that that being proactive as an organization as well of the continual learning is equally important so I think that - 

James Mylett:... individual contributor positions. There's so many certifications that people have to have to work on certain systems and all that type of stuff. But then we promote people to a manager and we don't think that there needs to be same level of certification, so we just assume. And so, for an individual, one of the things to recognize is your talent is part of what got you to the position you're in. Your success going forward is going to be on whether or not you build out the talent to become these overarching skillsets that you have, but the talent will only take you so far. The place where I see leaders derail most frequently is when they get to a position where they're managing other managers because, and let's take sales for example.

James Mylett: Let's say I'm a top sales person, hit my quota, blow it out of the water every year. Next thing you know, somebody tasks me on a shoulder, you should be a sales manager. Great, got a big title, just got promoted. And I don't invest in being a good sales manager. What I'm doing is I'm helping everybody on my team close deals because I'm unbelievable at it. Next thing you know, the performance of the team goes through the roof because the closer is in there helping to bring in these jobs.

James Mylett: I get tapped on the shoulder again. You're a great manager, now let's have you manage all the sales managers. I'm done because I never built the skill sets that I'm going to need to manage other managers as I go forward. And it's the highest point of derailing in careers is that manager of manager layer and root on that is we don't spend enough time building out the skill sets along the way. And so again, another piece of advice going back, if I could do it over again, is at each one of those turns in my own personal leadership pipeline is calling a timeout, really doing the inventory of okay, now I'm managing other managers. Now I'm managing an enterprise. What am I going to need to go here?

James Mylett: I was managing a region 25 branches at one point and it was a couple 100 million. I did the market analysis and if we got the 10% market share, we would've been a billion dollar business. So I called my coach to come and spend some time with me and he wanted to know what's the topic? I said, "Well, I got a $300 million business, I want to take it to a billion? I think I can get there. I have no idea how to manage a billion dollar business." I don't know what that looks like. And I don't want to be the person who builds something that they can't run. Because I didn't grow as fast as the business grew. At that point, the lights had gone on for me to where I was at least I had to confidence level to where I could take it from X to Y by when, but I had the awareness that, that when job is different than the X job. And so, I need to get the work on building out version 8.0 of me.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I love that. I think just in summary, there's a couple points that I just I want to touch back on. And the first is, you said early on, the pace of change today is incredibly rapid. And so, if leaders aren't evolving you're just, you're making yourself irrelevant. It's really not an option at this point. You need to be investing in yourself and expanding horizons and looking for different sources of inspiration and educating yourself. And like you said, mentoring has been a great source of understanding what's needed today, or do you have your own mentors or a coach or whatever those tools are, just the understanding that it's necessary.

Sarah Nicastro: I think the second thing is keeping the eye on not just the short term but the long term. All too often, I think leaders that have that recognition have great intentions, but then they're so overcome by the day to day demands of the business that they're not strict enough about taking the time to invest in themselves, to make themselves better in the longer term. I think you also mentioned that long term view being important. I think that applies not only to the business, but to the individual in this sense of, you have to figure out a way to create the time, and effort, and space to work on yourself. So that to your point, when you take the business from here to here, you're ready to continue making an impact.

James Mylett: Larry Levin wrote a book called Top Teaming. And in it he talks about how leaders have to find the right balance between the now the new and the next. And they always have working on that. But the thing that's changed is change speed. To be sure just a couple of quick stats with you so. When you think about cars, it took 62 years for cars to get to 50 million users. It took credit cards 28 years to get to 50 million, debit cards 12 years, PayPal five years, and then Pokemon GO got to 50 million users in 19 days.

Sarah Nicastro: Wow.

James Mylett: Think about that change. And when you're working with team members who grew up in a world of Pokemon GO that went in 50 million in 19 days, it's a very different perspective about how fast things should move than folks that grew up when we were talking about whether or not ATMs were safe or debit card or virtual bank. Think about all that change in just how fast it's moving today. It's dramatically different. And so, we have to adjust our leadership style. We have to adjust the environments that we're creating, otherwise we're not going to attract and retain the talent that's going to be needed to win in these new markets.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. I love it. James, thank you so much. You've been very generous with your time. I appreciate it. I'm so happy to have you on and have you share some of your story with us, so thank you very much for being here.

James Mylett: I appreciate the invite. Always a pleasure.

Sarah Nicastro: Yes. You can learn more by visiting us at You can also find us on LinkedIn as well as Twitter @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.