Interview with Sydney Finkelstein
How do you work with clients when preparing for a keynote?
I’ve been doing keynotes around the world for 15 years, so I have a very good idea of how to deliver value to clients. What I find particularly helpful is learning more about the challenges of people in the audience, the purpose of the meeting or conference, and any special issues or concerns a client might have. I am willing to spend as much time as needed to fully understand where the client is coming from so I can deliver a keynote that works for them.
What are some of the most common mistakes made by executives?
There are many! But a lot of what I see in my consulting work, and in my own research as well, is what I call “Human” problems. That is, the underlying cause of so many things that go wrong is that executives are people, and people sometimes do things that they probably shouldn’t do.
For example, who hasn’t made a quick pre-judgment about something, and then stuck to that even though all sorts of data emerge that suggest a different way. We all all stubborn on occasion, we don’t always like to hear negative feedback, and we sometimes put off important decisions that we know we should make today. All of these things, very human things, can create huge problems when you have major responsibilities in a business.
We need to be more alert to how things can go wrong, pay attention to the early warning signs, and exercise our adaptability and open-mindedness muscles. These are all themes I speak about in my keynotes.
When and why did you become a public speaker?
As a professor, I’ve studied leaders and organizations for over 25 years. I’ve always been fascinated by what people at the very top do, how they do it, and why it sometimes doesn’t work out so well.
With the publication of why smart executives fail in 2003, my views on questions like these became well-known around the world. With that, there has been a lot of attention and interest in my speaking to executives, leaders, and teams on how to succeed. I do it by talking about failure, a twist that everyone seems to get. I love public speaking because it gives me a chance to help good people do even better in their businesses and their lives.
What are some of the most unique experiences you have had as a keynote speaker?
One time I have getting off a long overnight flight to Istanbul and there were two big guys waiting for me right as the airplane door opened. They took me to the VIP room at the airport, where there ensued a press conference, cameras flashing and all. I was surprised, certainly no one suggested this would happen, and I suppose I didn’t necessarily look my best after the long flight. But after a couple of good strong Turkish coffees, I did it!
More generally, the opportunity to meet people in their own countries, dealing with their own challenges, has always been so interesting. People are people, wherever you go, and they are proud of what they have accomplished, they are proud of their companies, and they are so open to sharing. Those small moments of meeting individuals and talking about what’s going on in their lives, that is great, and that’s something that comes with traveling the world as a keynote speaker.