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Who’s Bringing Superpowers to Work? Meet Mike Grindell

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know we’re passionate here at about helping people bring their superpowers to work. So I thought it’d be fun to talk to several people who I’ve met in my travels who I think are really doing it! By hearing more of their stories, it’s my hope that you’ll find a nugget that you can use to create your clarity, build your confidence, and take more control over your career. Here’s the first story I’d like to share with you–enjoy!

(Know someone I should interview next? Tell me here! )

Meet Mike Grindell of 22squared:

Creating Clarity to Bring His Superpowers to Work

Listen to the interview below (23 min, 17 sec) or download the MP3 here.

(Here’s the transcription, edited for readability and emphasis added for your scanning ease!)

Darcy: Hi everybody, this is Darcy Eikenberg, and I am the founder of the career and success site, and the author of  Bring Your Superpowers To Work: Your Guide To More Clarity, Confidence, And Control, now available at This is part of a series of interviews I’m doing with people I’ve discovered who are truly bringing their superpowers to work.

I’ve wanted to spend some time talking more to some of the people that I’ve met in my past, and people that you all who’ve read the blog or are talking to us on Facebook have introduced me to. Today, we’re here with Mike Grindell. Mike Grindell is the Chief Administrative Officer of the hot Atlanta advertising agency, 22Squared. They work with clients like Buffalo Wild Wings, Florida’s Natural, and Publix. Let’s say welcome to Mike! Welcome, Mike!

Mike Grindell: Good morning, Darcy. It’s a privilege to be online with you.

D: Thank you for being here, too. The reason someone like Mike really strikes me as someone who is bringing his superpowers to work is because I know that he has lots of lessons and experiences, as well as in his role sees lots of different things that people are doing to move their careers forward. So, I want us to have a little conversation with Mike and see if we can learn what’s working for him.

I personally had the pleasure of working with Mike during the 16 years that he was an executive at The Coca-Cola Company. Mike is also the chairman of the board of the Atlanta chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management, or SHRM. Mike, I’m curious – you’re the Chief Administration Officer of 22squared – tell us, what exactly does a Chief Administration Officer do?

M: It’s a title I’m sure many companies use in different ways. But here, I’m really responsible for all of our operations. I handle finance, IT, real estate, and anything to do with our offices. I also manage (and have reporting to me) media buying, our search practice, our analytics practice. I’m very involved in a number of our digital and social media work processes and negotiations with our key vendors and key partners. Ultimately, I’m responsible for the financial performance of the organization to our Board of Directors.

D: That’s a lot of different things.

M: It is a lot of different things, and it’s one of the reasons – people ask me, “What’s it like to work at 22squared?” For me, I’ve never worked harder. I’ve never worked more completely, and I’ve never had more fun and fulfillment. Most weeks when I get home on Friday night, I feel like I’ve left everything on the field.

D: It’s really interesting – you said that you’ve never worked harder, but you’ve also never had more fun. How do you strike that balance?

M: Some of it is the magic of this industry. This industry is in a very high state of change. You’re going from the Mad Men image of big commercial shoots, and big pictures and presentations to clients, to the world of digital, social, and mobile. We are a private company and a fully integrated agency, so we’re big, but we’re medium-sized enough to be nimble. While there are routine things that I do – I don’t mean to be cliche, and I’m sure people say this often – there are so many different things that I do. You spend three or four hours working with a social media partner on crafting what will be a new relationship for us going forward as social media has exploded for us and our clients. Or, you’re preparing for a board meeting. Or, you’re helping one of the senior leaders that work for me to re-craft their department.

Another area that reports to me is campaign management, which is a function that guides resource management against our workflow, and the needs of that group have changed dramatically in the past three years because we work across all these platforms. Long answer to say, I’m involved in a lot of different things. It really stretches my brain, my head, and my energy, attention. It’s very fulfilling.

D: It sounds like it. It certainly sounds like you are touching lots of different situations, lots of different people, and really keeping it fresh there. I’m curious for you – you spent a long time at one company, and then you made a switch. What were some of the things that you were noticing for yourself that said it was time to make a change?

M: For me, and you know me well enough, Darcy, to know that what I’m going to say has been kind of a life pursuit for me, it’s about finding the clarity of purpose. I’m very You have the tools for clarityintense, and I’m not casual about the things I do. I’m a runner who has elevated my running to be able to to do half marathons a couple times a year. I’m a fierce parent with my kids. It’s no accident that I’m the board chair for SHRM Atlanta, and I’m in line to be the board chair for a very large non-profit in October when I’m done with SHRM Atlanta.

For me, I enjoyed my 16 years at the big, big soda shop on the hill here in Atlanta, Georgia – The Coca-Cola Company. I learned a ton and got exposure to amazing people. But I always knew there was more for me, that I wanted to be part of a team of people who are truly guiding the culture, the talent, the outcome, the business processes, the business results of an entity that you can truly get your arms around. For me, it was a purposeful decision at age 45 or so with 16 years at Coke. I had gotten my MBA and graduated with honors at Emory, at the Goizueta Business School. I said, “Atlanta is full of very large non-profits and very good medium sized companies. I love Atlanta – so I’m going to go work for one of them.”

I met a terrific group of people here who were interested in creating change, and it’s one of those things that you hope that happens in everyone’s career. My skills, aspirations, battle-tested toughness and experience met 22squared at the right time that they needed someone like me.

D: I love what you were sharing about having the clarity of purpose. One of the things that is a struggle for a lot of people that I talk to is having that clarity and getting the space to get clear. I’m curious, what did you do for yourself then? Also, what do you continue to do for yourself now, to stay clear amid all the different things that you were describing that your hands are in?

M: Again, probably a few things I’m going to say will  sound a little cliche and not really breakthrough, Darcy, but what I find is that a lot of people may say some of the things I say, but they don’t really practice them. I don’t mean that there’s anything special about what I do. You probably remember working with me enough to know that I’m pretty intense and pretty disciplined.

Let’s use running [as an example]. There are times in my life where I have let running not be a focus of my week or my month. I’ve gotten off course. This morning is a good example. I knew I had a very full day today, wrapping up with a dinner tonight. I got up extra early and got in a 65-minute run before work, which for me, at some point in the run, everything that is troublesome in life clears out and you can really think about what’s important. What’s important to me are my kids, the communities I serve, and all that. Running is an example that I keep a high focus on and high discipline to.

My kids help me keep on track. They’re young adults now and teens in high school, and just watching them become the people that they are – you can’t help but spend time with them, and the joy that finds, it centers me, it grounds me. It keeps me clear on what my role is with them.

And serving community – the non-profit community and the association community is begging for people to just apply 30 or 40 hours a year. The difference you can make, the fulfillment you get, the people you meet, and the sense of leaving it a little bit better after you serve it for three or four years is very rewarding. Those kind of things keep me centered and grounded.

I’ve also been blessed with very, very good friends. I have four or five guy friends that I’ve literally known since 1979, or 1985, or 1990. It’s funny, you sit around with them and say, “We’ve literally known each other for 29 years!” The good and the bad. There’s a lot of centeredness about that for me.

D: Lucky set of friends! Great to have those. I’m interested – the things that you were talking about, I don’t think they’re cliche. I think they are things that have worked over time, but you’ve applied the discipline and the consistency to be able to maintain the the clarity of purpose. Like getting up super early this morning – I’m afraid to ask what super early ism but I’m going to anyway. What time did you get up this morning?

M: I know it’s shocking to a lot of people, but this morning I got up at 4am. There have been some mornings I’ve gotten up at 3:45am. Now, there’s a consequence to that. I’m tired, tired, tired at 9pm or 9:30pm. And I’m a little tired sometimes in the afternoon at 3pm at work, and then I get my second wind. But for me–and it doesn’t work for everyone – getting in at 6:30am and getting a jump on the day two hours before everyone else is here, I get centered on what’s important to me, and I’m ready for the day. It bothers some people – I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m not unaware of that.

A point I wanted to make–you asked about clarity of purpose. At any meeting or gathering I’m at, I’m clear and I ask everyone else when we’re there, “What are we How do you find clarity?here to do?” Start on time. Have an agenda. Have a set of outcomes. End early if you can. Of course, I’m like anyone, I like a little social interaction and a little connection. But you make things happen for a reason. Be purposeful about them, and get what you can out of them. Now, I’m not perfect about that–there are meetings that go well and meetings that don’t go well. But I think if you have purpose about those kinds of things, you get a lot more done.

D: It’s a great point. There is the broader clarity you might have about what I call, your superpowers–the things you are bringing to your work, your life, and to the table. But  also I hear you saying the clarity within each choice in the day, the clarity of, “We’re in this meeting, what are we trying to accomplish?” Or even, “Do I need to be at this meeting? Is this meeting ready for me and what I contribute?” It sounds like those are continual points of clarity that you continue to make through everything that you do.

M: The last thing I have to say around that, the people reporting to, by and large SVPs,, senior people who have teams under them. I’m very purposeful and always reminding them through my actions, my followup, my one-on-ones, and my team meetings with them that being a leader is a choice. That means you have to make time to develop your people, you have to make time for one-on-ones, you have to make time for team meetings. You have to engage the heads, hearts, and feet on the street of people who work for you. If all that doesn’t rock your world, then maybe you shouldn’t be a leader. To me, at the core of it, that’s what leading is about.

Again, I’m note everyone’s cup of tea. Not everyone wants to talk about that kind of stuff when they’re having a one-on-one. But that’s what I talk about.

D: I think it’s important – there’s so much literature and media buzz out there that everyone should be a leader. That’s the aspiration, that’s the career growth model. But like you, the reality is that not everyone wants to do the things that it truly takes to lead. There are particular skills to leadership.

I want to followup on one of the things you said around making the time for some of those types of things. I’m curious, with the level of people that report to you plus all of the different groups that you’re connected to, you’re very clear on your purpose, and of what you want to be focused on. But what do you say no to?

M: I’ll say no to committees on boards that I serve that really isn’t helpful or the best use of my time or skills. I’ll say no to a meeting that I’m asked to, because someone that works for me wants me to be there. I’ll ask them what the topic and content is, and after you talk to them it’s clear that they can handle the meeting, and it’s just a hierarchy thing, and I say they’ll be fine, they can handle it. I say no to thing that conflict with commitments I’ve made to be at one of my kid’s events. And I don’t have any issue with that, whether it be a dinner or business commitment.

A funny and silly example, Darcy–my oldest daughter is 16, soon to be 17. My other one is 14. We have gone to the same dental hygienist as a family for 14 years. We literally go as a group every 6 months for 12 years. People say, “How do you carve out half a day?” But it is something that we do together. It’s on my calendar six months in advance. It’s easy for me to say, “Whatever other things get scheduled, Samantha and Grace know that we’re all going to go to the dentist together.”

For me, if those things are important and if running in the morning is important to me, then I’m not going to schedule a 7am breakfast. It’ll need to be at 7:45!

D: Those are great examples. I think the other strong point you showed there was to not give away the time that’s important to you just for somebody else who may have something that’s important. Because I’m sure things come up in your industry–you’re working with clients, you’re working with media – especially social media, which is shifting and changing all the time. I’m sure the fire drills that happen wher the ideal situation would be that you could be there, but you again hold the clarity of what’s most important to you. It sounds like you have also taught people how to treat you, that those are boundaries that you’ve put up, so don’t question it.

M: I also think, Darcy, it’s important to have pacing. I hate to use a funky analogy, but if  you’ve ever watched a race horse, the jockeys don’t go to the whip until the end, when it’s down to crunch time. While it’s a little crude to use that example, I feel the same about working. If you are always going to your max, you will not have the capacity for that crisis. You will not have the bandwidth for that week, two weeks, or two months where you need to work at a different pace. You have to know the routine, ongoing pace that is your high level of contribution.

For me, that’s 55 hours a week or so. That is my consistent ongoing contribution. I have bandwidth above that, and when times call for it, I have it. But if I worked at 65 or 70 hours a week, I wouldn’t have it. So, I think the another thing people have to have to manage themselves in a senior role is pacing. Know what your high level contribution pace is, and what your extra bandwidth is when needed.

D: Pacing – that’s such a great word. I have a client currently realizing that what she’s doing is not sustainable. She’s trying to back out of that place where you are full-on all the time and the idea of pacing is a really good one to think about. Where can you be sustainable, where can you be ongoing?

I’m curious – you have a lot of background in working with people and developing them, and developing organizations. Also, there’s the hat you wear as part of the Society of Human Research Management, SHRM – a large chapter here in the Atlanta area. There are a lot of HR professionals who read our blog, and people who we’ve known in our history. Is there particular advice that you have for an HR professional who wants to truly be bringing their superpowers to work, but kind of feeling pushed in all of the change that’s going on in today’s’ organization?

M: Yeah, I think it’s a very interesting time. Any person that’s worked in HR through 2008 through 2010 – their job became about cost containment, headcount management, 401k management, all of the things businesses had to do to survive. Now, while there is certainly troubled wind in the sails, there is some wind in the sails and I think by and large most businesses are moving forward in some kind of different reality, whatever this new reality we’re all going to be in, and I don’t know that it’s actually revealed yet.

But it’s clear that the role of managing culture, managing talent, and contributing to the business success of your entity has changed. My counsel to most HR people is, your senior leader really does not know the answer to the question of what to do next around making their culture and talent work in whatever this new reality is. Don’t assume any of the old rules apply.

So, if you’re asked a question, “Should we reinstate regular salary increases, or regular contributions to 401k?”etc., I think the question today is, “What is important to the business? What’s important to the culture?” Let’s not assume any of the old rules apply, and let’s craft a talent and culture agenda that’s right for our business and our people, because honestly, no one has the answer.

I think if HR people can keep that broader headset, and then have the goods to bring the analysis and the acumen, and the tools to help shape alternative answers to those broader questions, I think they will succeed.

D: That’s great, and it really ties back to clarity, again. We have our own personal clarity about what’s important, but then in our businesses, have the clarity about what’s important for the company. I love what you said in terms of there are no rules anymore, the old rules are broken. I think that works for our own personal development as well as our organizational development.

M: Yes.

D: Mike, this has been terrific to have some time to talk with you today. You are someone that I think is bringing his superpowers to work, and also trying to spread that beyond and really inspire and motivate others in your work and also in the world with the work that you do in the communities. I thank you personally, from one human being to another for that!

M: Well, I’m a big fan of Darcy, and it’s been an honor to be online with you. Thank you, and I look forward to any other discussions you want to have in the future.

D: Terrific. Thank you very much. We’ve been talking to Mike Grindell, the Chief Administration Officer at the hot Atlanta advertising agency, 22 Squared. This is Darcy Eikenberg, the author of the book Bring Your Superpowers To Work: Your Guide To More Clarity, Confidence, And Control. We’ll say good bye for now. Thanks!

M: Take care!

(For more background about Mike, visit 22squared’s leadership page.)

Who’s  bringing their superpowers to work in your community? Who’s your role model in the world of work for creating clarity, building confidence, or taking control of their work or career? We want to know! Leave a reply below, post your ideas on our Facebook page, tweet us @RedCapeRev, or just email us here.

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