November 20, 2014

Leadership Tips: 5 Minutes with a Leader – Jonathan Colehower, Senior VP & CMO at Manhattan Associates

Leadership Tips - Jonathan Colehower Manhattan Associates

It’s been said that managers do things right; leaders do the right things. Finding those traits in one person is unique and inspiring. Such a person is Jonathan Colehower. Jonathan is the Senior VP and Chief Marketing Officer for Manhattan Associates, one of the largest supply chain corporations in the world.

In addition to fulfilling his business responsibilities, what makes Jonathan a great leader is his reach beyond those tasks. For example, his commitment as a board member to the Atlanta-area Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and his duties as the Chairman of the Board of Desire Ministries – a faith- based group that helps impoverished neighborhoods to become desirable places to live – is only overshadowed by his loyalty and dedication to his family.

I’ve had the honor of knowing Jonathan for a few years, and I can say that he is respected by not only his fellow employees, but also by those he meets. Why? Because he is a leader – I’m talking about character, integrity and concern for others.

The following is a candid “behind the scenes” view of Jonathan’s thoughts on leadership, a few leadership tips, as well as what inspires him and empowers him to be a leader.

Question 1: Did you choose your area of work or did it choose you?

I chose it, for the most part. It was a bit of process by elimination. I had worked in sales, before going to business school. After that, I found myself with one of the large management consulting firms. I served several clients in different industries and then found myself working in the supply chain. I decided that first week of the engagement that this was my passion, and I actually moved with my wife to Atlanta to join the supply chain practice at Accenture. It’s been over 20 years, and it is still very much a passion for me.

Question 2: What excites you about your job?

First and foremost, I love the people. Over time, I have found that a company’s culture is the backbone to its success. At Manhattan Associates, we have many talented, humble and hard working people. It is a privilege for me to work with them every day. As a marketing guy, I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to market market-leading products. Along with great people and great products come happy customers.

Question 3: As a leader, what is the biggest challenge you face and how do you deal with it?

Engaging employees is becoming increasingly difficult with the explosion of digital distractions.  Today, many people are so deeply entrenched in their technology that can only see the pavement ahead and not the horizon. This hurts their ability to think critically and plan for the long term. As a manager, I must consistently work to stay ahead of technology and use it as a way to “lift up” everyone’s perspective.

Question 4: At times, you have to make hard decisions. What do you take into consideration when making those decisions and what aids you in the process?

My faith in God sustains me through every management decision – even the most difficult. Every morning, I immerse myself in a daily scripture reading, so that I might center my mind. I believe firmly that everything that I do should glorify God. At times, this includes making difficult or unpopular decisions. I do not look to my boss or to my employees for my validation. My trust is in God and that through Him, I can do all things.

Question 5: What traits do you look for in a team member or an employee?

During every interview, I always ask a candidate to tell me about a passion that they have outside of work. I love hearing the answers, because this is when a person reveals his true character. I will often ask question after question, trying to truly understand the nuance of the passion. I often tell my children to “be passionate about something… anything.”

Question 6: It has been said that while it’s important for employees to think like a team, it is also important for employees to understand that – like entrepreneurs – they are ultimately responsible for their own success or failure. Do you agree with that and, if so, how do you encourage an entrepreneurial mindset in those you lead?

I agree with the statement. I have found that the trick to encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit is to create a “risk-free environment.” Employees must be encouraged to experiment with new ideas, without the threat of criticism. Through the global financial crisis, many employees have become terrified of unemployment. As a result, some people have defaulted to making the “safe bet.”  Managers want employees who are intellectually curious and eager to grow. In return, managers must provide an environment where they feel safe.

Question 7: Outside of your job, you also have a leadership position with non-profits or charities. How is that different with respect to how you lead or work with others?

I have the privilege to serve on two non-profit boards. While I believe that both ask for my experience and judgment as it applies to strategy and operations, it is my advocacy that really moves the needle. I expect that my affiliation with the board represent my responsibility to communicate the mission and impact of the organization. For both organizations, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Desire Street Ministries, I have a “mission connection” that makes my involvement authentic and personal.

God calls every person to serve others. I use my involvement to live this calling and to act as a role model for my children and friends.

Question 8: On a personal note, what or who inspires you? How do you motivate yourself?

Genetically, I am hyper-competitive. I will accept most challenges, play any sport, and argue the side that others won’t – all just for my own satisfaction. I competed in sports throughout high school and college and finished my first Ironman Triathlon in 2004. My father is similar in his competitiveness and has a profound impact on me. He spends a considerable amount of time encouraging me in everything that I do and teaches me that anything is possible. He has picked me up, when I have been at my absolute worst, and talked me down, when I have been “too big for my britches.”

Question 9: What are you reading? Do you have a favorite business book?

I have always enjoyed reading with my children. We are now well beyond “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” and able to enjoy time discussing literature. This summer, I read “1984” with my 10th grader and “Lord of the Flies” with my 8th grader. I find that when I read what they are reading, it helps them and me by taking our conversation to a new level

Question 10: What is your top tip for being an effective leader?

Be disciplined in everything that you do – no short cuts. Hold yourself and those around you accountable – you and they want it. You can’t delegate leadership – it’s up to you.

Jonathan is a living example of what it really means to be a leader – a unique blend of character, integrity and a true concern for others. Thank you, Jonathan, for the interview and for sharing your leadership tips and insights.

Recognized as an entertaining motivational speaker who actually has something to say, Bob Garner travels the world on behalf of his Fortune 1000 corporate clients sharing usable information on personal and professional development in a fun and entertaining way. A busy writer, Bob is the author of books, as well as countless articles that have been featured in various magazines, blogs and sites.

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