How To Be A Collaborative Leader With Michael Gunther

by | Jun 24, 2021 | Podcasts

SWGR 571 | Collaborative Leader


Did you know that lots of people switch jobs, regardless of pay, because of their boss? Being a collaborative leader in your business is not just about making as much money as possible. It’s also about taking care of your employees and creating a good environment for everyone. Learn all about leadership and more with your host, Elizabeth Bachman, and her guest, Michael Gunther. Michael is the Founder of Collaboration Business Consulting. He helps business owners reach their goals with new perspectives and heightened strategies. Learn how Michael created an environment where he and his employees can just be themselves. Listen in to know what it takes to be a great leader.

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How To Be A Collaborative Leader With Michael Gunther

My guest is Michael Gunther of Collaboration Leadership, who is a leadership coach and one of my favorite people. His official bio, which is quite impressive, is that when his career began in operations as the youngest vice president running a $40 million division at 28 years old for Shurgard Capital Group, Collaboration’s Founder, Michael Gunther soon realized he had a knack for identifying issues that were preventing growth within organizations. With an education in Business Administration and a Master’s in Psychology, he possesses the right skills to address challenges in sales management, finance, marketing and operations. In his role as Founder and Managing Partner at Collaboration, Michael works on building profitable, sustainable businesses along with his team using their scalable growth model methodology. That’s one of the things that Michael specializes in. It’s helping businesses scale up.Over the last couple of years in California, he and his team have helped start over 300 businesses, assisted over 600 businesses to expand, and have trained over 4,300 leaders. He says, “At Collaboration, we attract business owners who are driven towards a greater goal than where they are, but they need a new perspective, heightened strategies, and expert guidance to accelerate their growth. We assist strong leaders as they make that shift from entrepreneur to the leader of a thriving business.” Michael serves as a Rotarian, a board member, a dignity Health Foundation Board, and President of the Board of Directors for the Golden Gate Business Association, the first lesbian, gay, bi, and transgender chapter in the world, which is celebrating 47 years in 2021. Collaboration is also a certified lesbian, gay, bi, and trans enterprise. Michael Gunther has so many wonderful things to say about how to collaborate and be a better leader. I had a wonderful time talking to him. Let’s go to the interview.

Michael Gunther, I’m so happy to have you as a guest on the show. Welcome.

Thank you, Elizabeth. Thank you for the invite. I’ve seen your promotions, these shows and videos all over social media, and I’ve always been impressed with them. I’m thrilled to be here with you.

I’m delighted to have you. I’ve been watching you many times. Before we get into my long list of questions for you, if you had a dream interview, who would you like to interview? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?

Andrew Carnegie would be an individual I would love to speak with. He was one of those barons of wealth during the turn of the 20th century. He also believed in capitalism as it was originally designed and that was to take care of the investor, employees, and communities. He donated much of his wealth to building healthy communities by building libraries and hospitals around the globe. He was known for giving back and taking care of his employees. He hired Napoleon Hill to write Think and Grow Rich of what it takes to be successful. I would want to ask if what was that drive and what drove him to want to take care of others?

If you are authentic at home, you should also be at work. Share on X

True business leaders are not about yourself and making money as a business owner. True capitalism is taking care of your employees and your community, and I would want to learn about that and how he was inspired. What were the challenges he was facing because not all of his content and contemporaries believed the same thing? It was interesting reading about him. I’m always inspired when I go to any major city. You’ll find one of the libraries he helped fund and hospitals he helped get started. Any leader and business owner should learn from him. I want to listen to that interview and learning about what motivated him, why he thought it was important, and what true business success was.

For many years in my opera days, I would do a residency at Carnegie Mellon’s. At Carnegie Mellon, emails all end with, so you’ll know it was Andrew Carnegie. One of the things that was interesting when I was preparing for this interview was I got confused with Dale Carnegie and Andrew Carnegie, which a lot of people do. Dale Carnegie, first his original name was Carnagey and he changed it to Carnegie so that he could backpack as bootstrap and hitches wagon to the fame of Andrew Carnegie although he didn’t have that money but he was able to leverage the name. You’re a business coach as well as I am. Do you think that’s cheating or being clever?

It’s a little cheating in my mind. You’re not being authentic self. I’m a big believer that as a leader, you got to be authentic. To me, that’s more of a marketing ploy than authentic leadership.

Dale Carnegie was the person who wrote How to Win Friends & Influence People. That was Dale Carnegie not Andrew Carnegie. They both made a big impression on society but it was Andrew who had the money.

Dale ended up creating all the leadership training and sales training programs and etc.

From 1913 to 1920, he was the person who invented adult education, which made him popular. From what we’ve learned from Andrew Carnegie and Dale Carnegie about leadership, you speak a lot about leadership, which is why I wanted to have you on this show. We’re doing this as part of our Pride Month series. We’re recording this in June 2021 for a nod to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer community, which is full of any people who are good at what they do and happen to be gay or lesbian. I first met you through the Golden Gate Business Association, which is the San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce for the LGBTQ society. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’ve learned about leadership challenges as a gay man?

It’s interesting because when I started off in my leadership roles, I wasn’t out. I never felt I could be completely open and honest with folks. You always had this part of your life that I wasn’t sharing. I couldn’t get people to know what I did on the weekends, so I said, “I hung out with friends.” I never shared anything personal with what was going on. I remember, there were times people are making comments about gay people, not positive comments. Early in my career, having to serve openly in the military was being discussed in the 1990s, so people would make comments on how they weren’t open to that or the AIDS epidemic. They’d talk about that. It kept me thinking, “Can I be open about who I am?”

SWGR 571 | Collaborative Leader

Collaborative Leader: Being a true business leader isn’t just about yourself or making money. A true business leader takes care of their employees and community.


Is it safe?

I came out when I was 28. Through my coming out process, I said, “If I’m going to come out, I got to be authentic at work.” I cannot be authentic at home and not be at work. I remember telling my boss. Surprisingly, he came out to me. I had no idea that he was a family member.

By saying family member, you mean another “gay” person.

Yes. I told the president of the company, who was amazing. He had me draft a non-discrimination policy for the company. At that time, two of our employees were killed for being gay in Seattle. There was a big issue with that and our firm wanted to take a stand. This was in the early ‘90s. They began to offer healthcare benefits to domestic partners, which was new. Here I was, it’s my first experience of coming out in the workplace and the people I told were so welcoming and open. I said, “I’ll never go back.” It’s so interesting. Part of my entrepreneurial drive after a corporate stint for many years, my entrepreneurial drive was also because I was gay.

I wanted to create an environment where I could be safe and open. I didn’t have to worry about what anyone else thought about it and I would want to be open about it. It’s still to this day, coming out every time that you’re meeting a new client and they see my wedding ring. My husband and I have been together for many years. They’re like, “What’s your wife’s name?” I was like, “My husband’s name is this.” It’s always still there but I wouldn’t have any other way than be out, open, and authentic.

The rule is to be true to who you are. One of the things that I find people always ask me about is diversity, equity, and inclusion. I do a lot of work with gender parody to help women get equal chances but I’m very aware that you’re white and I’m white. We could check the diversity box in the application but it’s invisible. It’s not as if we don’t look different. I’m very aware that many of my friends and colleagues of color have very different experience.

I agree with that too. That’s what allowed me even to keep it secret in those times by showing any diversity. I’m hoping that people will see that we are all being our authentic selves and true to ourselves and opens up that they maybe shouldn’t judge anybody because they don’t know what someone’s life is like or who they are. We shouldn’t be making judgments upon anybody no matter what their skin color, sexual orientation, or what have you.

Wouldn’t that be nice if people lived up to that? I have days where I wonder. You do a lot of work with leaders in business. Can you talk a lot about collaborative leadership? Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that so many leaders face when it comes to employee engagements?

It’s so fascinating to me. Gallup does their poll every year about worker’s engagement. It made some slight improvements but not much. It’s still close to 7 out of 10 employees who would go work for someone else for less money to have a better manager. If you talked to managers, they all think they’re good managers or good leaders, so there’s a disconnect. They think they might have some areas to improve but when you think the surveys keep coming back that 7 out of 10 employees would leave for less money to work for someone else. There’s a disconnect in my mind. The disconnect is that most leaders don’t truly understand if they are good leaders with their team or not. Do they have a true understanding what their employees think of them as a leader and how effective are they in those areas? For leaders, it is about understanding. One is open to self-awareness. There are some leaders who don’t want the feedback.

It could be their insecurity. I talked to those leaders and I asked them about, “What’s your fear?” For me, my fear of coming out was a fear of rejection. The fear of some leaders is also showing some sides of them that aren’t their strengths, sharing their blind spots, or being vulnerable and sharing those things. I often talk to them, “How can you be authentic? No one is perfect.” Those leaders understand their blind spots and they understand their strengths. Without that understanding and getting that feedback from your employees, how can you ever know how well you operate as a leader? We can see some output and outcomes between you and your team but that doesn’t mean you’re a good leader on how you’re getting those outcomes. There’s a lot of variables of how those outcomes come to be. Openness to get feedback is one of the most critical things.

How can someone be open enough to ask for support without showing themselves as being weak? This whole thing about it being dangerous to not be perfect is very much sudden that many women grow up with and many of the female leaders that I work with, you can’t show that you’re too vulnerable or you do lose people’s respect but if you show yourself as perfect, they don’t like it either.

It’s always a balance because you’re dealing with people and most people are going to look for something negative first in people as positive. It’s how we are as human natures. Think of any athlete. They’re going to have coaches that have been training and focusing on them. Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, had 5 or 6 different coaches focusing on one area of his skill to get better. As leaders, we have to say, “It’s not about vulnerability. It’s about becoming a better leader and I need help.” Stanford did a study. It was probably a couple of years ago and they were talking about the need for coaching and development of leaders. Those that had it had greater success in their career and the companies that supported it were about 50/50.

If the culture isn’t supporting it then it’s harder to be vulnerable. I think it’s no different than an athlete and if you want to be the best leader much like an athlete or you want to be the best athlete, you’re going to find people and surround yourself with coaches, knowledge, and educational resources that are going to develop you to get better. The best leaders know that they’re not good at everything but they need to improve. If they truly want to improve, you got to share your vulnerabilities to be able to work on them and develop them.

To have a trusted person at your side or on your team who can fill in the places where you’re not so great, which means you have to know where it is that you’re not so great.

In our work, we use tools like WorkTraits, DISC, or things like that to understand the blind spots and the dynamics of the team. I also work with leaders to make sure that they balance out their personalities because if you hire everyone like you, there’s always going to be some gaps within the organization. The other organization we’re working with has seven leaders on their team, and they had some real issues with retention. Part of it is they all have exact personalities. They’re all black and white, and the leader hired everyone like himself. They were missing all these other elements of communication and employee engagement because they assumed everyone drew the world as they did. Part of understanding it is also building your team around you. The best leaders I know are they know where their gaps are, fill those gaps with team members or also supplementing their knowledge, and coaching with that trusted person.

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The coach is someone who can help you see it from an outside eye who can be honest with you.

Can be honest and critical with you with love because you want to see them get better and you want to see them get to become a better leader, so your intent with that feedback comes from a good spot. It’s the best feedback you can get. If a leader doesn’t have that resource, they need to find it, whether it’s in a peer group, hiring a coach, and finding some type of resource to be able to get that honest feedback. That’s the way any of us are going to get better.

SWGR 571 | Collaborative Leader

Collaborative Leader: Create an environment where you could be open. A place where you don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks about it.


You can’t see the frame when you’re inside the picture or you can’t see the label if you’re inside the bottle. You need someone who can be outside eyes and give you that honest feedback. Is that where Collaboration comes in because I know Collaboration is a big theme of yours?

I grew up with ten brothers and six sisters. I’m the 14th out of 17. My mom had one set of twins. I learned early on about working with all kinds of personalities. One is the provider household but they thrive in that household. I’m a big believer in bringing different personalities together and creating opportunities. Our organization, Collaboration Business Consulting, focuses on scaling organizations. We have a model. Part of it is the infrastructure we have to focus on, part of it is methodical growth, then a big chunk is what we call Collaborative Leadership. We know all three of those areas needed to be worked on to allow an organization to scale.

True leadership is getting things done through others. Your organization has great leaders but maybe the infrastructure or the business development isn’t supporting it properly. What are the structures, systems, and behaviors we need to grow? What we do is help focus organizations on assessing them, looking at those three core areas, finding out what’s broken, and how we can help implement those changes. I have my Master’s in Psychology. It’s my undergraduates of business. Erin and Maggie are on my team. They all have backgrounds in psychology and business.

We learned much of what we do. We can have all the perfect systems and strategies but it’s trying to change the behaviors, attitudes, and skills. It’s a combo of the two for success. That’s what we do. We work we have these amazing relationships with our clients. We help them build their management teams, build them as strong leaders, build the entrepreneurs to get out of being an entrepreneur that’s killing their business, and becoming an entrepreneur of a thriving business. It’s a different leadership style.

The skills to run a scaled-up company are different from the skills you need to run a startup.

You don’t have to start where you’re wearing every hat and doing everything. You might have a few support people. Every decision is going through you and it’s the hardest switch we see as the organization has grown. They’ve added some management that if the leader doesn’t shift their role, they’re still trying to make every decision, and be involved in every issue that comes up, they won’t scale and we will see they hit the ceiling of their growth. They keep hitting this wall or they’ll grow and they’ll come back to the ceiling that allows them to operate that way. It is the number one reason why clients move forward or not in scaling their business. It’s the leadership and their teams changing how they’re managing.

Let’s talk a little bit about the dark side. What do you see when they don’t want to change? When the real answer is to fire the CEO’s brother because he’s not a good CFO.

The reality is it gets back to what its mission and values are as an organization. If someone is not willing to change then they will be able to live in a world of poor retention of good employees. They’ll always be the bottleneck and have stress, so they never feel like they’re able to get out of their business. If they don’t fire that CFO who’s a family member, they’re not impacting that person. They’re impacting the whole organization because, as a leader, you think, “If we don’t make that change, we’re going to lose more people.” If that person isn’t doing the job, it’s going to impact more people’s lives than that one person.

That’s a very interesting thought about how to separate yourself from the business and be a business so that you can hire people who are smarter than you are and let go of being able to know everything.

It’s so easy to state that but it is hard. I’ve experienced it myself and yet we work with all our clients on the same thing. It is hard to let go because you’ve worked hard to build this reputation and this business but they are never going to do it the way you expect them to do it. They’re never going to do the way exactly like you. If they did, they’d have their own business. The goal is to get them closer to that then also to teach you things. I believe everyone you hire should be able to contribute, teach and change the organization and get you thinking differently. Otherwise, you won’t get that organization’s growth. It’s a choice you have to make. Stay with your lifestyle business or stay with all these headaches in your business, all these pains that going on, and lack of efficiency or you want to become a growth business and you want to change yourself. It’s a choice people have to make.

We did this study years ago. We’ve worked with many organizations. I’ve worked with thousands of leaders. I helped start 300 organizations. I was going, “Why do some of the leaders we work with really excel and others stuff? What are those things that make that happen?” We went look at personality styles, demographics, age groups, education, and all that but it boiled down to a couple of things. The ones that changed never blamed everyone. They always look at themselves first. They didn’t say, “I had bad employees, it’s the market, it’s my competitors, or it’s everyone else’s fault.” We discovered that the leaders that said, “I’m part of the issue here. Let me look at myself first and then what I can do to make my team better. What can I do to be more competitive?” It’s a slight change but it was interesting.

Seven out of ten employees would go work for someone else for less money to have a better manager. Share on X

It was that attitude and where they focused on. We get clients to come to us. We get a lot of leads every month and we interview them. They may not know we interviewed them but we’re trying to say, “Who are they blaming if they are in their situation?” They start going down that one path, “We know they’re probably not going to be a good fit for us.” We tell them that and then why. If they can prove to us otherwise, we share with them and we’re going to be authentic with them saying, “This is what we see as part of the issue but you’re part of the issue. Do you see that?” If they don’t, we know we’re going to be the next person they’re going to blame for why it didn’t work.

To any of the folks reading this, if you’re listening to someone who’s blaming everybody else and everything outside themselves, it might be a clue to you that are they willing to understand that they’re a part of it and they have to own and realize that they’re part of the equation. It’s distinctly different when you see it. We closed a project and the guy says, “I know it’s me. I’ve been trying to get there and grow my business. I have a great team but I have to change.” What an attitude to work with? It’s the opposite.

It has been such a delight to have you on the show. How do we find out more about your Collaboration Leadership Training?

Thank you, Elizabeth. We have a website which is We’re also on Facebook and LinkedIn, @CollaborationBusinessConsulting. We have free white papers. There are free videos and all kinds of resources on our Resource Center on our website. We love helping leaders and organizations scale. If you think you’re the right fit, we always like to have a conversation. If you’re not, we will also turn you on to folks that might be the better fit.

Do you know when you’re ready to scale?

Most of our clients and entrepreneurs usually have a vision that they want to be a $5 million company, a $10 million company, or ones of millions of big ones for people to break. Most of them have a vision that they want to do it. Most people want to scale or grow. The pain point of whether they want to do it is going through the hard transition piece. That transitioning have to add staff and infrastructure. It’s like a teenager who gets cocky, they’ve grown, and their clothes don’t quite fit. Are they willing to go through that? Sometimes, I’ve seen people as they go through and they’re going, “This is too painful. It’s too uncomfortable for me.” They may choose to have a lifestyle business too, which is great. There’s nothing wrong with that.

What do you mean with the lifestyle business?

You’ve created a job for yourself and you’re making a great income. You might have a couple of people helping you but you’re not looking to scale to become a company that can run without you. That’s a distinction.

That’s a legitimate choice.

It is a legitimate choice. It’s an important choice to make a lot of people feel like they have to scale and grow the company. That’s not true. There are so many successful entrepreneurs that their lifestyles are just as many who are growing and growth companies. It’s a choice. It takes the pressure off sometimes for business owners go, “I’m going to be their lifestyle.” It doesn’t mean you don’t have employees and you don’t want to grow it. If you stepped away, the business basically would have a hard time maintaining. There’s nothing wrong with it. You create wealth and you have a great impact on people’s lives in a way. People making that choice then they can turn if do they want to scale or not scale.

SWGR 571 | Collaborative Leader

Collaborative Leader: If you want to be the best leader, you’re going to have to surround yourself with the best coaches, knowledge, and educational resources.


That was a choice that I faced with the Tyrolean Opera Program, my opera company. We had got to the point where we either had to scale massively or let it go. That was a hard thing for me, but I also knew that if I were to add 50% more staff and more people, I would have to spend 50% more time raising money, and I thought, “I’m going to keep it manageable but at the small size that it wasn’t sustainable and then fundamentally.” The thing that made me decide was I realized I was in danger of losing the ability to be moved by the music because it had become work. I thought, “I don’t have to do this,” but then I was training speakers too. I was able to learn about things other than the same areas over and over. I remember thinking hard about that. I wish I had known you then because a conversation with you would have saved me a year or so of banging my head against the wall.

I think that was a great decision. I always tell people, “It’s a great decision whether you continue on with your organization or business. It’s a great decision if you want to be a lifestyle business or a growth business.” There is an assumption that you have to always be growing and if you’re not, it’s not viable. I also believe in a great decision. We had a program on how to help people start businesses. We had half the people chose not to move forward with their business after going through the program, which was a huge success.

It saves you a lot of heartache and loss of money. Michael, that was a question that popped into my head when I was about to say thank you but I’m glad I asked it. I’ve got about three pages of notes here. What’s the one thing that would make someone reach out to you to ask for a conversation? What would be the pain that you would solve first?

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We would solve the pain of going it alone, trying to grow your business, and you do need knowledge. I’ve been doing this for many years. It is much easier to have someone on your side helping and develop you and your team that’s done it in multiple industries and done it hundreds of times. It saves you time and energy, and we have your back.

Thank you so much, Michael. It’s been an honor to have you on the show.

Thank you, Elizabeth.

As a reminder., if you’re curious how your presentation skills are helping you or not. You can take our free four-minute assessment at That’s where you can find out where you are strong in presentation skills and where a little support might help you get better results and the recognition that you deserve. Thank you, Michael. It’s been a delight.


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About Michael Gunther

SWGR 571 | Collaborative LeaderWhile his career began in operations as the youngest vice president, running a $40 million division, at 28 years old for Shurgard Capital Group, Collaboration’s founder Michael Gunther soon realized he had a knack for identifying issues that were preventing growth within organizations.

With an education in business administration and a master’s in psychology, he possesses the right skills to address challenges in sales, management, finance, marketing and operations. In his role as founder/managing partner at Collaboration, Michael works on building profitable, sustainable businesses along with his team utilizing their Scalable Growth Model™ methodology’ Over the last 18 years in California, he and his team have helped start over 300 businesses, assisted over 600 businesses expand and have trained over 4300 leaders.

“At Collaboration we attract business owners who are driven towards a greater goal than where they are today but need a new perspective, heightened strategies and expert guidance to accelerate their growth. We assist strong leaders as they make that shift from entrepreneur to leader of a thriving business.” Michael currently serves as Rotarian.

He sits on the Board of the Dignity Health Foundation and is the President of the Board of Directors for the Golden Gate Business Association, the first LGBT chamber in the world celebrating 47 years this year. Collaboration is also a certified LGBTE.