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Michaud Garneau on how to be a great modern leader

9 min read

An interview with Michaud Garneau on how to navigate difficult conversations, build trust, and be more self-aware as a modern leader.

I recently caught up with Michaud Garneau, someone who is incredibly passionate and vocal about what it takes to be a great modern leader. Michaud is the Principal and Founder of Weird is Nrml, a modern leadership consultancy firm. His focus is on helping leaders better navigate through the twists and turns that come with the job, like having difficult conversations, building trust and learning to be self-aware.

Quick facts about Michaud: 

  • Principal and Founder of Weird is Nrml 🚀
  • He works with big financial organizations like CIBC and the CPA down to small, 12-person startups. 💼
  • In his 20’s Michaud was part of a puppet theatre company that sailed around the world. ⛵️

Let’s dive in!


How and why did you get into leadership consulting?  

I’d always kind of found myself in this sort of position, just never in a corporate/business setting. I’ve been a yoga and meditation teacher, artistic director, climbing coach, managed a few restaurants, and I created It’s Just For Today, an online community focused on personal growth and community building with more than 1500 global members. Leading and teaching are pretty comfy zones for me.

Before moving into corporate, I was running a community theatre company and doing all the learning and development there as well as leading a team of anywhere from 8-30 students. A lot of the work was around collaboration, creativity and effective communication. We did what’s called “devised theatre” and would collectively create plays from scratch. It required a lot of balancing different personalities, creating psychologically safe spaces and working with super tight deadlines.

After a few years of doing that I was ready for a change and I wanted to reach a wider audience with the work I was doing. I thought, “a lot of people have jobs. If I can help make jobs better, then I can help a lot of people”. So I started doing corporate team building and have been gradually narrowing my focus over the past few years. I branched out on my own in 2018 and now I focus on helping leaders develop the people skills they need to thrive.

How have managers evolved in the last 5 or 10 years?

Note: I’m pretty new to this whole thing and I was vehemently against any sort of corporate structure until about 5 years ago. 

But, the evolutions I saw from the outside were what pulled me in. There seemed to be a lot more focus on the employee as a person, on their well-being as well as their creative potential. In the past five years, there has been a huge trend toward empowering employees and that has fundamentally changed what it means to be a manager.

"In the past 5 years, there has been a huge trend toward empowering employees and that has fundamentally changed what it means to be a manager." -Michaud Garneau, Weird is Nrml @SoapboxHQ Click To Tweet

A manager shouldn’t be the person that “keeps you in line”, they should be the ones that make it safe for you to draw outside of the lines. A manager shouldn’t strive for control, but rather to build trust and mutually beneficial relationships. Managers have evolved from the people that were supposed to scare us into doing what we’re told, to the people we’re excited to see because they make so much more possible. Of course, this is all in an ideal world.

What characteristics or values do you attribute to “modern leaders”? 

I think the most important quality for a modern leader is confidence. There’s a lot of talk around empathy, authenticity, empowerment, bravery but the way I see it, those are all attributes of a confident person. If I’m comfortable and happy with who I am, then I can care for others, I can show up, I can support others and want THEM to succeed. But, if I don’t feel good in myself, I can’t do those things, at least not in the meaningful ways I need to. It all starts from inside. From knowing who we are and accepting and celebrating ourselves in our beauty and in our imperfections. 

A good leader acts as the base of a good team and without a solid foundation, the team will crumble. That foundation is based on a leader that has self-confidence, self-love and self-acceptance. 

Why is it so important for organizations to invest in their managers?

A manager directly impacts what “being at work” means for their direct reports. A bad manager can mean those folks have a bad job. Low productivity and morale, no innovation, high turnover. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Management is a skill, not some innate talent. Investing in managers builds better teams, that build better products, that build better businesses. It’s a small price to pay once you know how deep of an impact it has on the bottom line.

"Investing in managers builds better teams, that build better products, that build better businesses." -Michaud Garneau, Weird is Nrml @SoapboxHQ Click To Tweet

When you approach leadership, what are your guiding principles?

I’ve had many great teachers in my life and a common thread in all of their teachings was this lesson: Focus on making others look good. Making others look good is hard work and often the thankless invisible stuff we won’t get any external credit for. But through that, we can get internal satisfaction from knowing that we helped others and that internal feeling is often far more powerful and lasting than the external validation we so often seek. 

That lesson really stuck with me after I went through intensive theatrical clown training in 2010. Now look, people hear clown training and usually think birthday parties or Stephen King but theatrical clown training is different. It’s deep psychological work geared toward making the performer familiar with their own neurosis so that they can express a highly exaggerated version of themselves. When performed, this highly exaggerated version of themselves will show the audience some universal truths about their own neurosis and lead to a feeling of catharsis. The clown doesn’t try to look awesome. The clown tries to make it safe for the audience to have feelings, to fail, to be silly or neurotic, to be disgusting. The clown presents themselves lovingly on a plate, raw, so that the audience begins to see themselves and their foibles in a loving way too. 

That’s what I think leadership is. It’s not being perfect, it’s embracing and loving your imperfections so that others can love and embrace their own. That’s what leads to confidence, that’s what matters.

That’s what I think leadership is. It’s not being perfect, it’s embracing and loving your imperfections so that others can love and embrace their own. -Michaud Garneau, Weird is Nrml @SoapboxHQ Click To Tweet

What are some things that leaders should practice getting better at?

Of course, this will depend on each individual, but overall when I coach leaders, these are the things I like to focus on and emphasize most: 

  • Being okay with not having an answer
  • Seeing themselves as beings capable of change
  • Seeing others as beings capable of change
  • Breathing deeply
  • Communicating clearly and concisely

A lot of these ladders back into confidence. When you’re able to be comfortable with what you’re great (and not so great at), that level of self-awareness and humility will allow people to be truly amazing modern leaders.

What are some ways that managers can foster a culture of psychological safety on their team? 

Accept responsibility. When I admit that I’m wrong or that I made a mistake or that I don’t know something I’m telling my team a couple of things:

  • It’s okay to be wrong
  • They can tell me when I’m wrong
  • “Rightness” isn’t a value, trying is.

Let others be right. If I let others be right, I’m telling the team that I value their input. I’m encouraging others to put forward ideas because now they know that those ideas can be accepted. I’m creating an inclusive culture that encourages different ideas.

Reward and model interpersonal risk-taking. If I’m taking risks and publicly thanking and rewarding others for doing the same then I am showing my team that is the sort of behavior we want. What creates a safe space is knowing you will be celebrated for taking risks, not just tolerated.

How do you know if you’re a micromanager? 

I think that there are certain tell-tale signs that leaders should look out for to gauge whether or not they’re a micromanager. Some that come to mind are: 

  • You get upset when things aren’t done your way.
  • You worry about your team not performing so you try and do everything yourself or tell them what to do down to the final detail.
  • You nitpick.

However, it’s not the end of the world if these apply to you. There are so many things you can do to take a step back and give your team the autonomy and trust that they deserve, including:

  • Self-control. Self-awareness. Self-love.
  • Give your team small projects and stay hands-off, let them fail, it’s your fear of failure that makes you micromanage.
  • Give people the tools they need to succeed then let them discover their own preferred ways of using them.

What advice would you give to managers looking to manage up to their managers? How about getting your team to manage up to you? 

It’s much easier to change our actions to fit someone else’s style than to try and change someone. Don’t think of managing up as kissing-ass think of it was kicking-ass. You’re not there to tell your manager how amazing they are and that they can do no wrong. You’re trying to make their work-life better so that your work life is better. Managing up is self-serving. It’s doing yourself a favor both for your day-to-day and for your career. 

Let your team know what managing up is. Admit that you’re fallible, that you want to communicate with them in their preferred styles but that won’t happen all the time. Let them know you’ll need help sometimes. That it’s just a title, you’re human too. That you’re a team. “There’s six of you and one of me. I’m trying my best to match your communication styles but that means I need to always remember your six styles. If you can meet me where I am, that number drops, it helps out everyone. Again, I’m trying my best, but I won’t win every time.”

What advice would you give to a new manager? 

Learn how to breathe. Invest in becoming more self-aware. Be ready for a wild ride. Being a manager is totally different from an IC. Your focus is on others now and you have much less control over output. Be patient with yourself and remember, you’re managing a group of unique humans, not clones of yourself. Their needs are different from your needs. Don’t treat others the way you want to be treated, treat them the way they want to be treated.


If you’d like to learn from more senior leaders on how they approach people management, check out these other great interviews: