Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career

March 20, 2015 by

March20Attendee (7)FountainBlue’s March 20 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event, on the topic of Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career. Below are notes from the conversation.

Our panel represented leaders from many different backgrounds across education, companies, industries and cultural backgrounds. But they have all consciously and proactively managed their careers, choosing and creating different roles and opportunities along the way. They generously shared their advice and kernels of wisdom.

  1. Know yourself – who you are, what you’re good at, what you’d like to do, where you’d like to go, consciously stretching yourself as you go. Consciously build a skillset and a mindset so that you can move quickly and agilely and land on your feet.
  2. Learn from your mistakes, and use those learnings to be wiser and stronger. Learn from mentors, advocates and supporters and also from people who don’t-think-like-you.
  3. Support the growth of others around you, for their success benefits all.
  4. Build relationships at all levels at all times. Lean toward working for someone who understands your core competencies and strengths, and believes in you and supports you in doing something new.
  5. Be open to the opportunities that appear in front of you, and also to opportunities which you could create yourself.
  6. Change will happen – you will change, the management will change, the technology will change. Be nimble and agile enough to manage and even anticipate changes in everything from technology to management.
  7. Be good at what you do, using effective, transparent communication, hard work and persistence to generate measurable results.
  8. Embrace the opportunity to learn from people across regions, across cultures, across roles, across industries . . . As a good listener, we can address the motivations and desires of the wide range of people we serve, no matter what our role or title is.
  9. Integrate the needs of the family, with that of their own professional goals, career opportunities will come and go but family is here to stay. In fact, having a child helps you raise the bar at work – it’s got to be a fulfilling, worthwhile job to be worth the time away from your kids.
  10. Position yourself for doing what’s new, based on what you’ve successfully done before, and purposefully stretch in new areas so that you can continue to grow.

The tech industries is evolving more quickly now, so agility will become much more critical going forward. Knowing what technologies are hot, what industries are worth pursuing, where you fit with the market and customer needs will help you proactively navigate your career.March20Attendee (6)March20Attendee (5)

Please join us in thanking our panelists for our Agility – The Key to Building a Successful Career, and our hosts at Cypress.

Facilitator Nancy McKereghan, Founder and CEO, Tangerine+

Panelist Sara Hepner, IIG Worldwide Sales Operations, Planning, and Development, EMC

Panelist Bien Irace, Senior Vice-President, Strategic Alliances and Partnership, Cypress Semiconductor

Panelist Judy Priest, Distinguished Engineer, Data Center CTO Office, Cisco Systems

Panelist Shilpa Vir, Lead Product Manager, eBay Inc

Panelist Josie Zimmermann, Director, Brand Amplification, Juniper Networks

Expanding Your Circle of Influence, With or Without Direct Authority

February 20, 2015 by

FebPanelFountainBlue’s February 20 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Expanding Your Circle of Influence, With or Without Direct Authority. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a wide range of panelists to cover our influence topic, representing an educational and operational background in engineering, marketing, program management, business development, and alliances. They’ve worked in companies large and small, and with execs at all levels, including the executive suites, and across all industries, geographies and roles. Our panelists generously shared their advice on expanding influence.

Relationships Matter

  • Build deep and meaningful relationships with people who matter. Understand their motivations and communicate clearly and transparently, working toward a common objective.
  • Be authentic in your communication and caring in your outlook.

Communication is Paramount

  • Be passionate in your thinking, communication and actions in order to engage others to do the same.
  • Ask the right questions to make sure that you understand the needs and motivations of your stakeholders.
  • Communication is more about listening than it is about speaking.
  • Ask for the support you need to succeed.
  • Using ‘I’ language is less threatening.

Be Strategic

  • Regardless of where you sit at the table, what your role and title are, what your responsibility is, etc., make a difference with what you think, say and do.
  • Do your research to understand the people, the dynamics, the company, etc., in order to best understand which measurable results would most matter to customers.
  • Pre-meetings before the actual meetings may help you better manage an outcome.

Focus on Delivering Results

  • Communicate clearly in writing and enlist the buy-in, focused on delivering specific results.
  • Put the needs of the team above your own needs in your thoughts, words and actions.

Manage Your Emotions

  • Manage your emotions so maintain the respect of others, especially when stakes are high. Try rolling your tongue at the back of your teeth if you feel tears, or curling your toes and standing taller.
  • Separate yourself from the situation and try to understand the feelings and motivations of others.
  • Remember that what’s more important than being right is the good of the team, and the results delivered by the team.
  • Sometimes when emotions run high, the best move is to let it go and carry on.

Be Other-Centric

  • The needs of the customer are paramount. Deliver to those needs and keep them happy.
  • Speak the language of your partners – in messages and communications they can understand and respect.
  • Wield Your Influence with Care. If you get things done you will get noticed and will likely influence others without your awareness.

A suggested multi-step process for influencing an outcome:

1) assess the situation – what’s the influencing style? analyst, driver, collaborator, etc.

2) remove the barriers – territory, language, biases

3) making the pitch – problem, causes, recommendation/actions, benefits (PCAN – credit Wharton)

4) getting the commitment – in writing, with an accountability element and peer/social pressure

Please join us in thanking our hosts at EMC and our panelists for FountainBlue’s February 20 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of Expanding Your Circle of Influence, With or Without Direct Authority:

  • Facilitator Lucie Newcomb, NewComm Global
  • Panelist Ellen Butler, Director, CxO Thought Leadership & Content, VMware
  • Panelist Minoo Gupta, Senior Director of Engineering, CITRIX
  • Panelist Maria Schaffer, former Cisco
  • Panelist Jennifer Stephenson, Software Product Manager, Altera

The Art of Saying ‘No’

February 18, 2015 by

The Art of Saying 'No'

Social, logical, peer, market and other mis-understood factors compel us to acquiesce, to go with the flow, and accept offers and responsibilities even if we aren’t interested. Sadly, we may then locked in to paying something, doing something, making time for something that we didn’t want to do in the first place. Worse than that, it makes us easier targets for next time, and blocks us from taking the time and money and resources to focus on what we *do* want to do.

Below are some thoughts on staying centered to your purpose, along with specific examples of how others may try to manipulate and entice you to take actions which would not necessarily benefit you.

  1. Stay centered to your purpose. Core to understanding your power and effectiveness is to understand who you are, what your role, value and purpose are, and how that fits into where the industry is trending and what customers are looking for. When you are centered, it will be much easier to say ‘no’ and understand why.
    1. The Flexibility Strategy – if you are not centered on your value and direction, others may manipulate you into being more flexible than you’d like to be.
    2. The Ulterior Motive Strategy – without this centeredness, others may leverage your energy and resources to serve their own purposes.
    3. The Great-Opportunity Strategy – often, others will try to engage you in volunteering or supporting a cause or project. Ask yourself first, what’s-in-it-for-me? Does it fit your long-term or short terms goals? Why is this other person interested in having you involved?
  2. Know your values, but don’t be manipulated by others because of the values you have. Being a principled leader is important, but beware those who would manipulate you because of the values you have. Say no emphatically to them.
    1. The Consistency Strategy – sometimes people will catch you in an inconsistency and use it to manipulate you into doing something you didn’t want to do. For example, if one person gets to use the special parking spot, work from home on Fridays, or <insert your favorite perk>, then others may want the same perk. So know the implications of the actions and decisions you make and make policy changes if necessary. Having a policy up-front about who-gets-what-when-and-why will also help.
    2. The Free-Gift Strategy – sometimes people will do you a favor, with strings attached. They may do you a favor or give you a gift, with the expectation that you would do something in exchange. They would rely on your value of fairness and generosity to manipulate you into doing something you don’t necessarily want to do, as a tit-for-tat. If that’s the case, you can see if strings are attached first, return the gift or favor, offer to do something else instead, or accept that NOT returning the favor or gift is OK with your values, given the circumstances.
    3. The Scratch-Your-Back Strategy – the scratch-your-back strategy does not necessarily involve a free gift, but it’s something someone offers with the expectation of getting something in return. Engage carefully with people who adopt this mentality, and consider carefully what their expectations are for the things they do for you.
  3. Focus on the team, but don’t be manipulated to serve the team. Of course ‘we’ comes before ‘me’ for any leader, but don’t let others cajole you into putting the team first, to serve their own interest, rather than looking out for the need of the team. See the game for what it is and just say no.
    1. The Team-First Strategy – Beware the person who wants to cajole you into doing something you may not necessarily want to do, for the good of the team. Investigate underlying motives for the request and implications if you go in that direction.
    2. The Me-Too Strategy – If all the team choose oranges, don’t feel the pressure to go with oranges when you would prefer apples. Sometimes consistency benefits the team, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes being an individual helps the team choose variance, which could add spice to the equation, in a good way.
    3. The Cover-Me Strategy – If team members habitually have others cover for them, are they pulling their weight? Why are they needing cover so often? What are the underlying motivations and issues? How can you support transparent communication and equitable treatment?
  4. Own the timing of your decisions. Don’t feel pressure to do something on someone else’s timeline, especially when you don’t first understand where they are coming from. If you don’t have time to fully consider something, err on the side of no.
    1. The Hurry-Up Strategy – If you don’t decide now, you will miss out forever! This hurry-up strategy leverages the natural fear of scarcity/not-having something. Be sure it’s something you really want at the time you want it to help ensure others aren’t using it against you.
    2. The What-a-Bargain Strategy – For a limited time only, you can have this product or resource! Do you need whatever-it-is? Is the rate quoted what you’re willing to pay? Why is someone making you this offer? Why now? What’s the consequence of not engaging now?
    3. The And-There’s-More Strategy – If you engage NOW, you will get this free gift/resource/access, etc. Engage on your terms, not because of any throw-in bonuses.
  5. Know fact from fiction. Don’t let someone manipulate the facts to serve their own purposes. That’s a big no-no!
    1. The False Authority Strategy – Beware the trusted authority who makes a recommendation for you to buy something or do something, without the background and credentials to do so.
    2. The Biased Authority Strategy – Beware the trusted authority who may be an expert, but may have ulterior motives for making the recommendations they make.
    3. The Bad Data Strategy – Data can be twisted in many directions. Trust the source and their motivations before you let the data help them make their case.
  6. Know whom to trust. Surround yourself with people you trust, and always know the motivations of people, even when you trust them. If your gut tells you something’s missing or someone isn’t on the up-and-up, listen to it and err on the side of saying no.
    1. The Likeability Strategy – Some people are really charismatic and charming and inspiring. Make sure that they know what they are saying and know why they are asking for whatever-they-are-asking-for. Don’t let them use their likeability against you.
    2. The He-Said, She-Said Strategy – People sometimes make you take sides in a decision or argument. Knowing the facts and acting rationally while preserving relationships and putting the team and company first would then be the objective.
    3. The Leg-Up Strategy – Some people will have a ploy to serve their own purpose, saying one thing while thinking and acting another. These people are serving their own interests, putting themselves above yourself and others to get a leg-up. Don’t let these kinds of people win out!
  7. Know whom to follow when change happens. The pressure to make choices is high when change happens. Knowing what to do and whom to follow will help you remain centered and make choices effectively. Even if you follow the right people when change happens, sometimes the answer is ‘no’, so stand strong by your answer and know why.
    1. The I-was-there-for-you Strategy – Some people will try to cajole you into going their direction, based on what they’ve done for you in the past. This strategy is often used after you’ve declined that request. Try to do the right thing for yourself, saying no, if that’s what’s right, while retaining the relationship.
    2. The I’m-the-Expert Strategy – When change happens, sometimes people paint themselves as the expert in the new area, or are even hired to facilitate that change because of their past successes. Are they are the real thing? How do you know?
    3. The Pick-A-Side Strategy – Emotions can run high when change happens, and sometimes there’s pressure to pick a side. Think through the issues and choices and implications, and also whether there’s a need to pick a side, and the timing to pick a side as well.
  8. Support change in alignment with industry trends. Know where the industry is trending and what customers are looking for. Say no when you’re pressured to do something that doesn’t support your own understanding of what the customers need.
    1. The Complacency Choice – Sometimes when change happens, there’s a camp that wants things to remain the way they were, for that was what worked in the past. There can be a lot of pressure to maintain the status quo and remain in the comfort zone, and pressure from people to keep things the way they are. But remember that saying no to the status quo is generally a path to advancement when change is necessary.
    2. The I’ve-Done-This-Before Strategy – Find out how to support positive change, working with the leadership team. Is the person elected to lead the change the qualified person to do so? What are they asking of you and others? Do you agree? Why or why not?
    3. The Fork-in-the-Road Strategy – When there’s a move to go in a new direction, what is the thinking and data behind it? What are you asked to do to support it? Is it reasonable? Know enough about markets, trends and customers to have a measured opinion about the adopted new strategy and direction.
  9. Choose the ‘and’. Sometimes there’s pressure to do that either-or. Try to say no to that ‘either-or’ and think of the ‘and’.
    1. Maybe you don’t have to choose between old and new. Maybe the old can help serve the new, or the new needs elements of the old. How can you make things bigger and better in combining the two?
    2. Maybe you don’t have to choose between technologies. Elements of one technology or functionalities of another may complement each other.
    3. Maybe you can choose this market (or product) *and* that market (or product), and maybe choosing one market (or product) will make it easier to enter the second.
  10. Know when to walk. Sometimes your logical response should be such a big ‘no’ that you walk away.
    1. Mis-Alignment with Market Trends – if you don’t believe that your company and team are acting in alignment with the market and customer needs, and there’s no opportunity to shift the direction, it’s an exercise in futility.
    2. Mis-Alignment with Values – if you’re working with people who don’t share your values, it’s not worth the effort.
    3. Mis-Alignment Between Leaders – if the leadership team can’t see eye-to-eye and puts the company in front of their egos, nobody will win. There will be much suffering and gradual decline.

We hope these thoughts help you enhance your ability to say no, and understand your reasons for doing so. May you focus on doing and achieving what you really want, while understanding the motivations of others who want to shape your decisions.

Change Happens

February 3, 2015 by


Change happens. You may be on a high-high or on a low-low, in life and in work and in relationships. Whether you like it or not is beside the point, for ‘this too shall pass’ – all material conditions, positive or negative, are temporary. So if you accept that the good or the bad will be different tomorrow and the day-to-day will vary, what can you do to embrace the change that happens? Below are some thoughts to help you start thinking, speaking and acting like you’re embracing those changes, be they good, or not so good.

  1. Accept that change is a part of life. Appreciate the highs, accept the lows as part of a cycle. And have the mindset and attitude to make the best of the good *and* the bad that’s dealt to you.
  2. Understand *why* a change is happening or about to happen may help you shape an upcoming change. But beware that you don’t start thinking that you can control an inevitable change, as control is an illusion.
  3. Be transparent in communication about changes you see coming, and why the change is coming, and help others to adjust to that change. This will help you build trust and culture and bring out the best in those who are impacted by the change.
  4. Support others in embracing necessary change, for the more you get trust, buy-in and engagement, the easier the change is for all and the better the tangible and measurable results.
  5. Assume positive intent and positive results from the leaders of the change, unless the data and your instincts show you otherwise.
  6. Know when you will not fit with an upcoming change and take measures to disengage. If a change doesn’t match your values or your goals, you may wind up just going through the motions, rather than doing something you feel passionate about, going in a direction you believe in.
  7. Know when you need more training and support in order to embrace an inevitable change in your job, in your company, in your industry, in life. Seek that training and support so that you can embrace that change.
  8. Know when change is necessary but not happening and do what you can to drive that change.
  9. Trust is paramount. Be worthy of others’ trust and work with those whom you can trust. Trust is hard-earned and difficult to regain and change and stress can make people do things that are out of character, so do try to be forgiving and understanding if there’s a breach in trust, while also watching your back.
  10. (You knew I was going to say this. You knew that it would be the most important point.) Relationships and networks matter most. It’s always about the people you connect with and how you work with each other in achieving common goals. Build a large network of contacts and a shared value system built on trust and results and together you will ride the waves of change.

Share your thoughts by e-mailing us at

Why Do I Coach?

January 26, 2015 by

Executive CoachingI’ve always been the go-to person to resolve conflicts, to answer questions, to connect resources and people. Touching others and helping them see and live life from a broader perspective has always driven me, whether I was an elementary school teacher, a start-up staffer, an adviser, coach or part of the management team at a nonprofit or tech company.

So when people ask me ‘why do I coach’, I have to really think about it – it has been a part of my modus operandi since first memory. But a good question deserves a reasonable response. And I’m also leveraging the thoughts of some of my heroes to make my point.

  1. Connecting a leader with his values has rich rewards for all.
  • Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone, and you may cherish the sweetest reflection that your vote is never lost. John Quincy Adams
  • The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you are, what you are about and what you value. Stephen R. Covey
  • Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. Peter Drucker
  • The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch and do nothing. Albert Einstein
  • Those who stand for nothing fall for anything. Alexander Hamilton
  • Three Rules of Life … 1. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. 2. Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. 3. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Steve Jobs
  • We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right. Martin Luther King
  • Knowledge will give you power, but character (will give you) respect. Bruce Lee
  • Integrity is doing the right thing even if nobody is watching. C. S. Lewis
  • Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are. Franklin D. Roosevelt
  • The greatest way to live with honor in this world is to be what we pretend to be. Socrates
  • Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. John Wooden
  1. Opening hearts and minds reveals possibilities for the direct recipient and for all those they touch.
  • My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style. Maya Angelou
  • In the end, it is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. It’s impossible to have a meaningful life without meaningful work, done with people we love doing it with. Jim Collins
  • Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition. Abraham Lincoln
  • Technology and social media have brought power back to the people. Mark McKinnon
  • From the streets of Cairo and the Arab Spring, to Occupy Wall Street, from the busy political calendar to the aftermath of the tsunami in Japan, social media was not only sharing the news but driving it. Dan Rather
  1. Helping someone elevate from management to leadership raises the waters for all.
  • If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. John Quincy Adams
  • Leaders are people who believe so passionately that they can seduce other people into sharing their dream. Warren G. Bennis
  • You cannot get through a single day without having some impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make. Jane Goodall
  • The day people stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. Colin Powell
  • To handle yourself, use your head. To handle others, use your heart. Eleanor Roosevelt
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the ONLY thing. Albert Schweitzer
  • A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves. Lao Tzu
  1. Helping people align thinking, speaking and acting provides a tangible shift of perspective and results.
  • There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. Maya Angelou
  • The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. Amelia Earhart
  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Mahatma Gandhi
  • Not the cry, but the flight of a wild duck, leads the flock to fly and follow. Chinese proverb
  1. Teaching others how to ask the right questions releases the potential within and around them.
  • The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life. Confucius
  • Leadership begins by asking how you can make things better. Jeffrey Fry
  • The uncreative mind can spot wrong answers, but it takes a very creative mind to spot wrong questions. Anthony Jay
  • The best leaders are the best note takers, best askers and best learners. They are shameless thieves. Tom Peters
  1. Being the mirror for others helps others see themselves for their possibilities rather than their limitations.
  • The psychic task which a person can and must set for himself is not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity. Erich Fromm
  • The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles. Mahatma Gandhi
  • Leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves. L.D. Marquet
  1. Understanding the past helps us forge a stronger present, a more promising future.
  • Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path, and leave a trail. Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • For a tree to become tall, it must grow tough roots among the rocks. Friedrich Nietzche
  • Accountants are in the past, managers are in the present, and leaders are in the future. Paul Orfalea
  • What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise. Oscar Wilde
  • When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. Lao Tzu
  1. Learning from all those around you and sharing that wisdom and strength emboldens and empowers all.
  • I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. Maya Angelou
  • The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible -and achieve it, generation after generation. Pearl S Buck
  • Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success. Henry Ford
  • If I could see further than others, it was because I stood on the shoulders of giants. Sir Isaac Newton
  1. Dreaming together of the future helps create a stronger, more tangible present.
  • Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it. Maya Angelou
  • Success is walking from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill
  • Don’t tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results. General George S. Patton Jr.
  1. Releasing the magic in each of us inspires and connects all of us.
  • The great leaders are like the best conductors. They reach beyond the notes to the magic in the players. Blaine Lee
  • Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Wilfred Peterson

In the end, I conclude that to me, there is nobler act than to work with others to create a bigger, better world for us all.

For more information about Linda Holroyd and FountainBlue’s Head-Heart-Hands approach to executive coaching, visit 

In Search of Meritocracy

January 23, 2015 by


Don’t you hate it when bad things happen to good people, especially when good things are happening to bad people?

I’m the first to say that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are all relative things. Today’s victims may be tomorrow’s offenders and vice versa. And also that things are not always the way they appear, and things happen for a reason, etc.

However, as a coach, I hear about injustices all the time! Each time, I’m affronted and appalled at what people are doing to each other. And each time, I think about what could that person do about it, what could teams do about it, what could companies do about it, and if we all worked together, what could do all do together to tip the scales more toward meritocracy and away from political games.

With those thoughts in mind, and with the intent that we each do our small part in shaping what happens to us and those around us, here are my thoughts on what we could do about it.

  1. Intentionally not including someone who-should-be-in-a-group, in an e-mail, in an outing, in a meeting, etc., is a negative incentive or punishment and does not support a meritocracy. Instead, it’s far kinder and less work to opt for direct and transparent communication about why you or the group are leaving someone out, no matter how difficult the conversation. (And if there is no reason to intentionally leave someone out, examine why you and the group are doing so, and what the potential up-sides and down-sides are for doing so.)
  2. Not saying something directly to offenders, and rousing othersto pit against those-who-left-you-out (or whatever other wrong was done to you) is an unproductive use of time and energy. Have a direct conversation with offenders and seek to understand. (Seek help if you need it after you’ve tried the direct approach.)
  3. Intentionally withholding information and resourcesfrom others within the organization, even if they are from competing internal teams, is an unproductive use of time and resources. Find the win-win in working together collaboratively
  4. Intentionally mis-representing someone’s actions and wordsto their dis-credit, whatever the reason, is more a reflection on you than it is a reflection of them. Others will discover this quickly and be wary of all that you say and do.
  5. To do an about-face on a decisionbased on pressure from others (rather than on facts) is disloyal to the direction and people you first adopted *and* to the new direction and people you’re leaning toward. Make the right choice based on facts and merit and stick with it.
  6. There is no excuse for telling bold-faced lies. And using ‘data’ to back up the lies doesn’t change the fact that it’s a lie. You may win a battle here and there with these lies, but never the war. And the lies will catch up with you. Plus you have to live with yourself, regardless of whether they do.
  7. Purposely mis-understanding the intentof someone’s communication to their detriment or to your benefit is a form of a lie. See #5 above.
  8. Taking credit for someone else’s workis a form of a lie. See #5 above.
  9. Assigning or manipulating someone else to do the work and taking the credit for itis worse than #8 above.
  10. Pretending to be someone’s friend and taking advantage of the friendshipis a lie upon a lie. Need I say more?

I hope that this post helps each of us take steps in search of meritocracy within a business, no matter where we sit in the totem pole, no matter how we are directly or indirectly affected by the actions of others.

Something From Nothing

January 20, 2015 by

Something From NothingI live in Silicon Valley, where tech entrepreneurs rule. It’s a world where being smart and working hard are a given, and being creative and resourceful are regularly rewarded. And being able to make something from nothing sets you apart.

Although I’ve spent the last two decades working with tech start-ups as an employee, consultant, vendor and adviser, I started from humble beginnings. Born in Hong Kong, the second of four children, our family of 6 immigrated to San Francisco to stay with my aunt with $20 in our pockets and no job. I learned at the age of 5 about the value of friends and family, the rewards of hard work, the promise education provides, and that the opportunities are available for the hard-working, passionate and creative.

Today, I feel my parents beaming down on the four of us kids from above, proud that we are the educated, independent and good people that are we. In working with the wide range of tech leaders and companies over the past two decades, I’ve also learned a thing or two about creating Something From Nothing.

  1. The opportunities are there for those who can see ‘something’, when so many others don’t.
  2. That ‘something’ must be about what-the-customers-want, not about how sexy the technology is.
  3. Because we are emerging from an Age of Information to an Age of Personalization, technology will be a key part of creating individualized ‘somethings’ for the customer.
  4. Creating ‘something’ takes skill, persistence, creativity, flexibility, and so much more.
  5. Leaders at all levels must ever focus on building momentum, creating positive energy. Standing still, no matter how profitable, is choosing complacency, and others who are more mobile and flexible will achieve that edge.
  6. Choose people to work with who are ethical, talented, and hardworking – in that order.
  7. Choose customers, partners, investors and other stakeholders carefully. Communicate transparently, clearly and regularly to continue to build a win-win, long-term relationship with all.
  8. Your internal team must be working together to meet common goals. Dissenters, no matter how talented, are not worth the investment of time and money.
  9. No matter where you sit within the organization, know when and where you fit best, and know when you should move yourself from one place to another as the company grows. Know also how others fit within the organization and how that is impacting the organization. And if you see a misalignment, do something about it.
  10. Knowing what-you-do-for-whom may change with the times. Knowing what-technologies-work-today may not be the answer tomorrow. Knowing who’s the right customer/partner/investor/staff member/etc. today may not work for tomorrow. Being fluid and managing each of the situations above, and whatever else may arise, while maintaining relationships with all, will separate the winners from the wanna-bes.

Those are my thoughts based on my experience coaching executives and advising start-ups. What are yours?

How to Throw More Balls Up Higher: Juggling Work-Life Balance in Demanding Times

January 17, 2015 by

JanPanelFountainBlue’s January 16 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of How to Throw More Balls Up Higher: Juggling Work-Life Balance in Demanding Times. Below are notes from the conversation.

We were fortunate to have a wide range of panelists to cover our work-life integration topic. They had different educational backgrounds, career paths, and family choices. They each lead from a different role, in a different tech company. Yet they also had much in common: 1) they chose to work in tech companies and rose to positions of influence within these companies; 2) they chose to complement their work life with a full calendar of responsibilities and commitments outside work, including family; 3) they made tough choices when they needed to; and 4) they freely and generously shared their stories and words of advice with us.

They told us collectively to:

Make the Right Career Choices

  1. Choose a job and role for which you have a passion and have skills to contribute.
  2. Work with managers and companies which would help you achieve your personal and professional objectives.

Continue to Grow

  1. Seize every opportunity to learn and grow. Be open to experiencing new things and new perspectives. But be realistic about managing the time and responsibilities to ensure that you can succeed if you take on *too* much.
  2. Manage life like a roller coaster – things go in waves, in ebbs and flows. Give a little here, take a little there, and choose to intentionally coast sometimes.
  3. Learn from your mentors, sponsors and others around you.
  4. Lower your standards and broaden your perspective if that would help better integrate work and life.
  5. Learn to ask for help. And be prepared to also help others. Above all, don’t judge yourself or others for needing help.
  6. Make and take the time for yourself, so that you can be more ‘present’ and ‘prepared’ for the other things of importance.
  7. Surround yourself with the network of people who will believe in you, be there for you, and accept you. Beware those who would judge you for the choices you make.

Get the Support You Need

  1. Enlist the help of others around you, especially for delegating the less important things.
  2. Clear and transparent communication between work, home, community, parent, and other parties will help you navigate a path to success, even when circumstances are difficult.
  3. Set clear boundaries and expectations on all sides, and live by those boundaries, while also remaining fluid about them as your priorities will evolve and change.
  4. Leverage technology to facilitate efficiency and communication and results.
  5. Leverage Employee Assistance Programs, and other corporate offerings which may help you navigate a particularly difficult time in your life.

The biggest takeaway is that we are not alone. Nobody has it all, all the time. But investing in yourself and getting support for all that you do will help you manage your work-life integration objectives.

Please join us in thanking our hosts at Dell and our speakers for FountainBlue’s January 16 When She Speaks, Women in Leadership Series event was on the topic of How to Throw More Balls Up Higher: Juggling Work-Life Balance in Demanding Times:

  • Facilitator Jerri Barrett, Vice President of Outreach, SENS Research Foundation
  • Panelist Maryam Alexandrian – VP Global Sales, Channels & Field Ops, Dell Inc
  • Panelist Serpil Bayraktar, Principal Engineer, Chief Architect’s Office – Development, Cisco
  • Panelist Sondra Bollar, Software Development Director, Oracle
  • Panelist Niki Hall, Vice President of Corporate Marketing, Polycom
  • Panelist Vijaya Voleti, Senior Engineering Manager, PayPal

Perception Trumps Reality

January 9, 2015 by


We all know that how-you’re-perceived is more important than who you are and what you do/what you’ve done. However, the raw pain and sense of betrayal of this injustice really eats at you when you’re again the victim of misperception. Take heart – here’s some advice on how to better align how-you’re-perceived and who-you’d-like-to-come-across!

  1. Know the delta between how others see you and how you’d like to be seen. It’s just the way of the world, and blame can’t be assigned on either side. Just work with what you have rather than objecting that it exists!
  2. Always focus on understanding the people involved, their motivations and the problem at hand. Knowing the lay-of-the-land will help you better understand the world view of others and how their world view impacts their perception of you.
  3. Understand the political landscape so you can build the relationships and messaging needed to better align perception and reality about your capabilities. Be flexible about who you like and whom you can work with. Question your own assumptions and conclusions about the people around you. Assume best intent of others, unless they prove otherwise to you – not just by what others say about them. These people don’t have to enter your inner circle, but it helps to build a broad range of professional connections to help align the perceptions with the facts.
  4. Make a proactive and ongoing investment in managing your brand, as that’s how others perceive you. People are going to have their perception about you anyway, so make it easy for them to see you as you’d like to be seen. Communicate proactively, transparently and regularly.
  5. Don’t let misalignments in perception slide. Not knowing what’s being said about you or not saying and doing something about it can be interpreted as tacit approval and weakness.
  6. Figure out who’s playing what political games and for what purpose. The key players of these games are probably impacting how you are perceived by others.
  7. Manage your own emotions and reactions, especially when you are a victim of political games. It’s not that your emotions are illogical or unwarranted, it’s that many people feel uncomfortable and helpless around others who are responding emotionally, and most people think that over-emotives can’t be competent.
  8. Do what you can to facilitate a more transparent, more trusting environment and culture one conversation, one leader, one organization at a time.
  9. Stuff happens to the best relationships, to the best people. Nurture true and deep relationships with good people and stand behind the people in your close network, even if circumstances are making them act out of character. Try to understand what they are going through and be as gracious and supportive and forgiving as you can be.
  10. Regardless of which seat you might have at the table, if you have one at all. In other words, see all problems as opportunities to lead. Turning negative energy and emotions into a positive course forward helps not just you but everyone around you. Are you resilient and courageous enough to see the opportunity in every disaster?

What are your thoughts? What will you do differently the next time?

What’s Next?

December 31, 2014 by

WhatsNextAs we exit 2014 and enter 2015, it’s a time of reflection – reviewing what has passed and planning for what’s to come. Below are some thoughts and questions on how to evaluate what’s happened and what’s next.

  1. What are the facts? What problems did you solve and what results did you generate?
  2. How did what you accomplish above fit into your plans-for-the-year created last year? Where did you measure up, exceed expectations or miss out altogether?
  3. What were the surprises – good, bad and ugly? Why were they surprises? Were they welcome? What did you do to make the best of these surprises?
  4. Who was a part of your life in ways small and big? How would you change the way you interact with these people in 2015?
  5. What will you do differently and unexpectedly next year, assuming that you have a desire to do so? How long have you had the desire to do that thing and why are you considering doing it now?
  6. How has your life changed for the better and for the worse? What will you do about it to embrace the good changes and slough off the bad?
  7. How has your company and the market changed in the past year, and how will that affect your plans for the new year?
  8. What is your one big regret relationship-wise in this year, and what can you do now to make it right?
  9. What is your one big regret in your business or in your job and what can you do to fix it?
  10. What is the most magical thing that could happen to you and for you in 2015 and what can you do to facilitate that occurrence?

We hope that you find them helpful. Our best to you and yours for a peaceful, fulfilling and magical 2015!


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