Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Your Good is Good Enough

August 19, 2016

KiralyGoodIsGoodEnoughKarch Kiraly is one of my heroes. He’s a three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, a winner of at least one tournament in 24 of the 28 seasons he has played, a medalist in tournaments held in 24 different states with 13 different partners, and one of THE reasons that beach volleyball has risen so quickly within the US and worldwide, for men and for women.

As if that’s not enough, he’s that star coach who has flawless technique, is strategic and mentally tough, and creates a culture that’s positive, energetic and supportive, not an easy task when you’re working with top athletes! He stood out again to me this Olympic season when China took the opening set against the American women’s team, in large part because of six American service errors in a game to 25.

Most coaches would have been pulling their hair out in frustration. But Karch said, “Your good is good enough”. It gave me goose bumps. It helped the team turn it around, winning the remaining three games 25-17, 25-19, 25-19.

It said to me that if you get out of your own way, your own head, you are better than you thought possible, and greatness is within your reach but only if you don’t over-reach.

Think ‘your-good-is-good-enough’ when:

  1. you’re waiting for someone to call you a Great Pretender;
  2. when you’re tweaking at something so long and hard you forget why;
  3. you settle for less than you’re worth;
  4. you don’t know what to do when opportunity knocks;
  5. you’re challenged beyond your comfort zone;
  6. your little voice tells you you’re not big, smart, strong, good, right enough;
  7. you’re waiting for the right time, moment, place, scenario to play at the next level;
  8. you think that someone else might be a better person for that raise, promotion, opportunity, project, etc.,
  9. you replay your failures over and over again; and
  10. you wish that something didn’t happen exactly that way.

Thank you Coach Karch, for helping me embrace what’s good enough in me.

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Building Hope in a Time of Change

August 3, 2016

HopeInATimeOfChange

Change happens. It’s a part of life, especially if you work in a Silicon Valley based tech company. I recently participated in an all-hands meeting for a company undergoing massive changes real-time.It’s a testament to the leadership team that shares have soared amidst all this change. And it’s a further testament to the leadership team that the all-hands panel discussion was planned to help address questions and fears of staff around the world. Featured on the panel were a wide range of leaders from different locations and roles. All these leaders were new to me, and as with any new leader, my first question is ‘who are you’ The response to that first question was resoundingly clear: they are each authentic, experienced and passionate leaders invested in the success of their people and their company. They have led and persevered during and beyond their time at with their company, and generously shared their wisdom and advice – see notes below.

Be the type of resilient leader anyone would want on their team.

  • Change is inevitable. Choose to bend but not break. See change as an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Focus on the positive opportunities implicit with each change. It rarely goes as planned, but with the right mindset, it can go better than you could have imagined.
  • Whether you choose to focus on social, physical, spiritual or community activities outside work, find ways to stay centered during times of change.
  • Have a broader perspective so that you can navigate inevitable changes, whether that involves connecting with others outside work, focusing on others’ realities which make work challenges seem small, or comparing your own challenges with those less fortunate.
  • Identify the facts and accept and focus on what you can change, and what needs to happen so that the change is effective.
  • Manage your perspectives and emotions throughout a change. It’s a waste of energy to assume negative intent in times of change. Find out the facts, and assume positive or neutral intent so that you can proactively manage the change.
  • Accept that wherever you are is where you are meant to be. Be fully present in each moment.
  • Learn from your own mistakes and transfer those learnings on to others.
  • Build relationships wherever you go. Don’t bucket someone as all-negative. Be open that she/he might change, or might be different in another context. And even if he/she is no better than you thought, she/he might wind up being your boss, so you have to make the best of it. Never burn a bridge.

Support others as they navigate through change.

  • Model the way as a leader, no matter where you sit at the table, even if there’s no table. Have confidence, faith and trust in the change at hand, and work hard to deliver to that shared commitment.
  • Regardless of who you’re talking to, and what level they are at within the organization, communicate proactively, transparently and candidly. Don’t sugar-coat it. Don’t be vague. But do be as positive as you can be.
  • Proactively manage your emotions and coach others on how to do the same. Nobody wants complainers and naysayers. It’s OK to be a safe haven for those who need to talk it out, but not OK if that turns into a grouse session.
  • Stick to the facts. It’s easy to make up stories or assume negative intent if you don’t stick to the facts. Help others do the same, sifting out what actually happened from what the perception/interpretation is of what happened.
  • Privately call others out for their snarky remarks, their negative body language, their passive-aggressive actions, their deflating energy, etc. Be that mirror for them and show them how their behavior is affecting themselves, those around them, and the bottom line results.
  • Communicate the positive results created since the last change, and say that the current change offers a new opportunity to deliver beyond what anyone may be expecting.
  • Be that glass-half-full optimist. Even if things go the-way-not-preferred, consider what the best case scenario would be.
  • Encourage and support those around you to understand and manage their stress during change, and to craft and own their plan for navigating through the change.
  • Appreciate the perspectives and backgrounds of others so that you can help them navigate through the change.
  • Assume that change will happen and develop pre-planned change-mitigation strategies. This will help you get through those layers of shock, denial, arguing, etc., which might naturally come with unexpected changes.
  • Paint a detailed picture of the worst-case scenario and talk through it, to help understand that it may not be as bad as you might think, especially if you’re plan-fully aware of it.
  • Some people don’t have the experience and background to know how to persevere through adversity. Consider it an opportunity to help them navigate a change, and help them see the up-side of that adversity/change.
  • Never say that your reality is worse than theirs.

In conclusion, I’ll quote Shakespeare ‘to thine own self be true’. Regardless of what change comes forth, know who you are, where you are going, and what can be learned with every change.

I follow the first question with a second one: ‘where are we going from here and why’. The response I personally have to these leaders is ‘anywhere you’d like to go, I trust you to lead the way.’ May there be more leaders like these out there and may their company and all they touch continue to thrive.

What Kind of Leader are You?

July 19, 2016

WhatKindofLeader

Everyone wants to be a leader, and in a perfect world, we are all great leaders. The best leaders know what type of leadership is needed for any circumstance, and she/he knows how and when to best excel, and who can complement his/her own leadership style. I find it helpful to understand the types leaders I most respect, especially as I notice that each one shines under different circumstances.

1. The Beacon is the leader that shines the way. She/he doesn’t get into the details but inspires because of a vision described or an impossible task performed, or both.

2. The Cheerleader is the leader that believes unconditionally in the person, the team or the cause. He/she is ever the person to pick up everyone after a failure, a set-back, an unintended result. The resilience and optimism is contagious and necessary for the success of any project.

3. The Anchor keeps everyone focused on the values and the goals of relevance to the team. She/he carries that moral compass and measures and communicates the results generated.

4. The Devil’s Advocate helps vet new ideas to help ensure that they fit the mission and vision of the project or organization and that they are practical, considering the resources available.

5. The Mediator resolves issues between team members by smoothing feathers, by clarifying communications, by facilitating compromises and re-focusing everyone on the shared mission and vision.

6. The Negotiator is the leader who works with those outside the group to gather more energy and resources so that results can be realized.

7. The Translator helps ensure that people from different backgrounds and perspectives are speaking a common language and working toward a common purpose.

8. The Ambassador advocates for the project or cause to ensure that there are sufficient resources and time so that results can be generated.

9. The Prodigy is the learner and next-generation leader who will carry the torch for future projects. He or she is curious and energetic, open-minded and multi-faceted.

10. The Leader of Leaders have a touch of each of the above, and knows which facet to turn on when to make things happen.

What type of leader are you? Which circumstances require what type of leadership?

Here’s to the Heroes

May 30, 2016
Heroes

Lieutenant Alix Idrache, Photo taken by Staff Sgt Vito T  Bryant at May 21, 2016 graduation from West Point

In this time of graduations and celebrations, on this day when we honor those who have served/are serving/will be serving our country, I would like to humbly acknowledge  the heroes amongst us. (See also the inspiring and patriotic article behind the photo.)

  1. Here’s to those leaders who were the glue who held us together, the oil who kept us running smoothly, and the lighthouse that led the way, especially when the possibilities seemed bleak. Most notable amongst them to me is John F Kennedy, who he challenged us as a nation to “Go to the Moon” in his speech to Congress on May 25, 1961.
  2. Here’s to the persistent visionaries who overcame insurmountable odds to define a new world of possibilities. Notable amongst them is Christopher Columbus, who defied those who feared falling off the end of the earth, who overcame the reservations of his backers, Queen Isabel and King Ferndinand – Isabel and Fernando, los Reyes Católicos – (who in the end didn’t think he would succeed, but didn’t want to lose out on the benefits if he did), and who overcame a near mutiny of his sailors, before sighting the white sands of San Salvador Island in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492.
  3. Here’s to those who have inspired and challenged us to question and change the status quo. Notable amongst them is Mahatma Gandhi. inspired others to change their world through nonviolent civil disobedience, not just to help India gain independence from Britain, but also to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.
  4. Here’s to scientists like Albert Einstein and Madame Curie whose research changed the way the world works and opens up new possibilities for all of us.
  5. Here’s to those like Pocahontas who have bravely bridged two worlds, opening up the possibility of understanding and collaboration.
  6. Here’s to the explorers of new frontiers including Christopher Columbus, Lewis and Clark, Neil Armstrong and their funders. The world is a better, broader place because you’ve done so.
  7. Here’s to the selfless givers amongst us, who put others in front of themselves. Notable amongst them is Mother Theresa.
  8. Here’s to those who have stretched our perceptions about what’s ‘normal and acceptable’, to the creatives and un-structureds, and hyper-normals who stretch our comfort and reality zones. People like the Beatles, Jackie Robinson, and of course Picasso and Dali have changed and opened up our thinking.
  9. Here’s to the leaders who accepted criticism, injustice and adversity with grace and humor and fortitude. I stand behind our President Barack Obama and his numbers to date, but don’t want to get political. I appreciate his humor and wit in his ‘Obama Out‘ speech at a White House correspondence dinner.
  10. Lastly, here’s to the everyday, unnamed heroes who are humbled and inspired by the trust and faith of others, overwhelmed and inspired by the possibilities ahead, and resilient, ethical and competent enough to continue leading the way.

Who are YOUR heroes and what do they stand for?

What It Takes to Lead

April 25, 2016

Group of woman

I’m one of those people who gets out there and meets a lot of people, whether it’s for the events that I run monthly or with the execs I coach or the start-ups I advise, or just at social and neighborhood gatherings, networking is part of my DNA – I like connecting people with each other, and connecting disparate ideas into something new.

So when I’m asked ‘What does it take to lead?’ I think about it from the context of meeting and knowing a wide range of leaders – at all levels of the hierarchy, representing all roles, from start-ups with a seed-of-an-idea to Fortune 10 companies. Below is my view of what the best leaders have in common.

What It Takes from the Inside – Your HEART

They say that every great leader has a vision of what’s possible, a vision she/he is passionate about.

  1. I would agree, and also add that this vision may not be specific to a business. It may be a social and community vision implemented by a Mother Theresa or a social vision implemented by a business icon through their foundation.
  2. But I would add that having that vision isn’t enough, for one must also have the energyand ability to make it happen, the attitude to persevere and succeed despite insurmountable odds, and the wisdom and patience to manage the inevitable stress which always arises when big things happen, when many people are involved.

What it takes to Execute – Your HANDS

A vision is only a dream, unless a leader knows how to make it a reality. There are four elements of execution:

  1. Financial execution which focuses on the P&L and efficient, scalable operations.
  2. Cultural execution which ensures that the right people join and grow and stay within the organization.
  3. Product execution which works with product, development and sales/marketing/customer/ops teams to ensure that customers are happy with the product or service.
  4. Growth execution which engages the right staff, customers and alliances to proactively grow the product or offering.

What It Takes to Be Smart and Strategic: Your HEAD

Assuming that you have the vision to make things happen, and the ability to execute on that vision, you will need to be strategic and smart enough to weave the pieces together.

  1. Every great leader embraces technology as a great enabler, as a great tool for serving ever more demanding customers.
  2. Every great leader is a transparent, clear, proactive communicator with the ability to influence others to make things happen. 
  3. Every great leader chooses opportunities for continuous learning, and continually raises the bar for herself/himself. No great leader does things the way it has always been done, even if they do that same thing exceptionally well.
  4. Every great leader seeks the win-for-all collaborative solution which engages all stakeholders in delivering results.

So based, on this criteria, who do you know that’s great? And what criteria would you use to define greatness?

Thoughts on the Future of Work

March 1, 2016

FutureOfWorkThere’s  been so much change in the way companies, leaders and businesses work with each other and together, so it’s difficult to plan your future, whether you’re new to the workforce, returning to the workforce or planning how to remain gainfully employed in later years. Here are my thoughts on the type of work that’s available and how to embrace these opportunities and and prepare for the challenges to come.

  1. The tech-philic worker will be favored, and those who reject or deny this fact will be much less employable. Technology will help workers to gather and interpret data and information so that they can be more productive and better serve the customer, both of which are critical to the performance of any company.
  2. The learning-agile worker will be favored. Those who are resistant to learning new ways of doing things will be left behind, especially as automation will replace the need of workers-who-perform-repetitive-tasks.
  3. The communicative worker will more likely succeed as it would be easier for them to work with all the internal and external stakeholders involved in any job – from colleague to teammate, from partner to customer.
  4. The patient, helpful, service-oriented worker will be better positioned to serve demanding customers. There will always be jobs for people who know how to make even the pickiest of customers happy.
  5. Collaboration between people and companies will more likely succeed. Leaders will be those who can envision the benefits of collaborating across roles, companies and industries, and create and facilitate those successful partnerships.
  6. If you combine the 5 traits above, you will find a worker who may be able to tailor products and services to the needs of the customer. There will always be a role for people who can succeed in doing this well.
  7. Company leaders will be more focused on data and analytics, and there will be more meritocracy-based cultures and less politics.
  8. Along those same lines, productivity of people and product/service lines will be based more on data and information, and less on politics and agendas.
  9. Company leaders will help make it easy for a diverse population of workers to succeed – whether it’s making remote work possible or providing tech tools to support an aging or disabled or other non-standard worker.
  10. The bottom line is that companies and leaders will acknowledge that they are only as good as their people, and think, speak and act accordingly.

Those are my thoughts on the Future of Work. How will these things impact YOU? What can we do to support you in planfully remaining well employed? How can we support your company in attracting, developing and retaining the best and brightest?  Your comments are welcome.

Secrets for Leveling Up

February 17, 2016

LevelingUpThese are not really secrets, nor do they work for everyone, nor do I claim that below is an exhaustive list of strategies. However, the advice below in aggregate can help you rise to a higher level within your organization, if you have reasonable leaders in a growing and successful company.

  1. Decide that you want to level up and rise within your organization, and consistently strive to do so. So many people apply bursts of initiative and effort here and there, which only serves to confuse others – at times you’re seen as motivated and brilliant, and at other times, you fly under the radar. Consciously deciding to level up means bringing your A game every time, all the time.
  2. This is assuming that your A game is good, that you perform well by everyone’s measure, that you are successful working on a diverse range of projects and a wide range of responsibilities, partners and staff.
  3. Clearly communicate your role in the success of projects, without taking credit for the work that others have done.
  4. Watch for people who take the credit for the work that you do and strategize on how to fix that directly or indirectly. In the wort case, the leaders and management will never give you the credit, role, resources, recognition and responsibility  you deserve, so if you’re deciding to level up, you are in the wrong company.
  5. There are more opportunities in companies that are doing well in growing markets of course. However, there are also many opportunities to help stagnating companies in declining markets make a pivot toward a more profitable product, service or market. The key is to understand the needs of the customer in your market and adjacent markets.
  6. But knowing the needs of the customers and the trends in the market is not enough. You need to know how your company can shift its products and offerings to better serve that customer.
  7. And knowing that isn’t enough either. You have to convince key stakeholders throughout the organization about this strategy and collaborate with all stakeholders with the objective of better serving the customer.
  8. Succeeding in the above will change your relationships with many people. Most will be surprised to see a new side of you. Some will not like it, and try to play games and revert the relationship to the way it used to be. Get the support you need to be strong and purposeful. Know who your friends are, and don’t trust those who are only pretending to be your friend.
  9. Doing the above well means that you will have a larger profile, a broader and deeper network, as well as more credibility, responsibility and resources. You may choose to stop ascending if the responsibilities, pressure and stress are too much, if it’s not what you want or need after all. If you decide to do that, make sure it’s the right choice for you. It would be hard to change your mind later and try again to level up, for there will be those who remember when you last tried to do so. But don’t judge yourself if you decide *not* to ‘swim with the sharks’. It’s definitely not for everyone!
  10. But if you do decide to continue leveling up, make sure that you’re emotionally, mentally, psychologically and physically up to that level of exposure and pressure, and get the support you need to stay fresh, centered and strong.

Best wishes on your journey up the corporate escalator. We welcome your comments on how *you* would level-up.

Choose This, Not That

January 26, 2016

Choose your wayIn this very competitive employee market, everyone is looking for that top talent that would best represent the company, best grow the business and best serve partners and customers. But most of us have experienced first-hand the folly and consequences of those bad-hires that have missed the mark – maybe not in a ‘bad’ way, but in a way that means lost opportunity, and lost time. Here are some rules of thumb I suggest, when you face two apparently equally-qualified candidates for that critical position.

  1. Passion vs. Efficiency. Choose the one who is more passionate about the role, the task and the business. Sometimes you might find someone more efficient than passionate, and that’s good too, but the passionate one will more likely have more fortitude, more perseverance and more patience for the long run.
  2. Education vs. Experience. Some companies and hiring managers look for the right degree from the right school. But I’m personally more impressed by how someone has applied that education in the work context, to produce tangible results. (And I’m personally *not* impressed with companies and pseudo-leaders who are snobbish about educational pedigree.)
  3. In-depth knowledge vs. Openness to learning.  It’s wonderful to meet someone who knows the ins and outs of technologies, processes and solutions, and even more wonderful if he or she is open to learning new ways of doing things. But if you had to choose one or the other, choose the one who is more open. For anyone who thinks that they know how things are done/should be done may not be able to shift with the speed of business, especially when you need to do it quickly!
  4. Process vs Agility. Of course you want someone who is efficient and puts processes in place so that she or he doesn’t have to re-invent the wheel at every turn. But you also want someone agile and nimble enough to flex with the needs of customers and markets. Ideally you need both, but if you had to choose, go with those who are agile and customer-minded, yet efficient and process-driven.
  5. In the box vs. Out of the box. When you’re in-the-box, you know the ins and outs of the business, the technologies, the people around you. Thinking and acting out-of-the-box is good, when done well, but it can also be disrupting and disconcerting for those around you, so of course you need a balance. If you have to choose, select the out-of-the-box thinker and doer who knows how to communicate the whys and whats before making others around them feel uncomfortable.
  6. Speak vs. Listen. Any great leader is also a great communicator. But most leaders don’t know that speaking with impact comes only after listening to those around you. So get the quiet candidates to speak their mind, and don’t assume that they would be too quiet and too complacent for the job. And teach her or him how to speak after listening.
  7. Thorough vs. Intuitive. If your thorough candidate follows the 80-20 rule, it’s all good. And if your intuitive candidate is basing intuition on data, that’s also all good. And if you have to choose one or the other, for most roles, the intuitive who understand the data is better. The exception is when a role needs to be extremely thorough, and every nuance of data and task is important, and much rides on the data and information available, go with the more thorough candidate.
  8. And vs Or. You have candidates who are very competitive and speak to their greatness in delivering specific results. And you have candidates who talk about the efforts of the team and how together the team is greater than individual members. This ‘and’ thinking is the kind of collaborative mind set which will better help your company, than the ‘or’ thinking that characterizes how someone is trying to sell herself or himself over someone else who is equally qualified for the role.
  9. Inclusive vs Selective. You will have candidates who have a track record for working with disparate teams and people, and those who have a track record for working with people just like them. Both are good, but if you had to choose, the one with experience working with diverse people would be more open to working with diverse teams, customers, technologies and requirements.
  10. Breadth vs. Depth. Although doing a deep-dive in any one technology, industry, company or market is also a very good thing, breadth in education, role, experience, company and industry will bring you a more well-rounded candidate.

These are my opinions based on what I’ve seen over 25 years in working with tech business experiencing much change. I’m sure that your mileage will vary, and I welcome your thoughts! But I also hope that my thoughts above will help you weigh which candidate would work better for you.

Negotiating Best Practices

January 15, 2016

star success partner vector logoFountainBlue’s January 15 VIP roundtable was on the topic of Negotiating Best Practices. Thank you to our senior execs participating in the discussion, as well as our gracious hosts at OCZ. Below is a summary of advice and pearls of wisdom.

  1. Be strategic and plan-ful about each negotiation, taking the time to understand the objectives and goals of various stakeholders, the motivations and drivers for each side, and work the relationship as you manage the process.
  2. Change is part of life in the tech sector. Understanding how people interact with each other, how success is measured, and how to work with various stakeholders through these changes is critical for the successful implementation of programs and projects.
  3. Today’s companies are international in flavor and scope, and negotiating with staff, business partners, customers, etc., to align goals, deliver results using a common standard, and make the top line and bottom line meet are critical to the recruitment, development and retention of your key talent.
  4. Build strong trust-based relationships with key stakeholders and partners and a relationship for communicating with transparency and integrity while delivering on results. 
  5. When negotiations get complicated, it may help to script out a conversation and do some role-playing to prepare for the negotiation.
  6. Ensure that your role and that of your team is one that facilitates communication and collaboration. 
  7. Have a list of musts, wants, and walk-aways, so that you can help manage the natural gives-and-takes when you have a yes-no-yes conversation. You can also think of it as a sandwich of good and bad things to communicate as part of the negotiation process.
  8. Don’t be afraid to make the ask, if it’s the clear and right thing to do, even if it’s awkward and uncomfortable to do it.
  9. Leveraging specialists and resources during tough negotiations, and always be actively listening and empathetic, especially when the egos of top execs are involved. 
  10. Speak the language of various groups to get them all engaged and aligned on the same goals – understanding and delivering what the customer wants.
  11. Be ready to say yes, but with conditions. (e.g., sure we can deliver by X date/integrate that solution, but we can’t hold to the standard of scalability and reliability we set)
  12. When reaching for the next rung on the corporate ladder, first consider do you want to swim with the sharks? Is it something you’re looking to do with the current company/management? If so, learn to confidently and clearly communicate your results with the right people and ensure that you get credit for the work you do. 

In the end, the key to negotiation is to plan-fully create that win-win, to address your immediate and long-term interests while factoring in that of the various stakeholders.

Fail Forward

December 19, 2015

FailForwardIn Silicon Valley, where we wear failure like a badge of courage, we must consider that not all failures are *good* failures. Having witnessed first-hand and indirectly ranging from small to spectacular, my rule of thumb when experiencing failure is whether the failure moves you forward.

  1. Moving forward means that you’ve learned something new about yourself, and what you do well, and not so well.
  2. Moving forward means that you are less likely to do a similar thing again, for very specific reasons.
  3. Moving forward means that you build new relationships in your life that adds more meaning and perspective to what you do at work and at home.
  4. It also means that some important existing relationships are different and/or better.
  5. Moving forward means that you see the overall experience as a net positive one, despite the short-term pain and upset.
  6. Moving forward means that you are stronger and better and more grounded overall.
  7. Moving forward means people who know you and used to know you may see you now in a different light.
  8. Moving forward means that you can forgive yourself, and others involved and know better what to expect from yourself and those same others in future projects.
  9. Moving forward means that you have a broader, deeper view of the world, and the people and technologies and things in it.
  10. Moving forward means that you are better and braver and more prepared for the next adventure.

As we go into a new year, look for opportunities to succeed, reach for stars, and if you have to fail, fail forward.