Tag

decision making

Leadership

The difference between being right and getting the right answer

Entrepreneurs can be a hard headed lot. It takes courage, determination, a lot of luck, and sometimes just old fashioned, bull-headed persistence to create a company but as a result entrepreneurs don’t always listen well.But even if you know you resemble this description, ask yourself – is it more important for you to get to the right answer, or to be right?

You want to be right because your team wants to follow someone who knows what to do. You want to be right because it’s more efficient, and it increases your confidence, and if you’re right more often than you are wrong you have a good chance of winning. And if you believe you are right you are more likely to take risk.

But your potential investor wants you to be more interested in getting to the right answer than being right. When you are building your company you cannot predict what’s going to happen. You may switch markets, your customers may show you a different direction, the company may almost die more than once, you are certain to make some bad hires along the way. It is almost guaranteed that your journey will not be smooth.

As a result, it is much more impactful as an investor to work with entrepreneurs who are seeking truth, seeking to understand, seeking the right answer. These entrepreneurs ask questions, question themselves and try out ideas without fear of being wrong. As an investor you can dig in and problem solve with them. It’s more fun, it’s less frustrating, and you are more likely to get to a great end result together.

So when you are talking with potential investors, or even potential senior team members you want to hire, ask yourself how strong is your need to be right?

Leadership

5 Keys to Authentic Leadership

From a talk I gave at VMware in Palo Alto earlier this month

Leadership comes in many styles – charismatic, intellectual, bullying – but in all cases leadership is hard to sustain over time unless it is authentic. Real. Genuine. These 5 keys are from a woman’s perspective, but most apply just as much to men.


1. Embrace making decisions. 

Not only embrace them, but have confidence in how you make decisions. I’m a fast, intuitive decision maker. I make a decision on minimal visible information and then use data to check my decision. This means I cannot be afraid to be wrong and change my decision, but I will make it in my head, whether I like it or not.

For a long time, I thought that my method of decision making was in some way bad. Shortcut, or lazy but not a studied, analysis based approach which is what “smart” people do. I doubted myself and did not feel authentic about my own decision making! Until I read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

As I read Blink I gradually realized that I was not crazy, but my method of decision making is actually very human. We have evolved to make snap decisions on limited amounts of data – some visible to us, some not – and when you can tap into that skill and embrace it is an advantage! But you do need to keep one ear open and keep listening to additional information as it comes in so you can course correct if you need to.

Embrace your decisions and be real about your decision making process. Don’t pretend otherwise – even if you’ve been taught it’s not ladylike to be assertive. If it’s your decision make it; if it’s someone else’s support them. Be direct.  It takes guts to make big decisions, but it’s what leaders do.

2. Don’t ask “whether”, ask “when”

This is an area where men typically differ from women. There are many studies now that show that men will ask for promotion before they are ready, whereas women will wait until they are over qualified to put themselves forward for promotion. I believe, if you have a goal, it’s really important that you communicate that goal out to your leadership confidently. Don’t think about whether you’ll get a promotion or a big opportunity, think about when you’ll get it. Talk with your management about what you want, and ask for their help to get you there.

American Express used this understanding of how women wait to change the demographics at the top of their company. They won the ABI Top Company for Technical Women in 2012 and when Yvonne Schneider accepted the award she spoke of how AmEx proactively trained their male managers to reach down into the organization and ask women to apply for promotions, often before they would have done it naturally themselves. As a result, women moved up into management alongside of men, and the top of AmEx was changed. AmEx didn’t ask whether, they asked when and reached down.

I knew I wanted to be a CEO after I had been working a few years. And being verbal, I talked about it with my network. With the coaches and VCs whom I was getting to know. And as a result I got told all the reasons I was not ready and the education and experience I needed to get to be ready. It was invaluable, and included my company Synopsys sending me to the Stanford Executive MBA to learn about finance and management (since all my formal training was in mathematics). Had I not spoken out about “when I’m a CEO” I would never have got the smack down and been told to learn about running a P&L first, which was the best advice I could have received at the time!


3. Learn to Act As If

You might think that learning to act is in contradiction to being authentic, but I find it’s a part of the process. There are so many situations where I have had to learn to act as if I belong, even though I am the odd man out (so to speak). For many years I went to Japan every 4-6 weeks for business meetings with my customers. In 6 years I was never, ever in a meeting in Japan with another woman. The only women I met were tea ladies. And through that experience I learned to act like a man. I was treated as an honorary male. I learned to drink whiskey late at night in small Osaka bars, and eat food that was still moving, and most of all, never show traditional female traits. That made me effective, and over time my behavior became natural and authentic to me.

And just a few weeks ago I went to a dinner in Palo Alto for 100 CEOs and I was the only woman in the room. By now I’ve learned to “act as if”. As if it’s not odd being alone in a crowded room and relax. That allows me to be authentic in the moment.

4. Balance is a myth

I’ve written and spoken about this many times here and here. I spoke about it again at VMware. We’re in a competitive industry. We’re competing on a global scale. It’s important to decide what matters to you at any point in time, and focus on that. Balance doesn’t win intense market share fights or create dramatic innovation. 

And sometimes you just have to let go and be human. Like the time my son broke his arm on the last day of the quarter. This story always gets a laugh… because it’s true!

5. Laughter is the best weapon

Gender discrimination is all around us, all the time. Some days I think it’s getting better, some days when I see the games being played in the San Francisco tech startup world I think nothing’s changed, but my approach remains the same: when it happens to you keep a sense of humor. It’s hard for men to discriminate if you are humorous in your response, and it help you keep your head on straight and not get mad.

One day, when I was a CEO, I was at the beginning of a meeting with a group of investment bankers who did not yet know my company. We had not yet introduced ourselves and one of the group knocked over a diet Coke. Without missing a beat the banker turned to me and said “sweetie can you clean that up?” I smiled, went to kitchen for paper towel, came back, cleaned up, went and washed my hands, came back, reached out my hand to the banker and with a big smile said “Hello, my name is Penny, I am the CEO”.

One evening, I was at a dinner with people I did not know, at a table of men. During dinner I felt a hand on my knee, creeping under my napkin suggestively. I leaned towards the man whose hand it was, gave him a big smile, lifted his hand up and put it back on his lap and said “no thankyou”.

I have a thousand stories like that, and I have found humor defuses almost any situation. Especially if you are a leader in the group. If someone discriminates against you it is rare that it is overtly intentional. And if you can, try to work with men who have wives who work or daughters. Your humor will make them catch themselves and think about what they are doing.

In the end effective, authentic leadership is all about results. Being authentic means you are focused on the real, the now and reaching the end in mind. You don’t get caught up in what people think about you – instead you try to be your most complete self in the moment – and so be effective.

Leadership

It takes guts to make imperfect decisions

Every day we make decisions that impact our future. Every day we decide on pricing, product, sales strategy, hiring and because it’s an imperfect world we never have enough information.

When you’re building a company you have to get very comfortable with making decisions on partial information. There is never enough time to assemble all the facts, and if you wait for them you’ll fail anyway because the opportunity will pass you by.

Think about product design. When you’re creating a new market and growing fast you can’t take the time to survey the market, ask users what they want and then carefully design your product in response! Quite the contrary – you need to have a vision, a theory of what users want, build it and watch how they react. Do A/B testing to see which approach is better. Make changes very quickly as you figure it out. Listen to customers problems but don’t let them prescribe the solution.

Consider choosing a job. You never know enough, or everything, about a job until you’re in it. You can try to find out, but if you are too pedantic and careful about collecting information chances are you’ll turn off the very manager and company you want to work for, or you’ll miss the window for the job. Your job will probably dominate the majority of your waking hours – you need to fall in love and that’s not an analytical process. It’s a gut process.

And how about sales strategy! Sales campaigns are always under time pressure. A sale delayed is a sale lost (as one of my sales mentors used to tell me). So you can take an afternoon with the team at the white board thrashing through all the intelligence you have from your coaches but in the end you have to decide on a strategy with partial information and then be ready to course correct if you have to. When millions of dollars are on the line that takes balls.

But being able to make good decisions, where the majority are right, from incomplete information will change your future. As Pythagoras said “Choices are the hinges of destiny”. When you are courageous and make the decision with imperfect information you mold your destiny. So take a deep breath, embrace your imperfect information, and decide!