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leadership

Career Advice

5 Ways to Deal with a Workplace Bully ( Who is Your Customer! )

Customers are usually really fun to work with, but sometimes you run into a difficult one, a classic “tough customer”. So what do you do when you have to work with a customer who is a true bully? You know, the customer who throws his weight around, talks over you, raises his voice if you push back, disrespects you and insults you with aggressive behavior.

I’ve dealt with my fair share of bullies over time and learned the following approaches to defusing the bully behavior. Note, all these tips refer to “him”. I have never encountered a female bully (I am sure they exist), but then again, I have not worked with many female customers, so I will say “him.”

1. Get to know him 

Most bullies have a hard time keeping up the aggressive and domineering behavior once they are on a familiar, social ground with you. Not always, but often. Invite your customer out to lunch with no agenda; don’t talk business, just get to know one another. Be sure to ask lots of questions. Most bullies are insecure, so make him the center of attention. Ask about his family and interests, and listen attentively. You are more likely to enable him to relax around you, and you’ll learn something new about him. This knowledge will help you connect with him in the future.

I had a customer in Arizona many years ago who was awful to deal with–short, angry and aggressive in every meeting, convinced, we, (the vendor), were trying to mislead him. By investing the time getting to know him I earned his trust, and we sold a significant contract to him. In the process I learned what he was deeply worried about; buying the wrong tool and losing technical credibility.

A word of caution–you need to be genuinely interested. If you are faking it your customer will know and you’ll lose his trust.

2. Don’t take his behavior personally 

As I said, most bullies are insecure. If you watch them carefully, you will notice their behavior is no different towards you than it is towards other people. They tend to also bully those below them in the power structure. So while their tactics may push your buttons, or make you so mad you want to punch something or cry, (this had happened to me more than once), remember it is not about you. It’s about him; his fear, his need to assert himself to feel better. Take a step back from the onslaught, take a deep breath, and let it go. This small gesture will turn into a big investment in the long run.

3. Get to know his boss and peers 

This is your insurance policy. In most organizations the other people in his company will know he’s a bully. They usually won’t admit it, but they know. They might have a culture where it serves them to keep him around, or maybe they don’t let people go, (more popular in the 80s than today). Find ways to meet and develop professional relationships with his peers. Discuss areas of common interest such as a mutual customer. Make sure you get to meet his boss, even if he keeps telling you that you don’t need to (which is classic blocker behavior). This way you establish your own credibility, independent of how he portrays you. You will both gain from what you learn about the business as a result: you will be more useful to his company because you’ll understand more of their needs, and your knowledge will help you cement a relationship with him when you are.

4. Stand your ground 

With all that said, you do not have to cave and agree just because someone raises his voice, talks over you or becomes aggressive with you. If you are in the right on a discussion point, or you need your customer to understand an aspect of your work together, hear him out and then gently assert yourself. Let him talk, let him bluster, wait him out. Don’t disagree or cut him off or he’ll increase his bullying. Think tai chi in your head. Let his energy flow over you, and then, when he gives you an opening, tell him what you believe he needs to hear.

5. Move on 

Finally, sometimes you are just incompatible with a bully. Either you trigger something in him, or he triggers something in you. If you’ve tried building a relationship, you’ve been professional and diligent in your service of the customer, and still he’s a bully then maybe you are not the right person to work with him. It’s important to recognize when you can succeed in changing someone’s behavior towards you and when it is hopeless. And if it’s hopeless, stand down and ask your team to put someone else in instead.

Of course, if you are the CEO this is almost impossible. But even so, you can usually find someone compatible to front for you, someone you can bring into judicious scenarios and protect you from your bullying customer, and protect your customer from your temper!

Repost of my latest posted in Inc today

Leadership

5 Reasons to Put Yourself in the Line of Fire as a Leader

My post in Inc a week ago:

While sitting at a restaurant in London Heathrow airport yesterday, I found myself between the unfortunate cross hairs of a helpless server and his useless manager. At noon, while the restaurant was full of customers from around the globe, the credit card machine stopped working. Many patrons, myself included, did not have enough British pounds to pay for our meals as we were on our way out of the country.

The waiter explained that I would need to pay my tab in cash. I opened my wallet to find scattered pounds, euros and dollars, and I knew it wouldn’t be enough. The waiter suggested that I wait the 30 minutes it would take for their system to come back online, but I of course told him that this wouldn’t be an option as I had a flight to catch. The waiter then left me to “talk with his manager.”

Now the fun started. The waiter walked the six feet away from me to where his manager was standing. I watched as the 40 year-old manager told his barely-20 year-old waiter what to tell me. The waiter returned to my table to reiterate his manager’s suggestion and I pushed back again. The poor waiter went back and forth as we tried to get close to the price of my bill counting the few pounds, euros and dollars that I had with me. I could not make the whole amount, which also meant no tip. During this entire exchange, the manager remained where he was, six feet away, and would not look at me or help the waiter by talking directly with me, the disgruntled customer.

As my gate was across from the restaurant, I continued to watch as the same encounter unfolded with other customers and the manager was still immovable to intervene. The young waiter was trying hard and I remained appalled by the lack of support and leadership from the restaurant manager to appease his customers or find solutions given the situation.

 The encounter was a prime example of one of the many ways managers can fail at their jobs, which should, at their centers, be to claim any and all responsibility.

When something goes wrong with a customer do you automatically step in front of the bullet for your team?

Should you? I think so… and here’s why:

1. You need to take responsibility. 
You’re the leader, which means you should be out front and center, leading your team. When something goes wrong, you need to make sure the customer looks to you for the fault and not to your employee. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is so that the customer respects you when you take ownership and will be more likely to work with you to find a solution than if you hide behind your employees. Second, this helps your employee become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. A rare exception to this rule is when your customer thinks an employee of yours is the problem. If this is the case, you need to listen carefully and help your employee with a get-well plan, if at all possible, but you may have to separate the employee from the customer. Either way, this is still your responsibility.

 2. It’s a teaching opportunity. 
Part of our responsibility as leaders is to cultivate and prepare the next generation of leaders. What better way to prepare the future of your company than to show them how to deal with a difficult situation? Lead with purpose and communicate your process when showing them how you step in front of an issue. If you lead by example and explain to them why you took the approach that you did, then they will learn how to do it for their own teams.

3. It’s a learning opportunity. 
Most of us never learn true humility, especially in the superman-driven world of high tech. As leaders, we often struggle to hear and see the truth. Employees won’t tell us things we might need to hear, so we must keep charging on, regardless of our performance. So when a customer gives us tough feedback–“Your product is too slow, too expensive, low quality,” or “You missed your committed deadline”–it’s a moment in time for personal learning, humbleness and to be reminded that the customer is always right.

4. Don’t blame your employee. 
 This can be hard, especially if you are frustrated with a situation where your employee executed a task poorly. Yes, maybe give them tough feedback. Yes, maybe use it as a teaching moment. But never place blame or point fingers. 99 percent of the time, your employees are trying to do the right thing. When you blame them, you are probably missing the real issue.

5. Don’t project weakness. 
Maybe you don’t care if your customer or your employees think that you are a weak person, but if you are an ambitious leader, you probably do. And when you hide behind an employee rather than taking charge, you are acting weak.

Leadership

5 ways not to talk about yourself as a leader

My latest post in Inc.

Have you ever listened carefully to the language your leaders use when they talk about their plans and accomplishments? It can be very revealing, if you listen to the subtlety of their speech. There are leaders who are all about themselves and there are leaders who are all about their team, or their dream, and these two types of leaders sound entirely different from each other.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a group of executives from a large company and I was struck by how often they used “I” in their speech. These leaders even took personal credit and responsibility for accomplishments made by their respective companies, simply inserting “I” or “my” into their statements. Two different people said “my shareholders,” and “I have set expectations at XYZ.” Both executives implied that they were “the man” (and neither were the CEO!).

Revealing isn’t it? For example, there is a huge difference in how you think about a business unit or project leader based on whether they say “my customers” or “our customers.” “My customers” sounds ego-driven and possessive, yet “our customers” sounds supportive and amplifies that the leader has a team behind her. Or consider “my strategy” vs. “our strategy” – there is a different set of implications between the two.

So here are five things to watch out for when using “I” in your speech:

1. Give your team all the credit.
When a project goes well, you win a customer or hire a great person; giving credit to your team for the win will earn you their loyalty. In this case, deflecting the attention away from yourself and shining the spotlight on the team doing the real work, will not go unnoticed. Saying, “The R&D team truly raised our quality over the last six months,” or saying, “Julie went above and beyond to help our customer,” will be so much more appreciated by your team and over time they will become loyal to you knowing you are going to make sure they are given credit where credit is due.

2. The future is shared.

You don’t own the future and you certainly can’t create it without your team. You can create a strong sense of shared destiny if you use “we” or “our” for your future plans. Try saying something along the lines of, “We are planning a new, magical set of features which we will release in beta this June,” or, “We are committed to turning a profit by the end of the year.” Your team will know they are part of your vision for the future.

 3. No one admires a boaster.
It’s so transparent, and yet so many mediocre leaders do this: they boast about their accomplishments, name drop, remind you about their education, and some even feel a need to tell you how smart or important they are. It’s boring and it means nothing to the listener, so don’t do it. The only exception is when someone specifically asks you to tell your story. Otherwise keep your mouth shut and win their support based on the merit of your ideas and your work.

4. Don’t cross the line by over sharing.
Yes, a certain amount of sharing is OK, it makes you human. However, “I did this and I did that” again and again gets boring fast. If someone asks you how your weekend was, a short, amusing answer should suffice. I find this one hard because I enjoy sharing and I enjoy entertaining, but I am learning to keep it short. It is very easy to cross the line between the level of detail that is office-appropriate and what can be shared at a later time with friends.

5. A leader should take all of the blame.

This is one of the few places that the word “I” should be used. Don’t be too proud to admit that “I made an error in judgment when I hired Joe,” or “I misjudged the rate at which the market was going to change,” etc. When there is a major problem, you want to take as much responsibility for it as you can. In private you may vent to a friend that so-and-so dropped the ball and you’re paying the price for it, but never in public, never in front of your team. A good leader doesn’t make excuses.

The exception to the rule here is when a very visible leader, such as a large company CEO needs to share vision. “I believe” is powerful and can be inspiring when your deeply held belief helps your team to see the future, or fills them with a sense of optimism about the path you are going to take together. “We believe” feels weaker. So when visioning, go ahead and say I, but when talking about your operations and your projects say we.

Equality

5 Practical Ways You Can Keep More Women On Your Team

Published in Inc on Oct 5, 2015

At long last, the world is paying attention to the issue of gender
diversity. In May 2014, top tech companies started reporting the dismal
numbers of women in their workforces. When these statistics were
released to the public, a spotlight shone on this disparity, sparking a
conversation on the need for gender equality amongst corporate America.

While
this conversation has been discussed at length in the media and
exhausted by panels at conferences all over the world, the fact remains
that little change has actually occurred. We have a long way to go. As a
new report from Lean In and McKinsey shows, we are more than 100 years away from gender equality in the C-Suite. To top it off, NY Times reports,
the modern workplace is “toxic” and “the ranks of those women still
thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50
percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management.”

It
might have taken 100 years for women to be able to vote in the U.S.,
but it shouldn’t take 100 more years before we achieve gender equality
at the office. If you want your company to benefit from the economic advantage of a diverse team,
there are five actions you can implement at your own company to grow
the number of women on your team. Here are some actions you can take now
to act locally and change the number of women on your team.

1. Women attract other women.

Do
you have at least one, preferably two, of your operational leaders who
are women? “Operational” is an important distinction. There are plenty
of teams where the HR person is a woman, or the communications person
(occupying the pink ghetto), but when you start looking for R&D leaders or P&L managers, the number of women thins out drastically.

What
few people realize is, if you have women in technology and operational
leadership they will attract other women. Women want to see other women
ahead of them in the company they are joining so they have positive
proof that they can get ahead in that company. Likewise, if there are no
women for your younger employees to look up to, you will lose them over
time. Before you say you can’t find them, determine going in that you
will interview both women and men for your open positions. In your
interview process you will find highly qualified women and you will hire
them. These highly skilled women will be magnets for other women
considering your team and open your talent pool up significantly.

2. True, not fake, flexibility.

Many
teams talk flexibility and yet the subtle competition and mindset of
one-upping each other that some teams exhibit can make working flexible
hours feel unsafe for many women. True flexibility means actively
respecting every employee’s wish to get their job done where and when it
works for them. If you can establish a culture where it’s completely
acceptable to call into a meeting if you need to be home or use video to
hold one-on-ones to support a teammate that needs to leave early
(rather than look down on it), you can keep women (and men) on your team
who have to juggle their home responsibilities with their job. But you
have to be proactive and out spoken about your support for flexibility
(provided people get their jobs done of course). Passive support is not
enough.

3. Talk about diversity openly.

It
takes courage to talk openly about your belief on diversity. Many of
your team will agree with you, but some will not, and not everyone will
tell you. I have found that a few men will complain to each other and be
passive aggressive on the issue, but you still need to speak out so the
women and other minorities on your team hear you. There is enough
evidence now that diversity creates better financial results and better
products. It makes no sense to omit 50% or more of the potential talent
from your workforce. By having the courage to speak out, be consistent
and be fair you will keep more women on your team and improve your
company in the process.

4. Invest in your women.

Many
fields are hostile to women, especially technology. Facebook’s Mary Lou
Jepson is just the latest in the long line of women to speak out about it.
Knowing that the workplace can be toxic or hostile, one way you can be
better than your competition at keeping and growing women is your
willingness to invest. Send women to female career oriented conferences
like the Grace Hopper Conference or the 3% Conference. Support them forming Lean In circles.
Speak openly about your wish to see them invest in staying with their
chosen field and find ways to grow within their field rather than
dropping out or moving to a more female friendly industry.

5. Hire a few good men.

There
are many men today who believe strongly in the need for gender
diversity. Their motivations are varied. Sometimes they have daughters
and want their daughters to have every opportunity. Sometimes it’s “just
right.” Other times it is understanding the need to hire the best and
the brightest and not wanting to miss out on half the talent. Whatever
the reason, these male allies are important in the quest for gender
diversity.

Bring men into your team who want to work on a diverse
team. Find men who don’t tolerate prejudice towards women and will
support the advancement of the women on your team. Make a conscious
effort to support these men when they work hard to bring women onto the
team and identify unconscious bias in the people around them.

It’s
time. The dearth of women at the top of companies is not just a
pipeline problem that stems from companies not proactively working to
improve their culture for women. We need to address the culture that
causes 50% of women to drop out of tech within 10 years of graduation
because it’s hostile. They don’t stop working, they just leave tech.
However, you can change the outcome for your team if you work hard to
bring women in and to keep them; your company will be stronger for it.

Career Advice

Speaking Truth to Power

My Inc post – August 14

What
is it is that prevents us from speaking truth to those in power: Fear
of punishment? Fear of attack? Fear of being noticed? There are many
reasons we don’t deal in the truth, but great teams, whether a small
company leadership, a public company board, or a political team, learn
to speak and deal in the truth.

Knowing the truth about whatever
situation you are in, or the problem you are solving, is absolutely
critical, and yet so often people can’t overcome their own barriers to
tell those above them the honest truth. From my experience, here are
five reasons that people don’t speak up and some ways you can conquer
these concerns for yourself:

  1. “I can’t get to her”–If
    you’ve ever tried to reach a senior executive at a large company, you
    know how hard it can be to steal a few minutes of their day. They have
    layers of people protecting them and their time: a chief of staff, a
    fierce admin and a busy schedule that seems to create walls of
    unavailability. However, the best executives will make themselves
    available if you bring value. Some of these executives answer emails,
    sometimes they eat lunch in the cafeteria, and if you explain what you
    want to talk about in serious terms, their admin will make time for you.
    Be persistent and when you get your 15 minutes, be sure that you bring a
    solution or suggestion for improvement, as well as the problem you
    believe they need to know about. As a CEO there is nothing more
    frustrating than someone bringing me a problem, dumping it on my lap and
    having no part in helping me solve it. I’d still prefer to know, but it
    is certainly easier to hear a problem when it comes with a proposed
    solution.
  1. “It’s not my place”
    -It’s a self-limiter to believe that just because someone is in power
    above you in the organization chart that they are in some way better
    than you, or superior to you. Everyone has a role to play in the
    organization, and as human beings, everyone is equal. Some jobs carry a
    greater span of decision-making than others and a wider range of
    responsibility, but no one is “better” than anyone else. It’s true that
    in some company cultures executives start to believe that they are
    better and look down on people they don’t consider their “peers,” but
    they are weaker for it and I can tell you from experience that when they
    are looking for a job later they forget that they once thought you were
    beneath them. Remember, you have a place and a voice; your perspective
    is valuable to power and you have a responsibility to share it.
  1. “He won’t like it”–Some
    people don’t like to hear bad news. They would rather you wrap
    everything in the positive, especially if they are conflict averse. You
    need to be aware of your audience’s personality to figure out how to
    deliver a tough message, but don’t be fearful. Fear will only prevent
    you from getting to the real problems and finding solutions. People
    don’t get fired or shut out for telling the truth. If you are
    constructive and are doing a quality job, you will not be fired for
    expressing your opinion on a situation (and if you do, go and work for a
    better leader). Good leaders want to hear the truth, even if it’s
    painful to hear. So, speak up! Have confidence in yourself and don’t
    worry about whether the power player you are speaking with will “like”
    your message.
  1. “She should already know”
    It’s a myth than people in power have all the information. In an ideal
    world, they do, but in a fast-paced business, there is no way that your
    leaders knows everything. You can be sure leaders are talking with
    customers, sales people, your manufacturing leads and your engineers to
    try and getting the information they need to make the right decisions,
    but they never know everything. If you know something that you think
    they should know, tell them. If they were already aware of your concern,
    you just confirmed it. If they were unaware of your concern, you were
    able to bring value and help them be better leaders.
  1. “He shuts me down”–Getting
    shut down is the one obstacle I find the hardest to overcome. This is
    the person who raises his/her voice, gets aggressive and bullies to
    intimidate a speaker into silence. It’s important to remember when
    someone does this to you that it’s a tactic that has been learned
    because it can be effective. I have particularly seen men use this on
    women, but I have also seen men do it to other men. This often happens
    when someone raises a controversial point, particularly if she is
    “pushy,” and a man will get angry as a way to shut down the
    conversation. If this happens to you, remember that others in the room
    probably do not respect this behavior. However, most people will not run
    to the aid of the person who spoke up, because they don’t want to draw
    the anger in their direction. When you speak up and someone attacks you
    with anger, don’t back down if you believe in the truth you are
    speaking. Stay calm and stick to your guns. You might be surprised to
    know that many people in the room agree with you.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t speak up is not about their
leadership, or fear, it’s about being liked. I’ve always been outspoken
and I am very conscious about speaking truth to power, but not everyone
likes it. I have found that some people admire me for it, and when I
leave a team (a company, or a board) those people will thank me for my
contribution. But others think of me as too aggressive and
controversial. For those people, it’s a relief when I leave the group.
It’s hard not to care when people don’t like you, but not everyone will
like you, so get used to it.

Finally, I realized I can’t please
all the people, all the time. It’s most important to be authentic, stop
worrying and speak the truth. You will find that when you do, the
people–the power – that matters will thank you for it.

Leadership

5 Ways That Leadership Is Like Acting

If you are a leader, you are a performer. You may not be conscious of it, but you are, and people are watching you. Your followers (remember the definition of a leader is that someone is following) trigger off you, your mood, your actions and every word you say. This means that you need to be a performer and an actor to carry your followers with you consistently and you need to do it in a way that is authentic and trustworthy–an interesting balancing act! Here are five ways in which you need to be a star actor as the leader:

  1. You need to be positive. No matter how you feel inside, to lead you need to see the positive and
    find a way through the maze. Some days it is easy because you feel positive, but on the days when you can’t see how to win, or you are exhausted, you need to get so good at personal transformation that your team cannot tell. If you lose faith, they lose faith. If you feel tired, they feel tired. On those hard days, you have to put yourself into character, step out onto the boards and act positive.
  1. You need to carry the crowd.
    As a leader, you are the one in front creating the passion and drive for your group. Being able to project an idea with conviction and charisma is critical to bringing a large group of people with you. Now, you do not have to be as good as Richard Burton or Russell Crowe, but learning some of Marc Benioff’s skills of whipping up a crowd will help you lead and carry your ideas into your
    audience.
  1. You need to stay on message.
    The bigger the company or group you lead, the more you need to be consistent and stick to the strategy message and brand. Whether you are in front of your team, on social media or being interviewed on TV, you must repeat your key messages over and over, and over again (sometimes until you are sick of the sound of your own voice!). Only after several reminders will your audience truly absorb and believe what you are saying, but you cannot afford to let it sound rehearsed. Whether it is the first time you say your spiel or the 27th time, it needs to sound as enthusiastic as the first time you ever said it.
  1. You need to select your cast.
    No one wants to be on stage with someone without talent, and as the leader, you are the director. You have to decide whom to put on stage and who gets the lead role. Maybe you are the lead actor, or maybe your star is your CTO or your top sales girl. As the director, you need to know how to cater to your audience and when to take a back seat. At the end of the day, you are responsible for who is on your team and who is in the performance with you.
  1. You need to pay attention to your body.
    How you stand, how you sit, how you hold your hands (don’t fidget)–these things subconsciously influence how people see you. Hold yourself confidently, stand up straight because someone is assessing how you feel and how much you believe in what you are saying (or selling) based on your stance. Learn confidence poses like the Wonder Women: stand tall, legs in a wide stance, hands on your hips.

If you are in a leadership position, remember that people are always watching you. Grab your script, learn it inside and out, smack on a smile, be consistent, hold a rigorous audition to get the best cast possible and have strong body awareness. Remember, even the best know how to “act as if” or “fake it ’til you make it” as they learn to lead.

By the way, there is a group of kids who probably understand this concept better than you or I ever will. The All Stars Project transforms the lives of poor youth using the power of performance. A kid growing up poor in a violent neighborhood who has never dressed formally or stepped inside an office can learn to show up on time, dress professionally, give you a strong handshake and look you in the eye. This group of kids are able to gain the confidence to change their lives by performing in talent shows and practicing improv. The same applies to you as a future leader.

Career Advice

5 Reasons You Need To Work Hard To Get Ahead

My latest in Inc from June 25, 2015



So many times, I’ve been asked, “how did you balance your career and
kids?” Many young people want to hear that I found the answer to balance
and hope I have the formula, but I don’t. Unless you have a fairy
godmother who can guarantee early success in the next big thing, then
you are going to need to work hard to get ahead, make a great living and
have a strong career. In my experience, there are no short cuts and
there is no such thing as “balance.”

We live in a competitive, global world, connected 24/7. Understanding the implications of that is half the battle:


1. It’s a competitive world (part 1).
Yes, the person sitting next to you wants your job. Or they want to get
promoted ahead of you. You are competing, whether it is visible to you
or not, and it has always been this way. The ambitious ones among you
know that getting a promotion is very competitive. Unless you are
computer scientist (in which case there are more jobs than people), you
need to work hard to hold your job and advance, and you need to be
better than the person next to you. When opportunity knocks in the form
of a new project, or a request from your boss, do not say, “that’s not
my job” or “I’m trying to keep balance in my life”–instead, grab it
with both hands and show your boss that you are ambitious and that you
understand your hard work and smart results will be rewarded.

2. You can lean on your partner. This one is probably easier for many men reading this than women, since women typically spend
twice as much time doing housework every day as men. However, whether
you are male or female, learning how to lean on your partner as you push
your career ahead is critical because you are going to need time to
work. Everyone in the household needs to step up and learn how to cook
and clean the kitchen! For many women that means learning to give up
control and letting their partner take an equal role in running the
household. The good news is that a natural shift of equal responsibility
in the home is happening as millennials are twice as likely
to have dual income families. This younger generation knows better
than their parents do that a happy, functioning, two-income household
means sharing the work! Of course, if you are single, you are probably
trying to find the time to date, which can be a challenge and interfere
with everyday chores.

3. Your business is global.
Unless you are an hourly worker it is likely that your job is
increasingly around the clock. This is the side effect of globalization
as you bring together teams from around the world to solve problems and
meetings happen at 11 p.m., 1 a.m., or 5 a.m. Sometimes this can feel
grim, and yet it is actually an opportunity to spend more time with your
family. Unlike 20 years ago when I would have to stay in the office to
be connected, I can now go home, work out, have dinner with my family
and then login to work from my home office.

4. It’s a competitive world (part 2).
Not only are you competing in your global workplace, your company is
also competing in a global world. It is very likely your company has
competitors in China or India with employees who are driven to improve
their economic status in the world and for their families with their
time and dedication. To use the old cliche “a rising tide floats all
boats”–you want your company to be the rising tide so you and your
teammates can grow your careers. Your global competitor is willing to
sacrifice balance in their lives to get ahead and so should you.

5. Kids are resilient.
This one was a hard lesson for me to learn and my guilt was the enemy,
but I did learn. In my experience, kids do better when they learn to be
independent and they are incredibly resilient if they are loved
unconditionally. Yes, you want to be at their games so they know you
care and so you can share your pride with them, but I don’t think the
phenomenon of the helicopter parent is good for kids. They will be
stronger and more competitive adults if they have learned independence
and they will have a better understanding of what it takes to compete
when their turn comes.

6. Life is not fair. It just isn’t. You need to make your own luck. For 99 percent of us that means hard work.

Leadership

Open Letter to CEOs: Manage Your Interaction With Your Board!

Posted in Inc today

So you’re the new CEO of your own company. You’re living the dream! You’ve thought through the pros and cons of being a CEO and you’ve got your first round of venture capital funding.

This means you also have a board to manage, which can be a minefield for you. So how to navigate the minefield? To begin, you must create a well-organized board meeting. Use my Top 10 tips to run a board meeting as a starting point but once you have the logistics down, it’s all about your behavior and leadership in the room.

One of the most common mistakes I see with new CEOs is thinking they need the board’s approval. You don’t. Your job is to figure out the strategy, what to do and to make good decisions so that your company grows. A board’s job is to support and advise you. Sometimes board members get confused about this and they will believe that they are there to make decisions; however, beyond hiring a new CEO or deciding whether to put more money in, they don’t have that power. If you take their advice and it’s wrong, they’ll still fire you, so the decisions, ultimately, lie with you.

The board needs you because you are the leader, the one who hired your team, the one who holds the strategy and the one with the customer relationships, so replacing you is a major risk for the company (not to mention a major time sink for the board members). The board will judge you on the quality of your decisions, whether or not you follow their advice. If the board loses confidence in you then they will replace you, but up until that moment you are in the driver’s seat and they are there to help you. This is not permission to be arrogant or disrespectful, but understanding this dynamic will help you be a better, more confident CEO. What you need most of all is to gather all of the input and perspective you can from your board, but not decisions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure your behavior in your board meeting maximizes the result:

1. Are you unconsciously seeking your board’s approval? For example, what do you say when an investor tells you to do something that you believe is wrong? If you are seeking their approval, you will probably validate the idea “that’s a great idea,” but if you are seeking input, then you’ll acknowledge the idea instead by a comment such as “thank you for your input, let me think about it.” Develop a stable of respectful responses that tell your board that you heard them, it’s good input, but you’ll still need to decide.

2. If you are female–is your behavior serious enough? If you giggle, fidget, run your hand through your hair or exhibit any of the “girlish” characteristics, you will be judged and taken less seriously. Unfair, but true. So learn to sit still, don’t fidget, lean forward, take notes (but in a considered way), lower your voice and dress carefully. Imagine how a strong male CEO whom you respect would sit in the meeting- are you conveying the same level of gravitas?

3. Where do you sit? Don’t sit at the front of the room, eagerly presenting all the slides to your teachers. Sit in the middle, or at the head of the table, and host your staff as they present their materials. Sit yourself between the power players, not in service to them.

4. What is your communication between meetings? Again, you are running the company and while some level of update is appropriate between meetings, a running commentary is not. Think about what impression you want to create. The more you communicate the details, the more you invite your board to weigh in with their opinions. Be thoughtful about what, and when, you communicate. You want to be thorough, but that is why there is a board packet. Assume your board members can read.

5. Have you properly prepped your team? It’s worth having a prep meeting with your team to talk through the agenda and what you want to get out of the meeting. Manage their presentations to be crisp and brief (three slides is a good rule of thumb). Use their time wisely and excuse them before the long debates begin, because they have real work to do.

Your board is there to help you. They are not your friends or your teachers. They are investors and representatives of the shareholders who only want you to maximize their return. Up until the time that your company is profitable and/or public, you need their support. Always keep in mind, you are running the company, not the board. It’s worth remembering that in 99 percent of the cases, the board needs you to lead the company more than you need them. If that is not the case for you, then you may be in the wrong job.

Respectfully remember that up until the minute they fire you, your board needs you more than you need them. Remind yourself of this and you will keep your head in the right place during board meetings.

Leadership

5 Pros and Cons of Being CEO of Your Company

Being in the role of CEO can be terrific. You’re it. You’ve gained the power to put your brilliant idea into practice. You’re synonymous with the company for your customers, your employees and your investors. Your family is proud of you. You feel like the sky’s the limit.

And yet, the role is a double-edged sword. If your company is a big public company, you can possibly be looking at $10, $20, $30M+ a year. Or very easily get fired. If it’s one of the handful of $1B unicorns coming out of Silicon Valley, then this time around it’s likely more money than you ever dreamed of. But for most CEOs, the truth is not in the extremes.
It’s in the middle.

So before you decide to be the CEO of the company you want to create, here are a few Pros and Cons to consider first:

1. Pro: You decide the strategy and what’s important. When you are CEO you are ultimately responsible for the strategy: What to build? How to get to market? Where to focus? You get to put your ideas into action and test if they work. Then, when they do succeed, the sense of satisfaction is unbeatable. If you are the technical founder, and command the respect of those people around you, you also won’t have to hear much disagreement. People are following you because they believe in your vision and your strategy.

Con: You’ll work harder than you have ever worked in your life. It’s true not all CEOs are working on overdrive but when you’re trying to get a
company off the ground, there are always more mission critical things you need to do that require more hours than there are in the actual day. Look forward to the necessary red-eye flight you need to take to close a deal. The time pressure will seem worse than your college finals did and prepare for this pace to go on for years. Keeping physically fit with exercise will become a requirement just to survive the exhausting workload.

2. Pro: It’s an ego trip. It’s hard to be CEO unless you have a serious ego. Not that you have to be a jerk, but exuding confidence will ensure that people can look to you to lead them. In that sense, then yes, it’s an ego trip. Which means that, if you are already seriously thinking of becoming the CEO of your startup, then you probably have that necessary ego to both embrace and enjoy it.

Con: You’ll be lonelier than you’ve ever been in your life. That cliche “the buck stops with you” is absolutely true when you are CEO. There is no one to turn to if you have to make a hard decision. Your board is there to give you advice, but they are not going to tell you what to do. Your team is there to provide counsel and debate with you but in the end, they’ll look to you to make the difficult decisions. And there’s no one you can talk to. It’s unfair to burden your friends and family with these work related stresses. It’s you and the wall (or in my case the dog) talking it out sometimes.

3. Pro: You get to hire your team. When you are CEO you get to hand pick your team. You choose the structure of the organization, and hand pick the key people you want to build the company with. You choose the skills, the personality, the experience–and they will seem to become as close to you as your family. Building teams is a wonderful experience–and the best trait of a successful company comes down to the talent.

Con: You’re the one who has to let people go. It’s hard to consistently hire great talent which means sometimes you’ll make mistakes. You’ll hire a VP of Sales who looks and sounds good, but can’t build out a team themselves (think of Yahoo’s spectacular failure recently hiring and then firing of Henrique de Castro). There may also be a time when you may really like an employee but who struggles to consistently perform. When you are the CEO there is no ducking the responsibility of firing the people who have to go, and striving to do it with respect and kindness is an art form.

4. Pro: Customers rely on you to solve their problems. Most great ideas come from trying to solve a problem for someone. In the enterprise world, you’re most likely solving a business problem for another company. You could be putting a critical process in the cloud, so it’s more cost effective, or automating a solution for a time consuming technology problem. It’s a rewarding feeling to know you helped customer’s solve problems and improve their overall business–and of course make money for both of you in the end.

Con: Customers can jerk you around. A former CEO of a software company with $1B in revenue once told me he quit, in the end, because of some of his customers. They’d hold deals until the last day of the quarter, and then force him to drive the price down to get the deal done. After 10 years of building his company and providing solutions for countless customers, he was overwhelmed with the lack of respect his customer’s gave to his business. As you’ll find, this is not always the case and there will be times you are providing value to your customer but professional patience and just ‘sucking it up’ will still be required.

5. Pro: You set the culture for your company. And this many especially appeal to you if you are sick of the Silicon Valley bro culture. Many people spend 8-10 hours a day at work. And all this time should be joyful. Why work for a company, if the culture is not enjoyable? So as CEO, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to set the right culture of the company with the actions you do every day and not just what you say. Great CEOs, like Reed Hastings of Netflix, make this the centerpiece of their leadership. They focus on the areas they believe create a successful company and a positive environment to work, which in turn assists in better recruitment, and increasing their impact with the community.

Con: It’s your company. Well, is that a pro, or a con? You’ll find it depends on the day. Some days you’re so proud of the solutions your team provides that you could burst. But this will not be every day, definitely not every day.

So, if you want to be the CEO of your company then brace yourself. It’s a wonderful experience, and can be a thrilling ride, but it’s a roller coaster with many ups and downs. Maybe write down why you want it before you start, so that on the dark days you can remind yourself why you are doing it. Me? It was about creating a great culture.

Leadership

The Best Mistake I Ever Made

Asked by a journalist the other day “what is the best mistake you ever made” I had to think for a moment. There are so many – where to begin!

But as I pondered the question, there is one decision I look back on and think “What was I thinking?”

I became CEO of a raw software startup at 36
when my children were 2 and 4 years old. My husband was working long hours
running a small consulting business and I thought I had no limits. I could do
anything, and I wanted to run my own company. I wanted to show that a woman
could run a very technical software company in the semiconductor industry – where
there were no women at the top at all. And I wanted to lead.

Six months in I felt I had made a terrible
mistake. I was totally exhausted every single day. I barely had time to see my
kids in the week and I had bronchitis month after month. I had 2 nannies
working shifts, I gained weight and I would lie in bed awake every night
wondering how I was going to survive, never mind win. I think my marriage only
survived because we had already been married 15 years at that point and my
husband is truly, authentically supportive of my career.

And yet… it was one of the best things I could
have done, and I loved it. I loved being CEO, I loved building a company, a
team and working with customers. I became fast friends with our nannies and my
kids turned out just fine. They are confident, independent and have endless
very funny stories about their crazy mother and the experiences they had
because of my job. They traveled with me all over the world, they went into the
office with me at a young age learning by watching and they have a strong work
ethic as a result of the exposure they had. And we are close, very close.

So was it a mistake? Some days I think I took
a huge risk assuming I could do it all and have it all. But when young women ask me about that decision as they think through their own I’m encouraging. Children are resilient, good men are supportive and while you can’t have it all you can certainly have your fair share.

Image: Alamy