Terrific article in TechCrunch last week by Ben Horowitz – What’s the Most Difficult CEO Skill? Managing your own psychology.
Managing inside my own head is by far the most difficult thing I do as a CEO and I appreciate Ben being so out and candid about what’s going on inside. As he says “Over the years, I’ve spoken to hundreds of CEOs all with the same experience. Nonetheless, very few people talk about it, and I have never read anything on the topic. It’s like the fight club of management: The first rule of the CEO psychological meltdown is don’t talk about the psychological meltdown.”
Ben covers classical psychoses like “If I am doing a good job why do I feel so bad?”, and the cliche (and truism)“It’s a Lonely Job” – especially when you are facing a crisis and you have to make the decision to cut staff which impacts the livelihoods of the very people you are working so hard for and care about.
The piece of advice I liked is “Focus on the road not the wall”. It it so easy to stare at all the things that can kill your company – and at any moment in time, even terrific times, any number of things can wipe out a small company. It is this single difference that makes being a CxO in a large company feel so emotionally different than being a CEO of a small company and I have done both. Large companies have mass and momentum – you have time to recover from mistakes most of the time. (A good example is Cadence Design Systems (CDNS) which crashed and fired it’s entire executive team on one day – it’s coming back because of the resiliency of the installed base and the R&D leadership team’s commitment to great products.)
The aspect Ben writes about that I have had in my head many times in the last 15 years which I can testify never goes away is A Final Word of Advice – Don’t Punk Out and Don’t Quit As CEO, there will be many times when you feel like quitting. I’ll add though that the most effective management tool I have found for this personal challenge is to get in the pool and pound the laps until my head is clear – which can be anywhere between 1 and 2 miles before I am calm.
If you have an ambition to be CEO one day read the article very carefully several times.
Before the famous were famous—Oprah, Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates, and many others—they were interns. Everyone has to start somewhere, so why not begin your career where you are welcomed with open arms?
We have a small number of interns working at FirstRain right now and it’s interesting to look at not only the direct benefits for FirstRain, but also the indirect ones. Internships are powerful both for us (the company and the intern); it’s a great alignment of mutual interest.
The benefits to the intern are obvious. Experience drinking from the fire hose, training and rapid learning, the fun of working in a small dynamic company and, because it is small, the opportunity to work on a wide variety of different projects.
We benefit in some obvious ways – first and foremost that we get to interview someone on the job. Since the intern does not have job experience it’s hard to interview them on prior work experience (!) but by bringing them in and having them work on clear objectives we can review their performance and so make a more informed hiring decision.
But the non-obvious benefits are almost more interesting. Our new college graduates are fresh. They have new perspectives and challenge our assumptions – and the assumptions of how a job “should” be done. They are eager to learn and as all teachers know, teaching something causes you to think hard about what matters and really understand what you are teaching. There is also a fun energy you get into an organization when you have a group of professionals, often with 10-20 years of experience, mixed in with new graduates.
While Silicon Valley is coming back for people with experience, it’s still a hard place to find a job if you don’t have experience and this creates a Catch-22 for the intern. As one of our interns told me:
“For many of us recent college grads we have little or no real-world experience. This experimental period not only helps me decide what I would like to pursue in my career, but it also helps me because being able to reference an internship on a resume can make all the difference in a future employers decision. They can see if I have a strong work ethic, if I was smart on the job, and help me bridge from college to my new career. And I can check you out and network with your employees!”
So who knows whether I have a future Oprah or Bill Gates in my organization. But I do know that the added productivity, the energy and the opportunity to help the next generation of graduating students is a win-win for FirstRain – and it’s fun.
I’m reminded of something I learned a long time ago about relationship dynamics in the workplace – from the Zen master of leadership Renn Zaphiropoulos.
Teamwork is critical to moving fast. I wrote in the past how trust is simply more efficient. It allows people to share risky ideas, make decisions quickly-learn-change, and to be safe so they do so again and again. I have no respect for attacking behavior in the workplace – it’s immature and destructive and hurts the team. I’m frustrated sometimes in silicon valley with the cult of the technical jerk savant (ref The Social Network film – note the object of the cult is almost always a white male – and I guarantee they are not always white). The vast majority of hard working technical professionals are not like that and quality companies follow the No Asshole Rule (ref the book on Amazon) and don’t tolerate the behavior.
Attacking behavior often arises between people who have not developed a conscious relationship of mutual respect and so the relationship deteriorates to one of mutual contempt. This is because the Respect-Contempt imbalance is inherently unstable. It’s too caustic for the one held in contempt to sustain so survival skills require the relationship degrade into mutual contempt.
The leader’s role is to help each person see and learn to respect the strengths of the other, even if their role and contribution is very different. Everyone has a role to play and value to contribute or they would not be here. (It’s also important for us to try to weed out the bad behaviors during the interview process; looking for arrogance and disrespect for others being subtly communicated as the candidate reviews their history.)
The hardest role to be playing is the person who is being attacked by an intellectual bully in the team. I have seen this at the peer level, rarely see it down the power hierarchy these days in technology (good people simply leave) and see it surprisingly often up the power hierarchy. It’s easier to take cheap shots up at your management because they just have to take it – they should not attack back (although that’s a matter of style choice – I know one former CEO who would intentionally verbally obliterate disrespectful employees – but it’s not my style choice).
In all cases my advice to the person being attacked is take the high ground. It’s unlikely to be personal and it’s more likely to be about the other person and some threat they are feeling in the moment than it is about you. I was in a situation recently where this happened to me where I am a board member (it was a very difficult conversation with a member of management) and I worked hard to stay calm, listen, let the energy run it’s course, and then return to the problem at hand.
Respect builds over time, as does trust. And if you find yourself in a contempt-respect or contempt-contempt relationship ask for help. Your manager’s job is to help you with it.
From Aparna Gupta – Director of Analytics -Reporting from the first Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in India
While most of my team in California was at Dreamforce last week, I had the pleasure of being a part of the Grace Hopper conference at India’s own silicon valley- Bangalore, in which FirstRain was a scholarship sponsor this year. I have been to one in US few years back and I have to admit the atmosphere, the participation (~600 from 79 organizations), the choice of panels was at par if not better – kudos to the team who put together this very first India edition!
I had great fun interacting with participants on wide-ranging topics like human-machine learning (and why it can never be perfect), future of social networking sites, should exposing children to two or more languages be a norm given its benefit on development of the brain and a fully solar power driven village.
Some general take-aways from the meet which I believe will be useful to all:
Excel in whatever your field is
There is nothing like plain luck- luck is when opportunity meets preparation
Trying to overcome one’s weaknesses is probably over-subscribed, one needs to be very aware of one’s strengths and capitalize
For anyone who is an introvert or shy:
o Make your voice heard
o Be ‘aware’ but not hindered
o Have confidence and believe in yourself
Keep emotions out- get impersonal during any negotiation
Do interrupt when you need to!
And for aspiring leaders:
Once a month challenge yourself, do something beyond your comfort zone- which is scary to you
Have a story to tell
Communicate and have a pulse of the corridor conversations
Separate technical from management
Do your job well AND create space
It’s exciting that the Anita Borg Institute and it’s funding partners are investing in India and I am looking forward to going again next year.
I am attending the Selling Power sales leadership conference in Philadelphia today – and just listened to a compelling talk by Michael Weening who is VP of Business Wireless for Bell Mobility (he’s on an erudite panel with sales development leaders from Xerox and Sophos as I type).
His main message was to focus on all the aspects of training and development that are not product – unlike many organizations that cram product knowledge into their sales guys but neglect to invest in career development, personal development and mentoring. How many sales organizations have you seen where the sales team is sped and fed by product marketing, but never have real one-on-ones with their manager beyond their latest numbers?
Some of the less conventional ideas Michael was espousing…
- he used personality indicators from a questionnaire with a sales person to facilitate development discussions between manager and sales person (not unlike the Myers-Briggs discussion I have with my team).
- he leads with a focus on the sales rep taking responsibility for their own development, and so (for example) set up a library of books on best practices both for sales and business, and anyone can take books home, and keep them if they want to. He, quite correctly, recognized that different people learn differently.
- he encourages his sales managers to take one of the selling skills books and lead a team discussion once a week on each chapter, where each week a sales rep would distill down the key lessons from the chapter
- and he talked about the critical importance that not only sales reps, but also the sales managers have personal development plans which are discussed and reviewed each quarter with each individual’s manager (whatever the level).
What was great to hear was Michael’s focus on how much he cares about the team. Obviously he cares about the numbers – of course – but his passion for how to help each sales rep have the training and support they need to develop their personal skills and business skills was great to hear.
Coming from my own experience of high growth technology companies in Silicon Valley, I have seen more development in soft skills than I think is typical in older, larger businesses. Whether you have 1 sales person or 1000, all but the top 10% of your superstars benefit from, and really appreciate, personal development.
A nice post from Selling Power on FirstRain – written by Gerhard Gschwandtner:
How Major-Account Managers Stay on Top of the Growing Tsunami of Information The role of a major-account manager is significantly different from the roles of other salespeople, since these elite sales executives manage only very few but substantially larger accounts. Their role is more strategic, and their company’s fortunes often depend on their success.…One of the most difficult jobs in managing major accounts is to keep up with the massive amount of information within the account. Imagine being in charge of selling your company’s services to IBM, Oracle, or Microsoft. How will you be able scan and monitor the rapidly changing corporate landscape?
Read more here…
Time is the enemy for strategic sales teams.
You make money when you truly understand your customer’s business. And that means understanding your customer’s customer. What is driving their business, what are the trends that they lie awake at night about? When is the right time to call — and who?
But the time it takes to do this for large global accounts, or for a set of accounts across diverse market segments, is quite simply prohibitive and so sales people don’t do it.
I’ve worked with global teams covering accounts like IBM, BP, Toshiba, Cisco — it’s incredibly important that each member of the team understands what is happening to the market and end customers of each local division or business line that they are responsible for managing and that they bring that knowledge and understanding into the account strategy and coordinated campaigns.
Another example is one where we are currently working with a senior sales rep (at a very large software company) who has target accounts across a diverse set of industries — and his effectiveness is directly impacted by how quickly he can come up to speed on his customer’s businesses.
I was with a strategic sales manager at a large telecomm customer of ours on the East Coast last week discussing this very issue. He reinforced to me how important it is that his team can be relevant when they gets on the phone with their prospect or customer. It changes the whole dynamic of the conversation and makes the discussion about the customer’s business challenges and how you can help – not about what product you are hawking.
When you integrate a solution to this problem sales people can tie their productivity gains, and the deeper campaigns they can create, directly to revenue — and it is one of the popular ways our users leverage FirstRain.
My team is showing FirstRain at the Sales 2.0 Conference in Boston on June 28 and I’ll also be talking about the methodology to put this kind of power into the hands of a sales team on a webinar on Thursday June17 at 11am PDT – join us!
We’re running two webinars in 2 weeks – one for marketing on June 15th and one for sales on June 17th. Each one is focused on how our successful “rainmaker” customers use FirstRain to sell more to their leading customers.
If you know more about your major accounts than anyone else, and if it takes you just a few minutes a day to have that knowledge, you can provide better service to your customer. You understand their business better than your competitor does. You spot opportunities to help them, and you are prepared for every conversation.
Our webinars will show techniques to use FirstRain to do this. Join us here.
Diversity is a strength – especially in management teams – but it can also lead to tension, misunderstandings and all the challenges that can appear when two people are very different and don’t “get” each other.
Years ago it was popular to hire expensive consultants – often called coaches – to work with executive teams and help them form tight bonds and appreciate one another but having been put through that type of coaching several times in my career at different companies I am now a great believer in the home grown use of personality based team building to develop an appreciation of the differences.
The method I advocate is going through Myers-Briggs Type testing as a team and sharing and talking about the results.
First step is everyone takes the test – online and together in a room – you can take the test here.
Next I explain (in lay terms) what the Myers-Briggs Type Indicators are – what they mean and what they indicate about each personality and how it influences and decision making. I’ll walk through the 4 dimensions and I use simple anecdotes to explain the differences – as I show here. (Each is a scale where you get a percentage along the scale to one end or the other as a measure of your personality type along that dimension.)
Note a healthy dose of humor and self depreciation at this stage breaks the ice and gets the team to relax.
Extroverted vs. Introverted: what energizes you – being with people or being alone? To make a decision do you go and talk to other people or go for a walk? Are parties exciting or a bit of a chore?
Sensing vs. Intuiting: Do you gather data and then make a decision – or do you intuitively make a decision and then use data to validate or invalidate your decision?
Thinking vs. Feeling: Do you decide with your head or with your heart? Where are you in your body as you work through tough decisions.
Judging vs Perceiving: This is a desire for structure – do you make lists, organize into spreadsheets, like operational process or do you prefer being open ended? Do you take a list to the grocery store or buy as the mood takes you? Do you plan your vacation down to the hour, or get in the car and just drive?
This is a layman’s view – Wikipedia has a much better description here.
And then – it’s time to share. I look for the extroverts in the team to start to talk – to share their type and talk about what it means and how it affects them in the team.
At this point I am at the white board and draw the chart (below) – and start putting names into the boxes so everyone can see where they fit – and how they are like, or unlike other people in the team. It’s really important at this point to make sure everyone understands there is no right or wrong, no one type is any better than any other – and that the strength lies in diversity. It’s much better in a team to have some P some J, some E some I , some N and some S. If you can leverage each other you can quite simply make better decisions because you can cover each others blind spots and biases.
I ran this process with our whole US team a month ago – and then our India management team last week. It was great fun both times. Lots of laughter (led by the Es) and some very insightful discussions about where the tension comes from. For example – a strong J can really annoy a strong P. J’s often state opinion as fact – they are putting structure on the opinion and testing the idea – but for a P this can seem arrogant and over constraining.
So how did my team come out? As you can see from this diagram we have a strong collection of leaders in the ENJ – they are extroverted, very intuitive and operational. Surprisingly this is not at all representative of the population at large. 63% of FR management are NJ, and yet only 7.8% of the population are NJ. So we have a very unusual concentration – and I think this is characteristic of the type of people who enjoy high growth, hurly burly opportunities where they can make decisions fast, based on intuition, and operationalize the execution.
If you are my competitor and you are reading this you may be able to figure out our inherent blind spot… except that I am not an NJ. My personality type is ESFJ. Very strong E (I like people a lot) and am a slight S, but I will challenge intuition by talking with customers and prospects. Knowing I am an ESFJ you can probably understand why I like to talk to customers every single day. That’s both where my energy comes from, and how I gather the input to steer the ship.
The end result of this exercise was very positive, especially within the executive team. We talked through some of the times when we don’t work as well together, and what triggers it – and it is personality related. Just reflecting together and reviewing tough conversations has now been very powerful to defuse the tension the next time it happened. I have the M-B chart on the wall in the office with everyone’s name on it and any of us can refer to it an any time to help understand a team mate – and the only rule is that we all have to remember to use it with a smile – it is just pop psychology after all.
I had the opportunity to speak at the Montgomery Technology conference in Santa Monica yesterday and, as often happens, the experience of presenting FirstRain every half hour for hours was exhilarating.
The conference is run by the specialist investment bank – designed for investors to talk with companies – and it attracted about 1,100 people this year. As a small company the reason to participate is to raise awareness of what we are doing and network with other CEOs, business development people from the Forture 1000 and, of course, talk with potential investors.
Since it is now so easy to quickly show the value of FirstRain I decided not to use any slides but just show it in every meeting. Having a light MacBook Air, wireless and fast fingers I had fun showing the product off in every discussion – in the general coffee area, in a suite, in a meeting room and eventually in my presentation. Now I did use a few slides when I was presenting to the room – but even then just a few and I quickly switched over to the product since seeing is believing with FirstRain.
And the result was a double edged sword. Everyone I spoke to was very impressed – “that’s really impressive” always sounds good to a CEO – and every potential investor I spoke with wanted to understand our stage and whether we were a good fit for them to invest in based on their approach (they were mostly PE or late stage VCs). And I had to disappoint every one. We closed a round of financing 2 weeks ago for $7.2M and so we are not in a position to take additional investment now.
So I took another path to bring them value. Almost everyone I met with is currently a Capital IQ user and so I showed them how to use FirstRain for their research and advised them to just call their Capital IQ sales person and ask for FirstRain through them since they are now one of our reseller partners. It was such fun to be selling, hand-to-hand selling. I love it! And I am glad to say I made a couple of connections with potential partners too.