From Sudhir

As CES 2020 Begins, Leadership Advice at the Intersection of Tech and Business

By January 10, 2020 No Comments

This week, what happens in Vegas definitely won’t stay in Vegas. CES 2020 is in full swing, and if past is precedent, we’re in for a momentous week. To celebrate the most technically innovative time of the year, I’ve rounded up the best advice from tech leaders I’ve interviewed either on my podcast or for other upcoming projects. I’m driven to help you learn values-based leadership and unlock your full leadership potential.

Here’s how to lead with heart, soul and vision, according to some of my favorite guests. 

1. Everybody matters

A big theme among guests is to never lose sight of our shared humanity.. 

Chantal Rickards, a top media executive and former BAFTA CEO, got her start in television by working with legendary broadcaster David Frost, who famously coaxed Richard Nixon to apologize for the Watergate scandal. He taught her the importance of staying grounded.

“He had friends who were presidents, but he came from an ordinary background,” Chantal says. “He made people feel better for having spent some time with them.”

Frost “worked with both kings and criminals,” she adds, “by treating them equally.”

Author, speaker and marketing expert Shellye Archambeau tells a story about a law professor’s final exam for an ethics class. “There was only one question,” she says. “What’s the name of the janitor in our building?”

While most of the students had no idea, the point was clear: everybody matters.

A magnanimous spirit has its benefits, too, says Raymond Choi, a physician and co-founder and general partner of Valley Capital Partners. He grew up in the Midwest working in his family’s Chinese restaurant, where his parents taught him that “when giving to others and not expecting anything in return … you become more lucky,” he says. 

“If you don’t expect anything, people tend to like you more. That mentality has been really helpful in my career.”

2. Know what you don’t know

My guests agree that humility is an integral part of leadership at every stage.  

Early in his career, Alphabet adviser and former Nest CEO Marwan Faraz found himself pressed into a leadership position that he wasn’t prepared for.

“I was the youngest of the engineers who got promoted,” he says. “Then my peers became my employees. I didn’t know how to manage people, and I failed miserably.” 

His team was older and more experienced, and he responded by trying to be “an engineer first, not a manager.” 

But he quickly learned that he shouldn’t do the same work as his team. 

“My role is to help them do their jobs, not do their jobs with them. It took me a while to figure that out,” says Marwan. “Early on, I didn’t hesitate to ask for help –– quite a bit –– from people who were there before me. That’s probably my best leadership advice.”

Raymond Choi did the same when he transitioned from emergency room doctor to venture capitalist. 

“I have a very high tolerance for embarrassment,” he says. “I’m not afraid to ask questions. I’m not afraid to look stupid. If I ask a question and it’s really obvious … I’m not self-conscious about that as a leader. I just ask a lot of questions of people who’ve done it longer than I have, who’ve been successful.”

Tony Werner, President of Technology, Product and Xperience for Comcast, oversees the design and development of the company’s consumer-facing products, including streaming apps and home internet. Early in his career, he suddenly found himself managing his own team. That’s when he realized he was no longer a technical expert in certain areas, and that he needed to hire people who filled in those gaps. 

It can be a jarring transition, he says. But trying to maintain one’s tech-geek superiority is “detrimental to leadership.”

When he let that go, Tony had a “eureka” moment.

“When I first had a staff of a few hundred people, I said, gosh –– I’m not an expert anymore. I let them have their space.”

That’s why, he adds, “I give direction with a compass, not a road map. Let’s align on the fact that we’re wanting to head east, looking for a sunrise. Then my teams figure out the map. I’m not prescriptive.”

3. Respect is a verb

You get what you give, say the leaders I’ve interviewed.

In a conversation for my upcoming book about “values based leadership,” Balan Nair, Chief Executive Officer for Liberty Latin America, tells me that reading is fundamental. 

“I read everything I get,” he says. “Many people prepare a lot of documents for me at work, and I look at it all. Being prepared with my colleagues and subordinates –– the people that depend on me –– helps me be a better leader to them. 

“It’s a sign of respect as well.  Always show up for your teams and show them that you care. They matter. Their presence matters, their contributions matter.

Tony Werner would agree. “Over the years, I’ve found that people will generally respect and follow someone who respects them,” he says. “If you want people to follow you, show respect to them. And it just about always deserved, because if you’re trying to hire the best in class at all levels, you need to respect what they bring. Understand that there are areas they know more about than you do.”

4. Words matter 

Follow-through is key to building a career with integrity, especially when it comes to the commitments you personally make. 

Real estate executive Nick Segal’s father Fred, a Hollywood screenwriter, taught him valuable lessons about keeping promises –– and sticking to personal priorities. 

Once, a famous actor who knew Nick’s dad from New York spotted him on the Warner Brothers lot in Los Angeles and said “Fred! Oh my gosh, we’ve gotta get together.”

“My father –– who was impeccable with his word –– just smiled and said, ‘Well, we’ll see.’” 

Afterward, Nick asked his father whether he planned to meet up with the actor. 

“He replied, ‘I’ve got enough friends,’” Nick recalls. “I realized in that moment that time is precious. It has stayed with me to this day. I’m very judicious with my friends.”  

And just like his father, Nick keeps his word.  

“If I say I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it,” he says.

5. There’s no ‘I’ in team 

It bears repeating: there’s strength in numbers. 

Tech Mahindra telecom executive Manish Vyas was an aspiring cricketer before he became a tech leader. But the lessons he learned on the cricket field are just as relevant in business, he says. 

“In any sport, there will always be one particular player who outshines the others. But that player will never single-handedly ensure that a team wins. A team wins when each of its members perform their duties.” 

Balan Nair echoes that sentiment. “Many times, your best decisions come from others and you don’t know it until later,” he adds. “Understand that many people have your back.” 

You might not know it until you realize –– perhaps a month or a decade afterward, says Balan. 

“One person who has your back for sure is your spouse. I’ve discovered that almost all of my most brilliant decisions really were my wife’s. I am where I am today in many ways because of her.”

6. Share your why

A stellar culture begins with a strong vision, my guests say. 

“Get clear about what you want to achieve,” Nick Segal advises. “Stay true to what you want to do and how you want to do it. Share your why. Those who are inspired to be a part of it will help do the heavy lifting –– the ‘fox-holers,’ as I call them, the ones who are truly in it with you.” 

It’s important to reiterate those core values to the team, including “what they represent, and what they do not,” Manish Vyas adds. “Sometimes people say, ‘Look, this is what another company is doing.’ And I remind them: ‘Yep, I agree. We’re not that company. This is who we are and what works for us. Don’t bother about anybody else. Let’s just do what’s good for us.’”

For Marwan Fawaz, tech leaders have a mission that expands far beyond one company. “We created technology –– from fire, to weaponry, to artificial intelligence,” he says. “We have limited resources on this planet and limited ability to maximize and optimize them.”

The challenges of climate change, for example, aren’t limited to conservation and renewable energy. We’ll need to innovate new ways to react to the new realities that climate change has already wrought, says Marwan.

“We need to be in front, helping people understand why it’s important to keep moving along as a species––for our survival. Developing and maximizing what we have. And technology is the way to do it.”

This article is based on insights from my podcast, “Cracking the Code with Sudhir Ispahani.” Visit the website for new episodes and extended guest bios and subscribe in Apple, Google or your preferred podcast player. 

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