Guest blog post by Rebecca Turner, CoachSource Coach and Consultant
I recently interviewed Andrea Kates, a tech CEO in a startup business called LaunchPad Central in San Francisco. Andrea has a flair that I like and she knows how to “hold court” so to speak, so I asked if she would be willing to talk about what she has learned about leadership. For the past 20 years, Andrea has led large-scale initiatives designed to drive revenue expansion for more than 200 companies. Her bestselling book, “Find Your Next”, tells about her research with over 25 organizations. Her LinkedIn profile is https://www.linkedin.com/in/andreakates
Because I coach executives who move from jobs as “technical genius” to new jobs requiring leadership of other technical geniuses, I want to talk about what’s required when you become CEO. What is the most challenging thing?
You have to be able to walk into a room and get a read on the audience and you have exactly 1 and half seconds to do it. That’s because you may have to up the ante or calm people down and you won’t really know until you walk in. Reading the room tells you how to make your pitch, give your message, or meet people where they are – whatever it is you are trying to accomplish. That is very different from being a technical expert. There are subtle messages people give you if you are paying attention; in a split second someone may make a brief grimace on their face that you might not notice otherwise. There may be signs of relief, subtle body language that communicates something. This is all incredibly important as to how you deliver. You have to pay attention to the cues.
For example, I used to not pay attention to clients when one said to me on the phone: “Hey, can we have a sidebar about this?” They wanted to communicate something off the record, something personal or confidential that was not transactional. Maybe they wanted to see how I thought about something. I didn’t used to understand that I had to spend time developing relationships, letting clients get comfortable with “who I am”, what I’m about. That is what they come back to –- a person they know and trust, not just a product or idea. You can’t jump immediately into transactions, or offer critical assessments of situations and offer solutions. You have to spend time getting to know people, developing relationships and then you can do business together.
In business school, I never liked courses in organizational behavior because they were the “soft stuff”. Rather, I wanted to be clear, evidence-based, and solution oriented. We were taught to be transactional, which is also important, most definitely. In fact, I would really encourage young people to build their technical skills, coding skills, math skills, etc. However, in addition, as you take on leadership roles over time, the subtle, “soft skills” and relationship-based skills are what you need to refine and you need to learn to engage those skills at the right time. Success requires different perspectives and behaviors as you move up and they can be challenging to learn if they don’t come naturally.
Did you get feedback early on that helped you know what you needed to develop?
Yes. I got feedback from my direct reports that I was too tough, too task-oriented and did not care to get to know about them and how they were doing personally. It was hard to hear that about myself but it was true. I learned to go around and talk to people to find out about their lives and what could be better for them and how they felt about their work. It was very important to them and I had overlooked it. It is interesting that people think women are supposed to bring the interpersonal skills and warmth to the workplace. I had been socialized in business to do the opposite.
Last month you were a featured speaker at a big event on women leaders at the Aspen Institute and I wonder how you prepared for that.
I never walk into any situation cold. I spend a lot of time studying everything. When I go to a conference, I arrive a day or two early. You learn a lot about the tone, the norms, how people communicate and relate just by being there and getting a sense of the landscape. These days it is easy. When you have a meeting with someone you can learn about how they interact with people by viewing them on YouTube. Always study, learn and practice as much as possible whenever you are going to do anything.
It was amazing to read about the number of hours that Jay Leno spent preparing his monologue, which was quite brief if you remember! It was taped over and over and over again. What would it be like if he used this word versus that word? What would grab people more and really be funny? People who have a flawless performance have usually put in extraordinary numbers of hours preparing, not to mention the fact that they have spent their whole lives preparing. We build on our pasts.
The link to the Aspen Institute event is here: http://www.aspenideas.org/session/advice-women-who-lead
You have grown kids now so it must be easier to accomplish what you need to do compared to how it was in the past. How did you accomplish so much when your kids were younger?
I discovered early mornings and that it made it so much easier. At 5:00 a.m. I met with a personal trainer and then started to get work done before the kids woke up. It was hard to do it all. Getting up real early like 4:00 a.m. helped a lot.
Recently I heard you say “I’m so over myself!!” What did you mean by that?
Oh I am so over having to be the smartest person in the room, the one with all the answers. It’s not about me! What is really important in our company is that it’s about other people. I don’t care if it is their idea or my idea, just so we act on it.
Also, I am representing something much bigger than myself. LaunchPad is a big idea. We help companies do something that is very difficult-- to maintain an innovation portfolio. It’s challenging for them and there is risk involved. We provide a platform that helps large companies because we combine the agility of startups with the scale of the existing enterprise. I believe in what we do and that’s inspiring! If I am inspiring then it is because I am involved with this great idea that can help our customers. It’s great to see what our employees are doing toward this end. Getting over myself has been great!
Rebecca Turner, Ph.D. is a San Francisco based executive coach and team development consultant with Turner Consulting Group LLC. She helps companies manage conflict and move on to better things.