Category Archives: Leadership

Why Some People in Positions of Power Show Signs of Brain Damage

When someone becomes successful but stays grounded, people are often pleasantly surprised. But what is it about power, in any of its forms, that makes people less relatable?

Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, spent two decades studying the effects of power and discovered that powerful people exhibit behaviors associated with traumatic brain injury: impulsivity, diminished risk-awareness and a weakened ability to see things from another person’s perspective.

 Sukhvinder Obhi, a neuroscientist at McMaster University in Ontario, took his experiment a step farther. He used transcranial magnetic stimulation to compare the brains of powerful people and non-powerful people, and he found that powerful people were less capable of “mirroring” others’ actions, or imagining themselves mimicking the actions of others. When they watched a video of someone squeezing a rubber ball, the neural pathways that normally would have been firing if they had been squeezing the ball themselves did not light up strongly. In other words, they were less empathetic than the non-powerful group, whose corresponding neurons fired away.

This phenomenon goes beyond imagination. Research led by Adam Galinsky at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management revealed that when instructed to draw the letter E on their forehead for others to read, people who perceived themselves as powerful were three times more likely to draw the E facing backwards for their observers.

As Entrepreneur guest writer Brian T. Anderson wrote last April, empathy is among the most top five traits executives must exhibit to be successful. That’s what faculty at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism found upon conducting interviews with business leaders around the world.

Empathetic leaders are more likely to guess how their colleagues will interpret what they say or make others feel comfortable by say, laughing when others laugh. Failure to simulate others’ feelings demonstrates what Keltner calls an “empathy deficit.” One idea to help explain this, put forth by Princeton psychology professor Susan T. Fiske, is that leaders do not feel the need to get on someone else’s level, because the power they wield gives them access to information they would otherwise need to obtain by getting a good read on a person.

So what can those in power do to overcome the neurologically damaging, hubris-building potential of being at the top? Simply telling yourself to empathize won’t cut it — you have find ways to knock yourself down a peg. A February 2016 study in the Journal of Financefound that that CEOs who had lived through a natural disaster that produced a large number of fatalities were less likely to take risks.

On the day in 2001 that PepsiCo CEO and Chairman Indra Nooyi was appointed to the company’s board, her mother asked her to go out and pick up some milk before announcing her big news to the entire family. When she returned, her mother told her, “Leave that damn crown in the garage.” To this day, Nooyi recounts that story to illustrate the importance of staying down to earth, The Atlantic reports.

So for leaders worried about becoming disconnected from reality or employees, customers or even loved ones — and sustaining brain damage in the process — remember a time when you weren’t as powerful, or connect with people who aren’t as powerful and empathize with their concerns.



3 Perspectives of Visionary Leaders

Every leader needs a clear vision. However, much like common sense, vision is anything but common and frequently unclear.

1. Diagnostic Perspective

Before a vision can be created, you need to understand what’s worked before and what hasn’t. It’s critical to recognize the current position of your organization and use that as a starting point.

Additionally, it’s critical to identify existing obstacles, procedures and personalities that may undermine your vision at various stages. These may be difficult for you to see, especially if you’ve been with the organization for a long time. Institutional “blind spots” develop over time, unnoticed.

Once you have completed your diagnostics and have a clear view of the organization and its needs, it’s important to incorporate the findings into the overall vision.

2. Innovation Perspective

Innovation is often “hiding in plain sight,” which requires a specific perspective to help pop it into view.

Consider the challenges of trying to innovate the following commoditized products: paint, glass and duct tape. Those are pretty dull and boring at first glance with little growth potential. For decades, industry leaders did not see a way to innovate on those products and increase their revenue. Yet:

  • Sherwin-Williams developed a square, stackable, pourable paint container that revolutionized the industry.
  • Corning innovated away from cookware to fiber optic cables, flat-screen TVs and biotech lab tools.
  • Duck Brand duct tape breathed new life and profitability into the category with fashion-focused line extensions in a rainbow of patterns and colors.

In each case, the opportunity for innovation was always there — anybody could have innovated at anytime but didn’t. It took visionary leaders to create an environment where others within the organization could see the opportunity that was right in front of their eyes, articulate it and bring it forward.

3. Unseen Perspective

Visionary leaders ultimately have to lead an organization down a path it has never traveled before. This requires the use of the “unseen” perspective, which will set the course for the desired future state. Past and recent history are packed with examples:

  • Christopher Columbus had to apply this perspective when he set off to find the new world, at a time when everyone thought the world was flat.
  • President Kennedy had to apply this perspective when he pledged 1961 that the US would put an American on the moon “before this decade is out.”
  • Steve Jobs did it repeatedly when he challenged Apple to launch the iPod, MacBook , iTunes and iPhone.

As a visionary leader, you need to be your organization’s oracle, driving its performance down a pioneering path into the future. To be a positive, transformational leader you need a clear vision if your organization is going to survive and thrive.

But you and the vision are indistinguishable. Without a clear vision, you won’t last. And without a visionary leader, neither will the vision.


How Fiverr’s Culture Created a Company of CEOs

Editor’s Note: In the new podcast Masters of Scale, LinkedIn co-founder and Greylock partner Reid Hoffman explores his philosophy on how to scale a business — and at, entrepreneurs are responding with their own ideas and experiences on our hub. This week, we’re discussing Hoffman’s theory: the smartest companies don’t tell their employees how to innovate, they manage the chaos. Listen to this week’s episode here

Early in an organization’s lifecycle, everything is experimentation. Externally, it’s the product, the target audience — even finding a winning business model can be a series of tests. Internally, it’s often management styles, processes and organizational hierarchies. In both cases, it’s about seeing what works, what sticks, what’s effective and then doubling down while everything else is cast aside.

Typically, a manager will be presented with a problem, come up with a solution and then direct team members to execute on the strategy at hand. Obviously, the manager has a large degree of control and weight in everything taking place. After all, it’s his or her project, and to remain accountable, it’s important to keep everyone tied to the same solution.

But, this top-down approach has substantial drawbacks. If a business is hiring the right people, contributions should come from every member of a team. So, why would an organization limit its own collective mind power through a system of direct action? Rather than having people think about the larger problem the business is facing or working towards, team members are limited to focusing on a singular piece. It’s one person’s solution executed by many, rather than many competing solutions being tested and iterated. In this world, team members’ mindset is to execute rather than to innovate, effectively being blocked off from looking beyond the organizational walls built around them.

The second big problem is a loss of accountability and responsibility. Team members are merely executing on a manager’s idea, rather than building their own concepts. The failure of an initiative doesn’t extend beyond the creator, leaving many outside of the stakeholder group. In rapidly growing organizations, ownership is key for culture, and top-down management often reduces ownership, whether that ownership results in success or failure.

The lesson learned? Flip the model on its head.

Give team members a framework to work around in the form a “company northstar” to guide their efforts. This northstar creates clear lines between what’s a priority and what’s not, and it empowers employees to be guided by impact rather than execution. Team members have clarity, and they maintain accountability because the concepts they’re working on are based on their own strategic thinking and analysis.

Since Fiverr’s inception, a core driving tenant of our business has been to bring ecommerce simplicity to freelance services. We recognized a high friction problem in how freelancers offered their services and how businesses bought them, and saw an opportunity to apply what everyone already loved about buying products online. That framework — recognize low friction above everything else — created the outline that everyone in the company worked towards. An idea that solved complexity with simplicity was to be pursued, regardless of where it fell in the product. Any idea that wasn’t following this framework wasn’t pursued.

As a data-driven company, team members could recognize where inefficiencies existed, come up with potential solutions and hypothesize on the target impact of their new solutions, implement an experiment and extract the right signals to decide if they pursue the direction. The framework of simplicity drove the thinking, the team drove a solution and then backed it up with data. Management’s job in all of this is to be a guiding resource, rather than a task master.

A good example of this commitment to simplicity as a framework came through in our marketplace as Gig Packages. As Fiverr grew, we recognized that entrepreneurs were looking to the marketplace for more complex services and freelancers wanted to expand the breadth of their offerings. But, the structure of many services didn’t allow for a ton of wiggle room — services were narrowly defined to maintain simplicity. Recognizing this core problem, the team maintained a commitment to simplicity while expanding our opportunity through a “Good,” Better” and “Best” enhancement. One service with standardized elements across three price points. Recognizing an opportunity and equipped with a northstar, the team developed a solution that could be rolled out strategically and tested. The result? A browsing and purchasing solution with simplicity and depth.

We simply created a company of CEOs. Team members know the problem, and it’s their job to develop a solution, hypothesize an outcome, experiment and then implement. Managers play the role of a board of directors, providing implementation resources and analyzing outcomes to sharpen and push the team for higher goals.

The impact on our company culture cannot be understated. In this kind of system, ownership within a company goes beyond individual projects. Many hands aren’t just working collaboratively, they’re all strategically pulling on the same rope to derive a larger outcome.

Like any organization that’s “moving fast and breaking stuff,” priorities will shift and change. It’s the job of management to continue to refine and communicate northstar guiding principles and make sure they’re universally understood from all corners of the business. Whether it’s human resources or front end development, a culture of strategic problem-solving and driving impact flows through an organization that empowers its team.


3 Proven Ways to Keep Employees Happy

We live in a time when culture plays a bigger role in employee retention than compensation. American employees are now willing to sacrifice their pay for a better, more enjoyable work environment. A recent study released by Fidelity Investments proves that money cannot buy happiness for millennials entering the workforce, revealing that, on average, millennials are willing to take a $7,600 pay cut in exchange for a better “quality of work life.”

 Who could blame them? The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the average full-time employee in the United States spends 8.8 hours a day at work. Who would want to spend over a third of their day working at an organization that neglects their happiness and satisfaction? This has left business owners around the country wondering how to keep their employees happy.

As employees begin to adjust the way they approach their employment options, it’s time for employers to adapt and make their own adjustments to the way set up their organizations. Instead of trying to entice candidates and encourage retention among current employees with high salaries, executives should be looking for ways to make their office a place where employees are excited to spend their valuable time.

Sounds like a tough task, right? I mean, unless you’re a Luxury Bed Tester or a Ben and Jerry’s Flavor Guru, it’s not particularly easy to be excited about going into work on a Monday morning. However, executives are going to need to think outside the box and change their traditional management styles to stay ahead of the curve on this recent trend.

It seems like executives are ready to take these steps, too. Earlier this year, my employer, DATIS HR Cloud, surveyed over 280 executives regarding their top priorities for 2017. Respondents included a mix of CEOs, CFOs, CHROs and even some CIOs. The second-highest priority of this year, behind recruiting, was employee satisfaction. Here are some proven, surprisingly simple steps for executives to take to make work more enjoyable and satisfying for their employees.

Encourage social connections within the office.

I know what you’re thinking. “James, wouldn’t social connections distract my employees from the work I pay them to do?” Good question, reader. However, I’ve found that enabling better relationships among coworkers actually does wonders for employee satisfaction and productivity.

For starters, when employees are friends with one another, they generally feel more connected to their organization and more excited about coming into work each morning. According to Gallup, close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50 percent, and employees with a best friend at work are generally seven times more engaged.

Strong coworker relationships also help when it comes to collaboration within the office.  Encouraging employee connections breaks down barriers between coworkers and makes working together and cooperation much simpler.

There are many ways in which you can improve and encourage social connections within your workforce. Celebrating birthdays around the office, motivating employees to eat lunch together, hosting out-of-the office outings and arranging fun activities among coworkers are simple, cost effective ways to improve relations among your employees.

Give employees purpose.

Employee satisfaction and job fulfillment go hand-in-hand. Employees feel the most satisfied at work when they know that they are doing meaningful work and working towards something special. This evokes a kind of emotional connection to their job that simply cannot be recreated or artificially manufactured. However, there are elementary management tactics that executives and leaders can utilize to stimulate this feeling of fulfillment and bring it to top of mind.

First, reiterate to your employees that they’re a valuable asset to your team and the work they’re doing is contributing to the overall success of the organization. This is not only great for employee morale, it also reinforces purpose in the work they’re doing.

Recognizing and celebrating individual achievements also plays a large role in employee fulfillment and satisfaction. I personally feel that we don’t give one another enough credit in the office. We should be congratulating our coworkers when they reach personal and professional goals. This brings a workforce together and motivates others to achieve similar success in their own roles.

On a side note, studies show that transparency when it comes to personal and professional goals in the office also greatly improves productivity. A survey commissioned by Betterworks found that an astounding 92 percent of employees would work harder if their coworkers could see their goals.

Be understanding.

My last tip to improve employee satisfaction around your office is to simply be understanding. Believe it or not, your employees have lives outside of work. They have families, friends, hobbies and passions. But, they also face real life problems that put their physical and mental strength to the test.  Being understanding and supportive when these problems arise is essential.

I’m sure you’ve encountered events in your life that are out of your control. When these events happen, it helps to have support from the company that you dedicate so much of your time to. Just knowing that your managers are there for you when times get tough is a truly great feeling.

Employees are your organization’s greatest asset. If you don’t keep them happy, they’ll find another company that will — it’s that simple. High salaries and compensation packages are a great way to attract talent, but are no longer a proven way to retain it. Fostering a company culture that provides employees with a better quality of work life is the new way to build for a stronger tomorrow.



4 Ways to Develop the Leaders You’ll Need in the Future

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership development is consistently and effectively identifying the next wave of leaders. It can be easy for those at the top to forget that eventually someone will have to take their place at the helm. And ignoring that fact has lead to issues with succession planning, unwanted turnover and other challenges in leadership development in many organizations.

 2016 High Impact Leadership research from Bersin by Deloitte asked 2,422 HR and business leaders from around the world how well they believed they could discover new leadership talent. Just 35 percent of respondents said they were above average when it came to successfully identifying and developing leaders.

To understand why this is, consider the typical leadership development paradox. Traditionally, the first step is to choose who has leadership potential, then develop their skillset. Logically, however, this makes little sense. How is it possible to identify effective leaders if employees have yet to receive any type of leadership development?

Here are four ways to properly identify better qualified candidates for leadership positions:

1. Stop choosing potential leaders based on unrelated skills.

Gallup’s 2015 State of the American Manager Report, which studied 2.5 million manager-led teams in 195 countries, found that the top two reasons employees are promoted to management positions are because they were successful in a non-managerial role or because of their tenure with the company. Neither of those criteria have any proven correlation with leadership skills or relevant experience.

Create a better means of measuring for true leadership potential. Look at the culture of the organization and envision what it would look like for someone to lead by those values. Also consider how successful leaders evolved over time in the organization. Then use that information to make a list of recognizable traits to look for as signs of leadership potential.

2. Broaden leadership development to more employees.

People learn and grow at their own unique pace. Requiring that an employee reach a certain position or be with the company for a certain number of years before they’re offered leadership opportunities holds back those who might be ready for more responsibility now. Or even worse, it might push those who aren’t yet ready into leadership roles.

Instead, let leadership development be a company-wide initiative. This gives more people the chance to take the next step in their career. It also creates a larger pool of possible great leaders to draw from across the organization.

3. Track progress and growth.

There’s no way of knowing who is ready to step up and lead unless development is monitored. Remember that this is a process. Employees need feedback from their mentors and coaches to know for certain what skills they’ve mastered as well as where there can still be improvements made.

Develop a way to assess progress for different leadership positions, and be clear with employees and coaches about what success would look like in different situations. For instance, explain what is expected of a first time project leader. Get everyone on the same page about the developing leader’s responsibilities and how that should guide their team.

Then collect thorough feedback from all those involved. Ask the leadership candidate what challenges they faced as well as where they think they thrived. Pose the same questions to those they supervised and organizational mentors. Over time, this will reveal patterns that make it easier to identify who is best suited for leadership in the long-term.

4. Focus on continual leadership development.

There is no such thing as too much experience. There is always more that can be learned. After leadership candidates have been identified, continue to nurture them. This keeps employees from feeling that they have plateaued, which is unfortunately common.

The 2014 Insigniam Middle Management Survey: Middle Management’s Critical Role In Saving Company Innovation looked at responses from 200 middle managers from around the world. It found that only 15 percent of managers believe they will ever be promoted to the next level of leadership at their company.

Whether intentionally or not, employees who have proven their leadership abilities are being told that their leadership journey is over — and this hurts both them and the organization. Encourage a steady stream of highly trained and skilled leaders working their way up by demonstrating that there is no end to development.

In order to clearly see who the next wave of leaders is going to be, employees need to be given the chance to hone and exercise their skills. That means redefining how leadership potential is identified and providing each employee with the chance to develop personally and professionally.


5 Tips on Managing an All-Millennial Office (From a Millennial CEO)

It’s been about two years since millennials surpassed gen Xers to become the largest share of the American workforce. As that gap continues to widen, C-suite executives should start thinking about how this shift might impact their business. Because believe it or not, the new kids won’t be so new in just a few years. Older millennials are moving into leadership positions, while fresh college graduates are chasing similar success.

From tightening promotion timelines to building a culture that prides being a part of something bigger than ourselves, I’ve managed to grow my startup, Gather, to more than 50 people strong in just three years. Pulling from a number of personal experiences (as a millennial myself), you can lean on these five tips to better manage and build out a stronger team of millennials.

1. Dish out professional development dollars.

When it comes to entry-level employees who might not have as much experience as others within your organization, professional development is crucial. Not only does it prepare your staff to take on bigger and better challenges, but it also keeps them engaged and active both in and outside of work.

You can drive home the importance of professional development by providing a reasonable annual stipend (we provide $1,500) to employees after they hit an anniversary, such as the six-month or one-year mark. Whether courses or conferences, the money will help your team accelerate their careers and take advantage of exciting opportunities for growth. And while this is an upfront expense, the experience and learning your team will bring back to your company are invaluable. You can also choose to host events that are specific to teams within the office — for instance, having different departments across your organization learn from each other by offering training sessions over lunch or monthly presentations.

No matter which strategy works best for your company, promoting professional development fosters a growth mindset among your workers — something that’s a core value at our office. Instilling the beliefs that learning is a lifelong process, feedback is always welcome, and that mistakes are opportunities for improvement ensures that your team will continue to strive for growth throughout their careers.

2. Diversify employee engagement.

There’s no denying workplace friendships make coming into the office every day that much easier. In fact, 46 percent of professionals say they’re happier when they have strong friendships with their co-workers, according to a survey from LinkedIn and Censuswide. And these work friendships are even more important among millennials. More than half of all 18- to 24-year-olds say workplace friendships make them feel happy and motivated.

By hosting engaging events (and I don’t just mean happy hours) you can facilitate strong relationships among your millennial workforce. But, do yourself a favor and get creative. We like to set up an annual, city-wide scavenger hunt to foster some healthy competition and get employees mingling cross-team. Or, you can throw a Silicon Valley viewing party (something we do) to bring everyone together around something you know they’ll relate to. Better yet, give your team a say in the types of activities you put on. The more invested employees are in a particular event, the more likely they’ll attend.

3. Compress promotion timelines.

Millennials aren’t too keen on waiting around for promotions. More than four out of five millennials expect a promotion or raise at least every other year. To help meet these demands, I’ve worked with my leadership team at Gather to create entry-level roles that feature more opportunity for promotion than your typical role.

This works well for entry-level sales or support positions. Where you might typically have a promotion timeline of a year to a year-and-a-half, these roles promote around the six- to nine-month mark. For big teams of entry-level positions, we use objective goals and milestone markers to promote at faster rates. That way employees are engaged year-round and know exactly what to aim for. Such measures also go a long way toward making employees feel like they’re valued.

Be careful, however, of asking for too much from new employees. Millennials — specifically new staff joining right out of college — often come in with high confidence and low competence. Instead, developing realistic goals from quarter to quarter will help you provide ample opportunity for advancement without overwhelming employees who still have plenty to learn.

4. Provide the opportunity to be part of something bigger.

It’s true, money matters, but money’s also not the only thing millennials are looking for in a job. For six in 10 millennials, a sense of purpose is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers. Give your employees a better idea of what your business is striving to accomplish by encouraging cross-team interaction. That way they can see all the great work that’s going on across the entire organization.

Organizational silos often leave new employees wondering what others in the office are working on and how their efforts fit within the grand scheme of things. Promote a culture of being a part of something bigger than yourself by promoting collaboration with others — and that means executive leadership too.

It’s also crucial to hire employees who are already committed to your company’s goals and mission. Doing so helps ensure your staff remains passionate about the work they’re doing, and who they’re doing it for, for the long-run.

5. Encourage Radical Candor.

Feedback in the workplace is often a touchy subject — but it doesn’t have to be. At Gather, we use a transparent approach known as Radical Candor to speed up the personal and professional development of our employees. Too many managers feel they have to choose between being a jerk or pretending that things are going smoothly, even when they’re not. By pushing managers to highlight accomplishments, as well as areas for improvement, Radical Candor helps foster an open and honest work environment that’s designed to both nurture and challenge employees.

Already the largest share of the American workforce, millennials are poised to play an increasingly prominent role in offices around the country. But, using these five tips, you can better position your business as a place millennials not only start, but grow their careers.


What Male and Female Leaders Can Learn From Each Other

In the television show Mad Men, which depicted a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 60s, women were secretaries and men were bosses — drunk bosses most of the time. As the show progressed toward the beginning of the 70s, we saw the female characters gradually take on leadership roles with great success, bringing an entirely different style of management to the fictional ad agency.

Today, in the real world, women hold about half of all management and professional positions in the United States, but only about 4 percent of CEO positions in the S&P 500. The disparity is a sensitive subject that Matthew McCreight, senior partner at Schaffer Consulting, took head-on when he was asked to address the Women in Insurance Leadership Conference earlier this year.

 McCreight was initially reluctant to address the audience, especially when he learned that his topic would be — “What can women learn from effective male leaders.” The provocative title however, wasn’t meant to imply that men have all the answers and women need to learn from them, but rather, it was meant to be a starting point for a discussion on the differences between how women and men lead.

McCreight interviewed 31 women in senior leadership roles to get their input, and he gained some valuable insights. Yes, the disparity is due at least in part to the “secret handshake” phenomenon and inherent bias, but more telling was the fact that there are indeed differences between how men and women lead.

The difference in leadership styles became clear with a telling anecdote. “A woman was in a senior role in a company,” McCreight said. “The CEO had staff meetings every Monday at 8:00 am, so she had to bring her nanny to her house every Sunday night so that she could get out of the house and get to that meeting. So finally after a number of years, she was asked how it was going, and she said, ‘This thing is killing me!’ The CEO offhandedly said, ‘Why don’t we move it to 10?'” For all those years, the female leader didn’t ask, and the male leader didn’t offer.

There is a stereotype of male leaders being aggressive. One of the respondents in McCreight’s interviews said that the best male leaders don’t fit the stereotype, and instead show more empathy, a quality that is more often associated with female leaders. Many of the women interviewed also said that the best male leaders don’t always insist on having their own way, are open to other opinions and listen to their teams before making a decision. It would seem then, that despite the question focusing on what women leaders can learn from men, male leaders can learn a lot from their female counterparts as well.

Many of the women in McCreight’s survey took the opportunity for an inward look, suggesting that it would be beneficial for women leaders to speak up more, with one respondent noting that while women do well on assigned tasks, men will speak up to grab the assignments they want.

Some of the more interesting responses to the survey question, “What would you say are some of the more noteworthy leadership practices you have learned from effective male leaders?” include:

  • Power. Enjoy being the boss, and don’t be afraid to make decisions. Men are very good at enjoying the power. Some women can be almost embarrassed to admit they like to be in charge and to have power.
  • Don’t wait to be asked. Volunteer to take the lead on an assignment.
  • The best male leaders I have witnessed don’t fit the stereotype. They emanate empathy, something you would perhaps not expect.

The second part of the question, “What advice do you have for aspiring women leaders in how to go about learning from effective male leaders” also yielded some great insights:

  • Remember that if there is something to deliver, you as the leader can only spend a maximum of 30 percent of that activity’s time thinking about it, and you have to give your people 70 percent of the time to deliver. So make a decision, and get on with it.
  • Observe, but don’t discount your strengths as a woman. The best run companies have a diversity of thought. You don’t have to be like everybody else.
  • Network like crazy.
  • Go out of your way to engage with male leaders, and ask for guidance on specific topics. Don’t be wishy-washy in what you want to know. Male leaders love to be asked to give advice. It boosts their feeling of power. Many men still don’t naturally reach out to females in business so we need to take the lead.
  • If you need to, fake confidence and gravitas until you are no longer faking.

And perhaps the most important piece of advice to female leaders that came from the survey was this — “You can learn from anyone, male or female. You don’t have to listen to what male leaders tell you if you don’t think that’s the right thing. You don’t have to be a ‘good girl’ and do what you are told. Do what you think is right!”


How to Lead When Others Are Hesitant to Follow

Job titles, gold lettering on doorways and spiffy business cards just don’t cut it: When a new CEO arrives at a company, that spiffy new job title alone won’t garner him or her that hoped-for respect.

The Dale Carnegie Employee Engagement Study suggested as much, noting that 70 percent of workers in its survey said they didn’t click with new leaders whom they lacked confidence in.

In other words, new CEOs have the unenviable task of proving their worth to their employees, especially if they follow on the heels of a beloved founder. Just saying that, “There’s a new sheriff in town” doesn’t give mployees a sense of comfort. They want proof that their town is safe. If they don’t get that proof, their new CEO will lose their faith before pinning on his or her I.D. badge.

A crisis of faith

One example of a high-profile CEO transition struggle was the recent attempt at Ralph Lauren to modernize the brand.

Stefan Larsson was the new guy, assuning the role vacated by the empire’s founder and namesake, but his was a match that lasted only 15 months. Why? Blame a disconnect between the founder and new CEO: In this case, the disconnect was how best to restore the street cred the company had once had and to translate it into the current market.

Such disagreements between these two parties can happen, especially if their respective visions don’t align or their strengths don’t complement each other’s.

Absent a founder’s blessing, in fact, no CEO can start on solid footing. And the occurrence of in-fighting and friction won’t go unnoticed by employees, who will end up taking sides. It’s a dire situation for any organization, one that stops productivity, growth and profitability in its tracks.

Of course, sometimes it’s not just the founder-CEO connection that’s flawed. Many new CEOs hit the ground running, but forget to communicate openly and frequently with their teams. In other words, CEOs who don’t ingratiate themselves to staff and aren’t bolstered by the business’s founder risk losing loyalty — from everyone.

Win the people, win your freedom.

What happens when the announcement of the new CEO occurs? Is the event one that’s morale-inducing or one that’s soul-killing? If you’re one of these new CEOs, here’s how to keep your head and win employee buy-in immediately:

1. Open your book. During any transition, the troops grow restless and appreciate transparency. When the transition includes a new CEO coming in the door, make communication your top priority.

Brad Rencher learned this lesson when he ascended to a C-suite position at Adobe. When he got there, he quickly realized he wasn’t gaining momentum with employees. but, Bradchat, Rencher’s weekly blog, changed that. The series allowed him to use technology to start meaningful dialogues with others in the organization.

2. Buddy up with influencers. Every company has key people. As CEO, make a point to find, meet and make inroads with as many of those influencers as possible. Without this kind of grassroots process, you’ll be off to a rocky start.

Hewlett-Packard’s Meg Whitman believed in getting executives out from behind their desks and into the rank and file. So, she moved higher-ups’ desk spaces to cubicles and allowed them to naturally co-mingle with staff; this showed employees that they had their leadership’s backing and gave them access to those staff at any time.

3. Audit your environment. Get the corporate culture right, and you’ll fit in; get it wrong, and you’ll look out of place every single day.

It all begins with what you wear — really. If you’re a CEO at a casual company, ditch the Brooks Brothers double-breasted seersucker. Proper imaging will help you gain internal advocates and send the positive message that you understand and appreciate the work culture.

We’ve worked with several startups that have ended up experiencing CEO transitions as they began to scale. The most successful transitions we have seen occur when the incoming CEO takes the time to understand not only the vision of the founders, but also the culture those founders built.

Another example is Belfor CEO Sheldon Yellen. After an employee called him “intimidating,” he decided to never to wear suits and ties again on the job. Though wardrobe may seem like a small change, getting on the same level as your employees can be just the thing to get them on board the bandwagon.

4. Go easy on the gas. Use a measured, methodical approach when implementing change. Don’t be like the 50 percent of businesses (surveyed by Heidrick & Struggles and Stanford’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance) that indicated they lacked blueprints for a CEO transition period.

New leadership is vital to a company’s success, but that doesn’t mean that you, the new CEO, should make improvements and snap decisions on an hourly basis. Even presidential candidates have transition teams to help them implement positive change at a steady, acceptable pace that doesn’t scare employees.

Is the introduction of a new CEO a challenge even when the founder is actively involved? Absolutely. But no one said that having the corner office would be a golden-parachute-styled cake walk. So, focus on leading your team into the future. If you establish the right amount of trust up-front, and display confidence and compassion, even the most tentative employees will follow.


#9 Lessons Successful Start-ups Learnt The Hard Way

We tend to think of the journey of successful start-up as a smooth sailing ship. The entrepreneurs are smart, resourceful, have the best ideas and a good team, what could go wrong? A lot!

Trouble comes to every start-up. Factors such as a bad judgment call, lack of planning or being distracted by the noise and attention — every leader has to face a storm.

Save yourself a lot of headache by learning from the mistakes these 9 start-ups learnt the hard way, early on.

1. Right Level Of Leadership

While starting a company, you tend to hire a lot of interns and entry-level people to run the company to save on money. This is the biggest mistake most entrepreneurs make. Initially, we too, hired a lot of front line employees without building the leadership team. This turned out to be a huge gap and impacted not only the decision making, but also the productivity of the employees, who were in serious need of guidance and mentorship.

Entrepreneurs should manage the pace of growth in a way they are able to build the right level of leadership to guide the company in the right direction, before it gets to a point of no return. Grow the team only at a pace where you have enough structures in place to ensure that everybody in the team is able to attain their potential.

It is crucial to ensure that the team behind a start-up is always functioning as a well-oiled engine.

— Shesh Rao Paplikar, Co-founder, BHIVE Workspace

2. Loyal Customers

There isn’t a foolproof plan to have a successful start-up from day one. In the initial days, it is easy to be enamored with the idea of ‘your’ business. Looking at the broader goal one might miss out on some crucial aspects of the business. Granted, being a new start-up, we make good choices as well as a few bad ones, but then learning from our mistakes should be the immediate step. While starting up we need to be cautious of steps that can derail us from our path to success.

Being a start-up, most of our energy goes into a) improving the product experience for customers, and b) getting new customers on board. And in the initial days, we made a mistake of not involving our best customers for both. We realized over time, that your loyal customers are always ready to take out time and put in efforts to help you improve. Additionally, they are your biggest brand ambassadors and the strongest bridge to the potential customers.

We have made involving them a regular practice now over the past quarters. Our best customers get access to early features, and are constantly giving us feedback to improve. Additionally, we are observing that referrals and recommendations from them have become our biggest channel of acquisition. We are seeing that on an average, loyal customers are now providing us with 10 times more worth than before. And all of this has happened, because we decided to reach out to them, a practice I would urge every start up to follow.

— SachinJaiswal, Cofounder,

3. Give Your Customers The Best Value For What They Pay

Well, there’s surely been a bunch of mistakes we’ve made along the way and learnt quickly, from them!

But if I had to pick our greatest mistake, I’d say it was something we did when we had just about started out. This was during our first year of operations, when we had opened up our hub #1 (we’re at 13 now) in Mohan estate, Delhi. This was a renovated basement space which had the capacity to seat about 100 members.

We were severely bootstrapped at that stage and this drove us to think various ‘jugaads’ to save cost. It was our first summer in Delhi, and everyone knows they can be killer. We had not planned ahead and our ‘batcave’ wasn’t equipped with AC’s. So, when the peak of summer rolled around, we decided it would be a great idea to cool the hub with water coolers.

Cheap and effective right? Wrong. They served the purpose for only a short while till it started getting humid. Even at this stage, instead of bringing in ACs, we tried our jugaads on removing the humidity, which didn’t work. Needless to say, this inconvenienced our members and disrupted operations to such an extent that fitting out AC’s was done poste-haste and the episode was quickly brushed under the rug. Until now!

Lesson learnt: Don’t. They can tell and it’ll hurt your brand value. You can’t give a sub-par product because you are bootstrapped.

Give your customers the best value for what they pay. Giving them a sub-par product because you are bootstrapped is not an option.

— Pranay Gupta, Co-founder, 91springboard

4. Filter Out Information You Receive

For me, one for the biggest mistakes was getting distracted by noise.

As an entrepreneur, you will have to filter out the information you receive from tens of sources. This can include positives like media fame, overly celebrating team members, large customer wins and fundraising, which can put you in a temporary high.

On the other hand, this can include negatives like media gossips, interest from competitor’s investors, frivolous lawsuits and tons of meeting requests from every tom, dick and harry, who are trying to make money out of you.

As you scale, the spectrum of this noise increases multi-fold and eats up a lot of your productive bandwidth. Only your own filtering skills, methods or tools can help you stay focused yet flexible enough not to miss out on anything important.

— DhruvilSanghvi, Co-founder, LogiNext

5. Establish A Set Of Values

I think a mistake LBB made was not setting a strong team & hiring culture early on. LBB misfired on some of the early hires we made, because we weren’t sure of who we wanted or what kinds of teams were the best to build our company.

Since then, we’ve learned to establish a tone for the values of our organization and only seek those who resonate with these values on our team. Although it lengthens the hiring process at times, it ensures that we have a good fit; and both employee and company learn and succeed with each other.

— DhruvMathur, Co-founder, Little Black Book

6. Believe In Your Ideas

One of the biggest learning from my mistakes during the entrepreneurial journey has been to never underestimate your own potential. Believe in your idea and your capabilities.  Move fast. And in case you fail, fail fast and fail cheap. Never work towards making the perfect product. Launch a beta, test waters, get feedback. Move towards your goal.

— SaireeChahal, Founder, Sheroes

7. Put Your Customer Before The Product

The biggest mistake we did at Zarget was to commit ourselves to a feature which we believed was the next big thing. We were simultaneously working on two features — one required less technical effort while the other one took center-stage at our production camp. We spent time and manpower on perfecting and was sure about it being a hit.
On launch, the market reaction took us by surprise! The feature we nurtured didn’t create the impact we expected while the other feature went on to become our customer’s favourite. At times, it is not about the technical brilliance of a product but how a simple solution can connect with your customers on a personal level. This insight took a back seat amidst our deliberations about the product.

We learnt it the hard way — “Always put your customer before the product!”

Arvind Parthibam, Founder, Zarget

8. Choose A Robust Payment Solution

It goes without saying that one faces many hurdles while running a start-up. Apart from the technological challenges, there are organizational and business challenges that one has to tread. Since we focused a lot on hiring the right talent initially, thankfully we did not face a lot of organizational and technical challenges.

However, we did face a business problem once we started making inroads into the market — choosing a robust payment solution. Vidooly being a SaaS company deals with customers who use its tools and dashboards through a pay as you go model which has to be recurring. That’s why, in the initial stages when we did not have the right recurring payment system in place, we faced quite a few issues in holding on to our customers. This was just an oversight for us and we rectified it after trying out some of the best online payment solutions available. I feel when someone is building a global SaaS product, it has to be taken care of in day one.

— SubratKar, Co-founder, Vidooly

9. Set ESOP Plans For Employees

The biggest mistake we made starting up was to not have an ESOP pool for future talent — something we corrected later. I think it is table stakes to have a large and attractive ESOP pool for present and future employees so you can attract the right kind of talent


Learn How to Be an Effective Leader from King Henry VIII Himself

United. Uber. Wells Fargo. CEOs of well-known brands are constantly under a microscope—every mistake or fault criticized, analyzed, and publicized.

  • After a passenger was forcibly removed from his seat and dragged off a plane, the United CEO’s initial response (“I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers…”) was widely seen as callous and tone-deaf.
  • Uber’s CEO was caught on video berating one of his own drivers after the driver told him that Uber’s changing prices were hurting his business.
  • Rather than acknowledge a systemic problem, Wells Fargo CEO blamed rogue employees for creating fake accounts in customers’ names.

We’re in the midst of a leadership crisis. According to the 2016 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor: just 23 percent of people believe leaders are effective, while 65 percent say they’ve purchased less from a company due to negative leadership behavior. In essence, poor leadership hurts the bottom line. And these numbers show it’s not just the scandal-ridden companies that feel the pain. We’re all caught in their shadow.

For an admittedly out-of-left-field take on the subject, I asked for some insight from an expert on one of history’s most famous morally questionable partnerships: England’s King Henry VIII and his No. 2 (at least until Henry had him killed), Thomas Cromwell.

Janet Wertman is a lawyer, a development consultant for nonprofits, and an author of historical fiction. Her book, “Jane the Quene” is the story of Henry VIII’s rejection of Anne Boleyn to marry Jane Seymour, and Jane’s short time on the throne. It’s also the story of the Tudor court, where office politics had lethal consequences. The following is a brief discussion I had with regarding ethical leadership in a historical context.

Glenn Llopis (GL): Put the story [of King Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell] in context for those of us not familiar with it.

Janet Wertman (JW):  Thomas Cromwell was the son of a blacksmith and rose to become Chief Minister to England’s King Henry VIII. Cromwell was methodical, calculating and brilliant. He was an accountant: understanding the financial aspects of the realm was the source of much of his power.

He’s considered a villain because he manufactured the charges that led to Anne Boleyn’s execution. But by his own standards, he considered himself moral: true to himself and true to his goals. He was a reformist, dedicated to creating and protecting the new Church of England.

GL: Is there anything leaders today can learn from Cromwell?

JW: First, diversity of thought leads to new ideas.

Cromwell was a commoner. He was also a religious reformist. These two factors gave him a different viewpoint from other leaders of the day. Henry VIII needed a son: after 20 years with his first wife, he had only a daughter. Cromwell first rose to power because he was the one who figured out how to get Henry divorced. For seven years, Henry’s advisors tried to convince the Pope to let Henry divorce his first wife. Cromwell created the Church of England to make the Pope’s opinion irrelevant. Then he solidified his power when Henry needed money, by dissolving the monastic houses and claiming that wealth for the crown.

Second lesson: when it comes to your boss or your business partners, choose well. Every job requires you to fall on your sword a bit to protect your boss. Corporate lawyers experience this in almost every negotiation, taking the blame for their clients’ “unreasonable” positions. That was Cromwell – blamed for everything even when much of it stemmed from Henry. Consider what kind of leader you follow. Cromwell chose someone evil and ended up doing evil things.

GL: These recent scandals [cited above] were made much worse by poor leadership communication. Are there any lessons there from the Cromwell/Henry VIII partnership?

JW: Both were masters of public perception.

Henry cloaked his actions in altruism. If you asked him, he would say that he left Catherine because he needed a son (not because he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn); he closed the abbeys because of the corruption (not because he would gain the wealth); he left Anne because she had committed treason (not because he was tired of her). That didn’t always fool the people around him – but it was more convincing from afar.

Cromwell’s strategies satisfied the King’s desires without appearing to offend the morality of the day. He went to great lengths to keep to the letter of the law with Anne’s execution – even giving her a trial presided over by her uncle – so that no one would notice it was a house of cards.

Obviously, these are not virtuous qualities to aspire to. But to your point about our current scandals, perception matters.

That’s the perfect note to end on, because it brings us to what we need more of from leaders: authenticity. I’m actually encouraged by how loudly we make our voices heard today when we see the opposite from our leaders.

Keep demanding authenticity and the courage that goes with it.