It’s a safe place, so you can do whatever you like in the locker room. We will have it out in there, because we don’t always agree, and that’s good because diversity makes us stronger. But when we leave the locker room, we leave as a team. A lot of that came from how my dad dealt with problems.
It’s about making yourself accessible by getting out there and having very natural conversations with all sorts of people. I’ll walk into one of our offices and chat for 10 minutes with the person at the front desk. I tend to learn more from them than I do from stuff that’s filtered through six layers of management by the time it gets to me.
What kinds of things were you involved in as a kid outside class?
I got into swimming at an early age. I was not a natural swimmer, but I worked really hard. I was always first in the pool and last out of the pool.
I swam probably more than I slept. It requires a certain discipline to swim at a state and national level. It gave me a sense of purpose, and it released a lot of energy.
And what about during your college years?
I was determined not to be a poor student, so I started a business. I figured that lawyers seem to have money and I wanted some of it, so I started selling word-processing systems to lawyers. I ran that business all through university. I did well. I was not a poor student.
Early leadership lessons?
I learned from my managers about what to do and what not to do. You see things that you think are ludicrous and you try not to do them yourself, and there are things that you see others do very successfully.
I will say that open communication — being very fair but deliberate, honest and genuine — is appreciated by people. If you try to perfume the pig or dress it up, or dance around an issue, you’re unlikely to have a very effective result.
People value honesty most of all. If you have to deliver a very candid message to someone, it’s best to approach the conversation as coaching them on how they can think about potentially doing it better.
But a lot of people go out of their way to avoid having difficult conversations.
People generally don’t like confrontation. I don’t view it as confrontation. I view feedback as a gift, and let’s have a conversation about other ways you can approach things.
Don’t tell them what’s really going wrong. Talk about other alternatives for dealing with the problem and try to tackle it that way. Then it’s not as confrontational.
What about recent leadership lessons?
I think a lot about my job as “seam stitching.” In a large corporation, people in each division tend to focus on what they’ve got to get done. But the real value inside a company is when we stitch the seams between each of those divisions and develop a strategy that everyone can get behind so we’re pointing in the same direction.
I also use a framework called the “three waves of innovation.” It’s a surfing analogy. Wave one is the wave you’re on at the moment, the current core business. Wave two is about looking at all the waves that are coming in and deciding which one to choose. That’s about growth.
And the third wave is what all great surfers do, which is to go home and pull the weather reports and figure out when the next big one is coming. In business, that’s pure invention and category creation.
How do you hire?
I look for raw intelligence. I don’t need a high I.Q., but I do need people to be street smart. And I look for fire in the belly. If you’re missing either of those two things, or if you don’t have them in abundance, things won’t work out well. Then I look for the ability to lead.
Often, I’ll learn about you in a conversation structured around your career. So I’ll get up and scribble on a whiteboard, and ask about all things you’ve done and learned. What’s been the biggest curveball you didn’t expect? How did you deal with it?
Then I’ll ask about what retirement looks like for them. Because I’m trying to understand what drives people. When you’re bouncing your grandkids on your knee, what do you want to tell them you did?
What career and life advice do you give to new college grads?
I will tell them to manage their own careers. The biggest mistake most people make is that they think career management is the job of your manager. It’s not. It’s your job, and you should spend as much time on that as you do about any other planning activity in your life.
And push yourself out of your comfort zone, because most people won’t do that.
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