Thursday, April 30, 2015

Open Letter to CEOs: Manage Your Interaction With Your Board!

Posted in Inc today

So you're the new CEO of your own company. You're living the dream! You've thought through the pros and cons of being a CEO and you've got your first round of venture capital funding.

This means you also have a board to manage, which can be a minefield for you. So how to navigate the minefield? To begin, you must create a well-organized board meeting. Use my Top 10 tips to run a board meeting as a starting point but once you have the logistics down, it's all about your behavior and leadership in the room.

One of the most common mistakes I see with new CEOs is thinking they need the board's approval. You don't. Your job is to figure out the strategy, what to do and to make good decisions so that your company grows. A board's job is to support and advise you. Sometimes board members get confused about this and they will believe that they are there to make decisions; however, beyond hiring a new CEO or deciding whether to put more money in, they don't have that power. If you take their advice and it's wrong, they'll still fire you, so the decisions, ultimately, lie with you.

The board needs you because you are the leader, the one who hired your team, the one who holds the strategy and the one with the customer relationships, so replacing you is a major risk for the company (not to mention a major time sink for the board members). The board will judge you on the quality of your decisions, whether or not you follow their advice. If the board loses confidence in you then they will replace you, but up until that moment you are in the driver's seat and they are there to help you. This is not permission to be arrogant or disrespectful, but understanding this dynamic will help you be a better, more confident CEO. What you need most of all is to gather all of the input and perspective you can from your board, but not decisions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself to ensure your behavior in your board meeting maximizes the result:

1. Are you unconsciously seeking your board's approval? For example, what do you say when an investor tells you to do something that you believe is wrong? If you are seeking their approval, you will probably validate the idea "that's a great idea," but if you are seeking input, then you'll acknowledge the idea instead by a comment such as "thank you for your input, let me think about it." Develop a stable of respectful responses that tell your board that you heard them, it's good input, but you'll still need to decide.

2. If you are female--is your behavior serious enough? If you giggle, fidget, run your hand through your hair or exhibit any of the "girlish" characteristics, you will be judged and taken less seriously. Unfair, but true. So learn to sit still, don't fidget, lean forward, take notes (but in a considered way), lower your voice and dress carefully. Imagine how a strong male CEO whom you respect would sit in the meeting- are you conveying the same level of gravitas?

3. Where do you sit? Don't sit at the front of the room, eagerly presenting all the slides to your teachers. Sit in the middle, or at the head of the table, and host your staff as they present their materials. Sit yourself between the power players, not in service to them.

4. What is your communication between meetings? Again, you are running the company and while some level of update is appropriate between meetings, a running commentary is not. Think about what impression you want to create. The more you communicate the details, the more you invite your board to weigh in with their opinions. Be thoughtful about what, and when, you communicate. You want to be thorough, but that is why there is a board packet. Assume your board members can read.

5. Have you properly prepped your team? It's worth having a prep meeting with your team to talk through the agenda and what you want to get out of the meeting. Manage their presentations to be crisp and brief (three slides is a good rule of thumb). Use their time wisely and excuse them before the long debates begin, because they have real work to do.

Your board is there to help you. They are not your friends or your teachers. They are investors and representatives of the shareholders who only want you to maximize their return. Up until the time that your company is profitable and/or public, you need their support. Always keep in mind, you are running the company, not the board. It's worth remembering that in 99 percent of the cases, the board needs you to lead the company more than you need them. If that is not the case for you, then you may be in the wrong job.

Respectfully remember that up until the minute they fire you, your board needs you more than you need them. Remind yourself of this and you will keep your head in the right place during board meetings.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The oldest profession in the world is alive and well in Silicon Valley

Of course we've all been agog at the Ellen Pao trial. Silicon Valley loves nothing more than to talk about itself. The self-obsession goes hand in hand with ego, intellect and ambition.

But an unexpected side effect of the discussion of the blow-by-blow of the trial is now, for a while, everyone will be looking for covert sexism. And nowhere better to find it than cougar night at the Rosewood hotel in Menlo Park.

This is not a new phenomenon. I blogged about it in 2011 after spending an amused Thursday evening there people watching. Even back then the VC, wanna-be, hooker dynamic was in full force.

Now, it's out in the mainstream press. New York Magazine no less, reported on "Where Silicon Valley Looks for Love in the Era of Ellen Pao". The crowd in question at the Madera bar, sitting outside in the fading sun and rising moon, is a mix of older (white and Asian) men, older women, younger women, and, just sometimes, ordinary people wanting a cocktail with a friend.

And this latter case is how I usually observe "Cougar Night". The Rosewood is on my way home. It's the only high quality bar on the 280 corridor (indicating a market opportunity I suspect). It has very good bartenders who can make a mean Basil Grey Goose Martini (except on Thursdays when they take it off the menu because it takes too long to make - so you have to know to ask for it). And by Thursday I am often in the mood to relax, meet a friend and have a martini on my way home.

It was one such Thursday a few months ago that I saw just how efficient the scene is at the Rosewood. Three middle aged men (one white, two Asian) sitting in one of the large outside booths. The waiter comes up and introduces them to three women who were about 30. Each had long hair, each had a skirt that would not have made it past the nuns at my middle school (i.e. only an inch or two below the crotch) and two had plenty of back skin showing. Initially they sit together, but within 5 minutes they had moved around so they were each paired with one of the men. It was like a dance. The toss of the hair, the hand on the thigh, the eye contact.

I watched in admiration. The oldest profession is alive and well preying on the equity-rich customers who are hoping to not only benefit from the greatest wealth creation of our time, but also find some love at the same time.

My friend chastised me when I said I wanted to take photos to document the dance. She was sure we'd get thrown out and not be allowed back, and the location is just too convenient for us to blot our copy book with the management. So I behaved (unlike the time she and I were asked to leave a restaurant in Rome for being too noisy) but watched in fascination and amusement. The girls were good!

Rest assured, dear reader, Silicon Valley may seem like a dry, stuffy place filled with male nerds, but it's not. There are actually plenty of interesting, professional tech women hanging out in the Rosewood on Thursday nights (because, after all, the drinks are good), but they're the ones smiling, watching the dance.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Monday morning thinking ritual: Swim a mile!

Love that John Brandon apologized for profiling the Monday morning rituals of only tech men, and then wrote about the morning rituals of 8 women tech leaders here! Pleased to be #7...

7. Swim to think:

"Monday morning I am recharged and ready to go. Up early, grind the beans, and make a French press of Illy coffee while talking with our dogs and checking my email. Then, I drive to a dawn swim for 45 mins. Swimming outside (all year round in California) and watching the sun come up as I swim makes me see the world as new and full of possibilities. And I do some of my best thinking doing laps. Quick shower, into the office, and I'm pumped to talk with my staff about the challenges of the week."--Penny Herscher, president and CEO at FirstRain

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

5 Pros and Cons of Being CEO of Your Company

Posted in Inc

Being in the role of CEO can be terrific. You're it. You've gained the power to put your brilliant idea into practice. You're synonymous with the company for your customers, your employees and your investors. Your family is proud of you. You feel like the sky's the limit.

And yet, the role is a double-edged sword. If your company is a big public company, you can possibly be looking at $10, $20, $30M+ a year. Or very easily get fired. If it's one of the handful of $1B unicorns coming out of Silicon Valley, then this time around it's likely more money than you ever dreamed of. But for most CEOs, the truth is not in the extremes. It's in the middle.

So before you decide to be the CEO of the company you want to create, here are a few Pros and Cons to consider first:

1. Pro: You decide the strategy and what's important. When you are CEO you are ultimately responsible for the strategy: What to build? How to get to market? Where to focus? You get to put your ideas into action and test if they work. Then, when they do succeed, the sense of satisfaction is unbeatable. If you are the technical founder, and command the respect of those people around you, you also won't have to hear much disagreement. People are following you because they believe in your vision and your strategy.

Con: You'll work harder than you have ever worked in your life. It's true not all CEOs are working on overdrive but when you're trying to get a company off the ground, there are always more mission critical things you need to do that require more hours than there are in the actual day. Look forward to the necessary red-eye flight you need to take to close a deal. The time pressure will seem worse than your college finals did and prepare for this pace to go on for years. Keeping physically fit with exercise will become a requirement just to survive the exhausting workload.

2. Pro: It's an ego trip. It's hard to be CEO unless you have a serious ego. Not that you have to be a jerk, but exuding confidence will ensure that people can look to you to lead them. In that sense, then yes, it's an ego trip. Which means that, if you are already seriously thinking of becoming the CEO of your startup, then you probably have that necessary ego to both embrace and enjoy it.

Con: You'll be lonelier than you've ever been in your life. That cliche "the buck stops with you" is absolutely true when you are CEO. There is no one to turn to if you have to make a hard decision. Your board is there to give you advice, but they are not going to tell you what to do. Your team is there to provide counsel and debate with you but in the end, they'll look to you to make the difficult decisions. And there's no one you can talk to. It's unfair to burden your friends and family with these work related stresses. It's you and the wall (or in my case the dog) talking it out sometimes.

3. Pro: You get to hire your team. When you are CEO you get to hand pick your team. You choose the structure of the organization, and hand pick the key people you want to build the company with. You choose the skills, the personality, the experience--and they will seem to become as close to you as your family. Building teams is a wonderful experience--and the best trait of a successful company comes down to the talent.

Con: You're the one who has to let people go. It's hard to consistently hire great talent which means sometimes you'll make mistakes. You'll hire a VP of Sales who looks and sounds good, but can't build out a team themselves (think of Yahoo's spectacular failure recently hiring and then firing of Henrique de Castro). There may also be a time when you may really like an employee but who struggles to consistently perform. When you are the CEO there is no ducking the responsibility of firing the people who have to go, and striving to do it with respect and kindness is an art form.

4. Pro: Customers rely on you to solve their problems. Most great ideas come from trying to solve a problem for someone. In the enterprise world, you're most likely solving a business problem for another company. You could be putting a critical process in the cloud, so it's more cost effective, or automating a solution for a time consuming technology problem. It's a rewarding feeling to know you helped customer's solve problems and improve their overall business--and of course make money for both of you in the end.

Con: Customers can jerk you around. A former CEO of a software company with $1B in revenue once told me he quit, in the end, because of some of his customers. They'd hold deals until the last day of the quarter, and then force him to drive the price down to get the deal done. After 10 years of building his company and providing solutions for countless customers, he was overwhelmed with the lack of respect his customer's gave to his business. As you'll find, this is not always the case and there will be times you are providing value to your customer but professional patience and just 'sucking it up' will still be required.

5. Pro: You set the culture for your company. Many people spend 8-10 hours a day at work. And all this time should be joyful. Why work for a company, if the culture is not enjoyable? So as CEO, one of the most important responsibilities you have is to set the right culture of the company with the actions you do every day and not just what you say. Great CEOs, like Reed Hastings of Netflix, make this the centerpiece of their leadership. They focus on the areas they believe create a successful company and a positive environment to work, which in turn assists in better recruitment, and increasing their impact with the community.

Con: It's your company. Well, is that a pro, or a con? You'll find it depends on the day. Some days you're so proud of the solutions your team provides that you could burst. But this will not be every day, definitely not every day.

So, if you want to be the CEO of your company then brace yourself. It's a wonderful experience, and can be a thrilling ride, but it's a roller coaster with many ups and downs. If you get them alone, even the greatest CEOs will tell you that.

Monday, January 12, 2015

5 Ways Trust Impacts Your Productivity In The Office

Published in Inc January 8, 2015


So you want to create something fabulous and new. You want to innovate and create a breakthrough no one has thought of before. Well, you probably have a list of ingredients you need: a few computers, some smart people, project funding... but there is one critical ingredient you need which can't be measured but will have a huge impact on your success. That ingredient is Trust.

Trust allows your team to move fast, fail fast and create. It's a simple but true fact so often neglected inside companies. Two simple issues that can be an advantage in a culture of trust and a huge liability in a culture of politics and mistrust: 1) how long it takes to make a decision 2) the quality and stickiness of the decision.

1. In Development. Think about agile development for example. One of the 12 key principles to be mindful of is, "Build projects around motivated individuals. Give them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job done". If managers don't trust the technical team to get it right they will slow down the development process and inject themselves into decisions that need to be made by the engineers, often resulting is lower quality decisions, or decisions that get made and then unmade. Begin by hiring great people and most importantly trust them.

2. In Planning. How often do executives posture in the annual financial planning process and ask for more resources than they need, on the premise it's a political negotiation? Blustering, ego-driven demands! If, instead, you have a team who truly trust each other then the dynamic will be quite different. Team members will have the freedom to advocate for projects and priorities, regardless of who gets the resources to get the project done. Too many times I've seen people equate headcount and budget with success--but in a trust based environment the focus is on the team's end result, regardless of where each person sits in the organization.

3. In Hiring. As your team beings to grow, the talent you hire will have the single greatest impact on your potential for success. The hiring decision needs to be open, transparent and filled with honest assessment -setting up an initial hiring process that counts on trust. An example of this process can include: a hiring manager assigns an interviewing team, everyone meets the candidate and then the team assembles for a "round table." At the round table everyone is required to express their opinions is an open, constructive way, but maintaining the premise that all input is OK, both good and bad. The process moves more efficiently towards productive results due to trust from the hiring manager truly wanting the team's input, and that the team working towards getting the manager to the best decision. Without trust, you see posturing, cronyism and manipulation of the process. Unfortunately, I've worked in companies where senior executives bring in friends with no interviewing process whatsoever. Now that's a recipe for others to trust--not!

4. In Time. While running a young, growing company or a highly innovative team you will most likely be making hundreds of decisions a day. Risky decisions with limited input. And truthfully you know you won't get them all right (although you do have to get the majority right). If you are working with a team who you trust, and who trust you, you can move that decision process quicker. You can be transparent, share your thought process and quickly poll for advice. When you make a mistake, your team has your back. In a political environment where information is power, decisions take much longer because it's not shared so openly. In a nutshell, trust allows a team to identify problems quickly and without fear--no baggage, no personal positioning. It's incredibly efficient.
Trust takes time to build, which is why people who work well together often stay together from company to company.

5. In Fun. Unless you are a master manipulator and play office politics for sport, teams that trust one another are just more fun to work in. Having that professional comfort allows for more laughter, more shared wins and more support when the going is tough. Given how much time you are going to spend working with one another, why not invest the time and effort to build trust so that work is fun?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Venture Capital Is Not All Equal

My first bi-weekly column in Inc today!


Like people, VCs come in all styles, so here are 5 characteristics to consider as you interview potential investors.


If you want to raise venture capital to fund your new company and your great idea, plan out your vetting process first, because all VCs are not the same. Some are really helpful, but some are horrible and damaging to your company.

1. Pick someone who has the same Vision and Values as you. You are (hopefully) in your venture because you believe you can change the world (if you are doing it to get rich, stop now, because you don't get rich in the startup world by trying to get rich, you get rich by building something) and it's very important your investors want you to change the world too. There are many tough moments of truth when building a company, and none more so than when you get an offer for your company before you think you are ready--before you have built the strategy and value that you believe is possible. That moment is when you find out whether your investor truly shared your vision on how to change the world or was just telling you she did.

2. Pick a partner who can do heavy lifting for you when you need it. Great venture partnerships have a rich, deep network to help you recruit, develop partnerships, find initial customers, manage sticky HR issues and even find office space. Andreessen Horowitz are changing the game with the amount of help they give their ventures. They have teams of people to help you: recruiters, sales people, marketing people and they'll get you started with office space. Ben Horowitz' book, "The Hard Thing About Hard Things," is packed with advice on building a company and is a good example of the type of advice you can get from a great VC who's built their own company in the past.

3. Avoid the money-based VC who's motivated by running a portfolio--often former investment bankers. Find someone who walks the talk and truly builds great companies. If you can, find a VC who has been doing it for more than 10 years and who has a great track record--and interview their CEOs--or find one who's been a CEO, built a good company and taken it public. When you work with someone from a leading firm like Benchmark, Oak, Sutter Hill, Sequoia, Greylock or the new kids on the block, Andreessen Horowitz (and they've been a CEO or a VC for many years), you get access to a level of wisdom and advice that you simply won't get from the a small firm with relatively inexperienced investors.

4. Don't get greedy. Yes, valuation and how much of your company you need to give away is important. But it is just as important that you get great advice and that your management team and employees make money too when you are successful. If you get greedy and aim for the highest valuation, a couple of bad things can happen. First, you can end up with investors who don't have the experience you need (one of my friends has a Saudi Prince as an investor--very difficult to get alignment on strategy), but second, you can find yourself in a situation with such a high preference and threshold valuation on your company that unless you are the next Facebook, only your investors will make money when you sell (and maybe not even them). There are many hot startups in San Francisco today who will face this problem when they try to get to liquidity. A great VC will coach you through this and not be greedy either.

5. Pick someone you enjoy being with. Building a company is an intense, emotional experience. Most companies take many years to mature and if you are going to meet with your board every month for 5 years, and at dinners and strategy discussions in between, it certainly makes the journey more fun if you enjoy interacting with them.

Of course, in the end, you do need to get funded and you may need to take what you can get, but if you have the chance to be selective, the right investor is more important than the highest valuation because you'll build a better company and change the world (and make more money for you, your team and your investors along the way).



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Christmas Book Recommendation: From the Holy Mountain

Asked for a recommendation for bizjournals.com holiday book guide I sent in:

"From the Holy Mountain: A Journey Among the Christians of the Middle East" by William Dalrymple

Recommended by: Penny Herscher, president and chief executive of FirstRain.

Why it's a must-read:"William Dalrymple's evocative descriptions of his journey give a profound context for the rapid changes happening in the Middle East today. This area was the cradle and center of Orthodox Christianity for the last 1,700 years, and it changed little for most of that time until the dramatic political shifts of the last few decades. The growing intolerance between religions in the region is destroying Christian communities that have lasted more than a thousand years. This book, combined with the recent news coming out of Syria, deeply changed my thinking about the cultural loss and tragedy occurring in the Levant today."

Glad to see some of my other favorite books like The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, and Stiletto Network by my friend Pam Ryckman are also on the list!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

It's All About Me! at Defrag 2014

Broomfield, CO - on a cold morning in November... I was invited to be a keynote speaker at Defrag 2014 which is a terrific conference of interesting ideas, and even more interesting people.

Personalization is such a key aspect of creating a great experience for our users that I took the tack of total selfishness - It's All About Me! This is what creates the magic for our users. When FirstRain can ask you just a few questions, and then read your mind, it's an enchanting experience.

Here's my presentation:





Loved the tweet stream following my presentation - on Storify here:


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Best Mistake I Ever Made

Asked by a journalist the other day "what is the best mistake you ever made" I had to think for a moment. There are so many - where to begin!

But as I pondered the question, there is one decision I look back on and think "What was I thinking?"

I became CEO of a raw software startup at 36 when my children were 2 and 4 years old. My husband was working long hours running a small consulting business and I thought I had no limits. I could do anything, and I wanted to run my own company. I wanted to show that a woman could run a very technical software company in the semiconductor industry – where there were no women at the top at all. And I wanted to lead.

Six months in I felt I had made a terrible mistake. I was totally exhausted every single day. I barely had time to see my kids in the week and I had bronchitis month after month. I had 2 nannies working shifts, I gained weight and I would lie in bed awake every night wondering how I was going to survive, never mind win. I think my marriage only survived because we had already been married 15 years at that point and my husband is truly, authentically supportive of my career.

And yet… it was one of the best things I could have done, and I loved it. I loved being CEO, I loved building a company, a team and working with customers. I became fast friends with our nannies and my kids turned out just fine. They are confident, independent and have endless very funny stories about their crazy mother and the experiences they had because of my job. They traveled with me all over the world, they went into the office with me at a young age learning by watching and they have a strong work ethic as a result of the exposure they had. And we are close, very close.

So was it a mistake? Some days I think I took a huge risk assuming I could do it all and have it all. But when young women ask me about that decision as they think through their own I'm encouraging. Children are resilient, good men are supportive and while you can't have it all you can certainly have your fair share.

Image: Alamy

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Technology, Women and Equity at the 2014 Grace Hopper Conference

Guest post from YY Lee, my business partner and COO of FirstRain

I am proud of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing (@ghc) community this week for raising important issues and grappling with uncomfortable, difficult-to-solve questions.

I appreciate FirstRain’s own Penny Herscher (@pennyherscher) for putting herself out there to moderate the Male Allies Panel, despite the concerns going-in about how to constructively include that perspective.  The fiery reaction to that session raised the level of engagement around deep-seated systemic equity issues in our industry in a way that would not have been achieved otherwise.  And in Penny’s usual way — she engaged those issues head-on, in direct personal and online exchanges with the men & women, leadership & grassroots members of the community.


Satya Nadella’s wrong-headed comment the next morning  (as he has acknowledged), underscored the complacency and problems around gender-equity issues, even among the thoughtful and well-intentioned.  This forced the realization that this is not an simply an issue of perception, interpretation or over-reaction. But will require a real introspection and major change — even from colleagues and leaders who are confident they are already totally on-board and acting as allies for equity.


This was the near-perfect opportunity, timing and forum to examine the truth.  It is remarkable that even given the charged emotions around this,  the discussion started relatively politely, and besides excessive piling on, it remained safe — this in stark contrast to the ugly violent targeting has been simultaneously unfolding around GamerGate.  Which only further highlights the reality of the technology industry’s toxic differences in how men and women are treated.


It is too bad that before Nadella’s KarmaGate comment, he stated one of my favorite quotes of the whole conference — summing up why I’ve loved doing this work, nearly every day for over two decades: 

“[We work with] the most malleable of our resources, software… That’s the rich canvas that we get to shape… paint…”  -Satya Nadella

He nailed it.  He put his finger on that the one thing that probably links all the men and women in that event.  This is a deep-thinker who understands the heart of matters, which is what made his later comment so doubly surprising and disheartening.


I am encouraged to see the after-effects like Alan Eustace trying to do things differently.  And honest conversations with ABI executives about their awareness and struggle with the impossible balance of growing their reach and impact while containing the inevitable, unintended side effect of corporate co-opting.


To all of you “good guys who do care” — Satya, Alan, Mike Schroepfer, Blake Irving, Tayloe Stansbury — less patronizing talk is nice, listening is refreshing, but which of you and your companies is going to commit to results?


==> Here my question to all the “good guys” out there as well as my fellow female leaders:  Who is going to set and deliver specific targets for ratios of women and minorities that reflect the real population — in technical leadership by a specific date… 2016? 2017? Who is going to hack their orgs & companies to solve this problem, rather than running feel-good, look-good “programs”?

The Grace Hopper Celebration is an inspiring, important and high-quality gathering in an industry that is littered with mediocre PR-flogging events.  

  • The technical and career presentations are given by presenters who truly care about their audience and strive to offer a valuable, nutritious exchanges — not just advance some commercial agenda.
  • The leaders remind us of how our work is linked to important broader social dynamics outside of our privileged community. The ABI exec responsible for this conference, introduced the eye-opening Male Allies Panel with a personal reminder about about how social change is about connecting across communities:

“The Asian community owes a lot to the black community. They opened a lot of doors for us [in the fight for equality].” -Barb Gee

  • From early mornings until late into the night, it was a surround-sound ocean of substantive discussions between old friends, colleagues and strangers about leading-edge technical work, honest and vulnerable personal experiences, deep examinations of culture, inclusiveness, safety, aspirations and disappointments.

  • There is a natural balance of empowering women create change in themselves and their environments. While calling out that real change is impossible without the corporations, managers and executives, and yes the men who make up 80% of our co-workers, to fully own making that change with us.

I’m not going to end this post with some rah-rah “just go get ’em girls!” trope. Because the women technologists are already out there — delivering effort, innovation and results at 120% while receiving 70%… 80%… (to be wildly optimistic) of the recognition and reward.

I will share just one final favorite conference quote, which is how this gathering makes me feel every time I attend:

"… at #GHC14… Just not enough space to desc. Wow. Much women. So much brain” -@michelesliger

It is our industry and companies that need to be fixed, not the women in it.

I have to believe it is becoming increasingly obvious to our leaders, managers and co-workers that under-valuing this incredibly intellectual resource is idiotic, bad business, and just plain wrong.

- YY Lee (@thisisyy), COO of FirstRain

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Don't Cat Call to Me - I'm Too Busy!

Really, what are you thinking?

I was walking to work this morning when a man in a car calls out to me "Hey Baby, what are you doing? Nice dress! Hey come over and talk to me. I'll give you a ride..." and more. I shake him off, try to ignore him, but he's rolling down his other window, leaning across, calling out what he obviously thinks are smart and endearing comments about my person.

It's ridiculous, and I am sure ineffective 99.9999% of the time, unless responding to calls like that was my business. Given how conservatively I typically dress, surely it's obvious I'm not going to respond?

I was raised to be polite, and when a man gets particularly aggressive I also don't feel safe, so I don't do what I would like to do which is walk over and give him a piece of my mind about how to treat total strangers on the street - and just how busy I am since it's a Wednesday morning, and I have a thousand things I have to deal with at the office - give me a break!

Given how annoying I find cat calls, this video on what the world could look like if women cat called men tickled my funny bone. Enjoy!



Sunday, September 28, 2014

Me in the New York Times: What Parents Can Teach A CEO

When the New York Times said they wanted to interview me for the CEO Corner I had a series of reactions:

"Wow - that's great!! Fantastic exposure for FirstRain!"

"OMG - what will I say? What if I sound like an idiot?"

"Help! What will I wear?"

Classic girl. Worried about what I'll wear and what other people will think. Yes, even 54 year old CEOs have the same thoughts you probably have if you are female. But in the end, I'm very pleased with the result... and I wore my favorite dress.

Penny Herscher of FirstRain: What Parents Can Teach a CEO

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why being "too aggressive" is a compliment for a leader

Much is being written right now about high performing men and women are described differently in reviews. Kimberly Weisul in Inc calls it an "insane double standard", and who wrote up the original survey in Fortune points out the old truth professional women know:

Jane - who is a strong female - gets the feedback to be less aggressive whereas Joe - who is a strong male - gets the feedback to be more patient.
In Kieran's survey a full 71% of women had negative feedback in their critical reviews, vs 2% of men. Why am I not surprised?

I've always been characterized as "too aggressive" and "too ambitious" in my reviews. From day one, until the day I became a CEO. Then the very same characteristics were praised - you are aggressive - that's great!

When I wanted to recruit a world class board member to my board and identified Larry Sonsini (who I did not know) my board said "you're being too aggressive, you'll never recruit him" - and then I did. When the IPO market shut down after the dot.com bust and I needed to get my company public many people said "it can't be done, you should just sell the company" - but I took it public in a very successful IPO in 2001 (with the help of Frank Quattrone and his CSFB banking team - Frank is very, very aggressive). When the financial market cratered in 2008/9 and we decided to pivot FirstRain to the enterprise it took every ounce of aggression and assertiveness to do it - and we did - with the result that FirstRain has significantly higher quality personal business analytics than anyone else because we cut our teeth on hedge fund managers.

For young women wanting to get ahead - especially if they want to be a GM or run their own company one day - I say be aggressive. Be a rebel. Stand up and be noticed - don't conform. As Cindy Gallop (an original rebel) says you can't change the world if you are worried about what other people think all the time.

And if you are a rebel, embrace it. There's an interesting section in Ben Horowitz' fantastic book The Hard Thing About Hard Things where he talks about When Smart People are Bad Employees. One such type is the Heratic - and two of the three examples he gives are indeed bad for your company. But one, the Rebel, may change the world for as he says "She is fundamentally a rebel. She will not be happy unless she is rebelling; this can be a deep personality trait. Sometimes these people actually make better CEOs than employee."

I recognized myself when I read that. I am sure I was tough to manage. I am sure I got heaps of critical feedback because I was aggressive, and ambitious, and challenged the status quo every day. But it is those same characteristics that make me a leader and a (reasonably competent) CEO. 

I did have to learn how to be kind with my strong personality though. Early on I was not always aware of the affect I had on other people. But once I figured that out then I let my aggressive personality blossom, and took care of the people who were following me.

So when someone tells you you are too aggressive and you need to tone it down smile and say "thank you" and keep going.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

5 Keys to Authentic Leadership

From a talk I gave at VMware in Palo Alto earlier this month

Leadership comes in many styles - charismatic, intellectual, bullying - but in all cases leadership is hard to sustain over time unless it is authentic. Real. Genuine. These 5 keys are from a woman's perspective, but most apply just as much to men.

1. Embrace making decisions. 

Not only embrace them, but have confidence in how you make decisions. I'm a fast, intuitive decision maker. I make a decision on minimal visible information and then use data to check my decision. This means I cannot be afraid to be wrong and change my decision, but I will make it in my head, whether I like it or not.

For a long time, I thought that my method of decision making was in some way bad. Shortcut, or lazy but not a studied, analysis based approach which is what "smart" people do. I doubted myself and did not feel authentic about my own decision making! Until I read the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell.

As I read Blink I gradually realized that I was not crazy, but my method of decision making is actually very human. We have evolved to make snap decisions on limited amounts of data - some visible to us, some not - and when you can tap into that skill and embrace it is an advantage! But you do need to keep one ear open and keep listening to additional information as it comes in so you can course correct if you need to.

Embrace your decisions and be real about your decision making process. Don't pretend otherwise - even if you've been taught it's not ladylike to be assertive. If it's your decision make it; if it's someone else's support them. Be direct.  It takes guts to make big decisions, but it's what leaders do.

2. Don't ask "whether", ask "when"

This is an area where men typically differ from women. There are many studies now that show that men will ask for promotion before they are ready, whereas women will wait until they are over qualified to put themselves forward for promotion. I believe, if you have a goal, it's really important that you communicate that goal out to your leadership confidently. Don't think about whether you'll get a promotion or a big opportunity, think about when you'll get it. Talk with your management about what you want, and ask for their help to get you there.

American Express used this understanding of how women wait to change the demographics at the top of their company. They won the ABI Top Company for Technical Women in 2012 and when Yvonne Schneider accepted the award she spoke of how AmEx proactively trained their male managers to reach down into the organization and ask women to apply for promotions, often before they would have done it naturally themselves. As a result, women moved up into management alongside of men, and the top of AmEx was changed. AmEx didn't ask whether, they asked when and reached down.

I knew I wanted to be a CEO after I had been working a few years. And being verbal, I talked about it with my network. With the coaches and VCs whom I was getting to know. And as a result I got told all the reasons I was not ready and the education and experience I needed to get to be ready. It was invaluable, and included my company Synopsys sending me to the Stanford Executive MBA to learn about finance and management (since all my formal training was in mathematics). Had I not spoken out about "when I'm a CEO" I would never have got the smack down and been told to learn about running a P&L first, which was the best advice I could have received at the time!

3. Learn to Act As If

You might think that learning to act is in contradiction to being authentic, but I find it's a part of the process. There are so many situations where I have had to learn to act as if I belong, even though I am the odd man out (so to speak). For many years I went to Japan every 4-6 weeks for business meetings with my customers. In 6 years I was never, ever in a meeting in Japan with another woman. The only women I met were tea ladies. And through that experience I learned to act like a man. I was treated as an honorary male. I learned to drink whiskey late at night in small Osaka bars, and eat food that was still moving, and most of all, never show traditional female traits. That made me effective, and over time my behavior became natural and authentic to me.

And just a few weeks ago I went to a dinner in Palo Alto for 100 CEOs and I was the only woman in the room. By now I've learned to "act as if". As if it's not odd being alone in a crowded room and relax. That allows me to be authentic in the moment.

4. Balance is a myth

I've written and spoken about this many times here and here. I spoke about it again at VMware. We're in a competitive industry. We're competing on a global scale. It's important to decide what matters to you at any point in time, and focus on that. Balance doesn't win intense market share fights or create dramatic innovation. 

And sometimes you just have to let go and be human. Like the time my son broke his arm on the last day of the quarter. This story always gets a laugh... because it's true!

5. Laughter is the best weapon

Gender discrimination is all around us, all the time. Some days I think it's getting better, some days when I see the games being played in the San Francisco tech startup world I think nothing's changed, but my approach remains the same: when it happens to you keep a sense of humor. It's hard for men to discriminate if you are humorous in your response, and it help you keep your head on straight and not get mad.

One day, when I was a CEO, I was at the beginning of a meeting with a group of investment bankers who did not yet know my company. We had not yet introduced ourselves and one of the group knocked over a diet Coke. Without missing a beat the banker turned to me and said "sweetie can you clean that up?" I smiled, went to kitchen for paper towel, came back, cleaned up, went and washed my hands, came back, reached out my hand to the banker and with a big smile said "Hello, my name is Penny, I am the CEO".

One evening, I was at a dinner with people I did not know, at a table of men. During dinner I felt a hand on my knee, creeping under my napkin suggestively. I leaned towards the man whose hand it was, gave him a big smile, lifted his hand up and put it back on his lap and said "no thankyou".

I have a thousand stories like that, and I have found humor defuses almost any situation. Especially if you are a leader in the group. If someone discriminates against you it is rare that it is overtly intentional. And if you can, try to work with men who have wives who work or daughters. Your humor will make them catch themselves and think about what they are doing.

In the end effective, authentic leadership is all about results. Being authentic means you are focused on the real, the now and reaching the end in mind. You don't get caught up in what people think about you - instead you try to be your most complete self in the moment - and so be effective.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why dating where you work is a dangerous sport

As the current fashion of writing about women in tech surges it's not surprising that tales of sexual harassment are emerging. Men in power, women climbing into power, money, ambition, attraction, alcohol - what could go wrong?

Consider today's latest - the suit being filed against Tinder. While the filing is by nature one sided it does appear one person dated another, things went bad and harsh words were spoken. It's a scene being acted out all over the world today (most relationships do break up after all) but this is one that's particularly ugly because one person works for the other, they're executives and it's public.

California law is known to be favorable to employees especially when it comes to harassment and protection of employee rights. In California, your employer is responsible to "take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment or discrimination from happening." Practically, what that means to many companies is once they have 50 employees, they run sexual harassment training for at least 2 hours, every 2 years. Online or in-person, a company needs to remind every employee of their responsibility to respect other employees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation etc. Simple, right?

Most people I have worked with in my career are very rational, responsible people. And yet, I have found the discussion, and the training, more necessary than I would have expected because of unintentional harassment rather than deliberate unpleasant behavior.

For example, don't date within your "cone of control." Don't date anyone within your piece of the organization (which means if you are a CxO don't date at work). You have too much power. Whether you misbehave - positively favoring or negatively retaliating - or you don't, there is too much risk for you and the company. HR or your CEO should step in and remove the risk. If you find the love of your life in your organization, put your relationship first and ask your love to move to another organization far away from your professional scope of influence. And if you're married and having an affair at work, it's especially ugly if your lover is within your organization, and everyone knows it, so for heavens sake either don't do it or make sure absolutely no one knows. I watched one of those trains wrecks close up and wreck doesn't begin to describe the damage done.

A second example: always pay attention to what you say. If you're a manager the people around you are listening to what you say. They'll even emulate you if they admire you. Especially sales guys when they are fueled up and winning. So making sexual innuendos and jokes is going to offend someone soon enough. Keep it for your friends outside work. I try hard to not say anything I wouldn't have said in front of my mother. It's a good guideline for me, although one I do fail at sometimes.

Or don't touch your coworkers. Even if in your culture it's ok to touch someone on the arm as you talk with them, or lean on their shoulder. For many people (like the English) touching in public is uncomfortable—and open to misinterpretation. Having been felt up by men in the office earlier in my career (before I was so fierce) I can tell you the "I was only joking" line doesn't wash when someone has made you feel physically uncomfortable. Save touching for your family and close friends.

...all conversations I have had with my managers at some point (though not all at FirstRain)...

But we're all human and make mistakes (yes, everyone does) and training helps because it's a good reminder of what's ok and what's not. So while mistakes will happen, you can ensure they won't be from ignorance of what's OK in the workplace. They'll be from insensitivity, or poor management oversight or maybe even deliberate.

But whichever way mistakes happen, the company is responsible to do everything it can to prevent them, which in most well-run companies means putting some distance rules around dating at work.

Photo: http://uncorneredmarket.com/tandem-bungy-jump-valentines-day-video/

Sunday, June 8, 2014

How Women in Business Are Moving Forward

Guest post from Sarah Sherwood

“Don’t be a woman in drag,” went the article. “Act like a lady,” was the advice.  In my 20+ years as a publicist I have seen this kind of counsel hurt women both personally and professionally.  The truth is that women have been transcending this kind of advice since we have worked outside the home, which is as long as men have been working, actually.  We’re acting as if women just walked into the boardroom and they can’t figure it out, when working is what women have been doing for many, many years. It’s mildly annoying to be told how to be, how to act, or how to go through any “how-to-be” training program.

At American University, where I studied public communication, there were basically two different camps in communications theory, a.k.a. preparing clients for how to be, in public.  One group believed that public communicators must tightly control the client and then manage closely, moving them with the script.  People in politics tend to follow this formula.

The other group believed more in authenticity, arguing that you can damage their communications with too much control.  This group of communicators give their clients a few perimeters based on their goals and work with the client’s own style to bring out what they want to say. This makes some communication professionals nervous.  What it does is force them to sign good clients who have positive intentions.

I’ve been in the later camp since I left graduate school, but even more now.  This is what we women need to do:  lovingly, and without worry, self-police ourselves.  Speak up, yes, and speak authentically. People can see right through the kind of personal positioning that Penny refers to in her post because the words you choose are insignificant compared to the tone you use, which come from your beliefs.  When you come from what you believe you’re always more powerful.  This is what I tell women.

Successful women have figured out that to solve problems, we need to first prioritize, hire what we need, work hard and be who we are.  That’s it.  These women are taking time out to raise their children, or looking for good quality childcare.  They are having long talks with their husbands and their bosses.  They are concerned about quality relationships in and out of the office.  And they are making it work. They always have.

From my perspective, it is easy to see that people everywhere are oversold.  They see through the B.S. and yearn for a quieter place.  What do they want besides an efficient solution to their problem?  They want honesty-- basically a friend in business.  How many companies have this kind of relationship with their public?  I applaud those who do.

So please stop telling us how to behave.  We moved on a long time ago, figuring out that it is much better and much easier just to be us.

Sarah Sherwood is a publicist in the San Francisco Bay Area and the former executive director of Silicon Valley Women in Business.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

How Smith College Turned Christine Lagarde's Cancellation Into a Win for Women's Voices

Ruth Simmons gave a brilliant, beautiful and moving commencement address at Smith College, MA on Sunday. Emotional to be back at Smith where she was previously president, she spoke to the students about free speech, about the importance of "tak[ing] good care of your voice" and the power of the opinions of people who disagree with you.

Her perspective is one of a child growing up in the South: "My coming of age was marred by the wide acceptance of the violent suppression of speech," she said. "No forums of open expression existed for me in the Jim Crow south of my early youth. Once you have tasted the bitterness and brutality of being silenced in this way, it is easy to recognize the danger of undermining free speech."

But what made her speech so perfect for that day was a disappointing event that had happened earlier. A small group of Smith students (less than 500) signed a petition objecting to Christine Lagarde as their commencement speaker because of objections to the policies of the IMF. Christine is the first female leader of the IMF, and a powerful role model of how a woman can change the world, so perfect for Smith College but, given the controversy, she withdrew, as Condoleeza Rice had withdrawn from giving the commencement address at Rutgers a few weeks earlier.

So Ruth spoke about the importance of allowing, and hearing, opposing points of view. How when you speak out, and someone disagrees with you, and then you stand up your voice is stronger. How disagreement is a key part of learning, and freedom, and something we must all protect. And so, how it was limiting free speech to reject Christine Lagarde. The Smith faculty agreed in a HuffPost article and Smith's president, Kathy McCartney, told the students "Those who objected will be satisfied that their activism has had a desired effect. But at what cost to Smith College?"

It is still so new that we, as women, have a strong voice. It needs to be heard and not suppressed, no matter how much we may disagree with some of the voices. The movement to suppress women's voices is alive and strong. In radical Islam in Nigeria, in attacks on Hillary Clinton (she'll be a grandmother -- she can't be president), in the relentless drive to reverse our rights to our own bodies.

Nora Ephron spoke so eloquently about this in her commencement address at Wellesley in 1996 (as Jessica Goldstein reminds us here). Every attack on our path to leadership, and our voices, is an attack on women's progress to equality. To reach the goal of equal opportunity regardless of our gender (or color, or sexual orientation) we must all vigorously pursue equal pay (Jill Abramson stood up and was fired), equal seats at corporate decision making bodies (less than 17 percent of board seats are held by women in the U.S.), equal representation in our governments (still only 20 percent of the U.S. senate and 18 percent of the house are women).

We have a long way to go. But Ruth Simmons strengthened Christine Lagarde's voice on Sunday by reminding the audience of parents (me included), students and faculty, with clarity and passion, that we must speak, and protect our right to speak, and just as importantly protect the right of those who disagree with us to speak, so we can move forward to a world of learning and equality of opportunity.
 
Posted on the Huffington Post earlier today

Do all CMOs have to be data geeks now?

Written by me in the The Economist Group today

Few would argue against data’s importance in marketing today. Data is essential to every marketing decision now, and the techniques used to transform that data into actionable market insight can make or break a company.


DataCMO Given this, some data-intensive companies now require their CMOs to have a background in data science—but will we get to a point where all CMOs and senior marketing leaders have to have a background in data science? Or will tools continue to emerge that will help marketing leaders better interact with big data and enable them to make strategic decisions?

As the Internet and sheer amount of available data expand, companies are rushing to take advantage of it—but they are finding themselves overwhelmed, and many marketing organizations are reacting by hiring data scientists. In fact, data scientists are in such high demand that a recent McKinsey study found that there would be a deficit of up to 190,000 data scientists in the U.S. alone by 2018.

Because so many marketing decisions are data-driven these days, having someone adept at finding relationships, identifying anomalies and making predictions based on data can be key to an effective go-to-market strategy.  CMOs absolutely need to understand how to interpret data. To quote a column by Computerworld Executive Editor Julia King, “Data science is all about predicting the future.”
The particular responsibility of choosing and driving strategy based on where the market is headed lies with the CMO. But if the CMO arms herself and her team with the right tools, she doesn’t need to be a data scientist—and she doesn’t have to fill her bench with data scientists, either.

Senior leaders will find more and more that cloud-based apps—like emerging personal business analytics and marketing automation solutions—will become their go-to tools to solve their big data overload problems. These solutions will allow the business user to make better real-time decisions, helping them to embrace not just analysis, but also synthesis of the data.

Solutions whose analytics are easily embeddable into existing platforms and apps, and which provide clear visualization and collaboration tools, will ultimately help leaders strategically grow their businesses without requiring a team of onsite data scientists.  By choosing the right solutions, CMOs can save themselves the headache of searching for a team of data scientists, but reap the same benefits quickly and economically.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

How Your CEO Is Part of Your Brand Marketing Whether You Like It or Not

Posted in the Huffington Post earlier today

We're living in a transparent world today. Everything your write or share online is public and you cannot hide. Anything you say outside (or in) the privacy of your home can be recorded. Anything you do can be video taped and posted on YouTube.

But somehow executives can forget this--and more now than ever before the CEO is indistinguishable from the brand of the company. If the recent uproar over the Clippers' Donald Sterling, Mozilla's Brendan Eich and RadiumOne's Gurbaksh Chahal has taught us anything (besides that it doesn't pay to be hateful or beat up your girlfriend), it's that, in this age of social media, the world sees the CEO as a key element of the brand, with the associated advantage and liability.

In a recent article about Target's dismissal of it's CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, writer George Bradt wrote that "any of you doubting the importance of your brand in this age of complete transparency should take a look at what's going on at Target... Steinhafel has not done the job he needed to do as brand steward." Unlike the CEOs I previously mentioned, Steinhafel's personal beliefs or actions didn't cause a scandal--but his point that the CEO is the "brand steward" resonates across every industry. Starbucks' Howard Schultz and Zappos' Tony Hsieh pioneered this to the positive as social media first emerged.

Companies need to differentiate themselves from their competitors and establish their brand as representing something special. In tech, where innovation and brainpower are the driving currency, companies and their CEOs work hard to establish themselves as thought leaders on the industry they are serving. This means that the CEO has become hyper-visible; he tweets, goes on TV, writes blogs, posts on Facebook and speaks at events. While that is certainly by design, hyper-visibility curries a public fascination with all aspects of their lives -- just look at celebrities. And with this "age of complete transparency" being what it is, anything, whether a recorded off-color remark or a campaign donation, can be shared and seen by millions in a matter of hours.

So what does that mean for your company's CEO? Even though the argument rages on about whether it's right that her private life should have any effect on her qualifications in business, it is abundantly clear that it does make a difference to the brand. The new CEO may have a successful business history and a visionary mind, but if customers mistrust her, they will be less likely to use the products, or do business with the company -- and sales will fall.

But in contrast to the CEOs whose actions and exposure hurt the company, some CEOs are harnessing the power of their pulpit to be a force for good, and strengthen the brand of their company at the same time. In the midst of the social unrest in San Francisco, brought about by tech boom and subsequent rapid increase in rent (and evictions), Marc Benioff has been leading San Francisco tech companies to donate $10 million to SF Gives and help fight poverty in the city by the Bay--and in doing so he has reminded the world of the strong role philanthropy plays in Salesforce's culture and brand.

So good or bad, whether we think it's fair or not, our new world of 24/7 transparency and social media has thrust CEOs into the public eye and made them an integral part of their company's brand. Their actions, their political beliefs, and if they are even slightly careless, their behaviors in their private lives, have consequences for their business. Something every brand manager, and CEO, must remember.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Would you be intimidated being alone in a crowded room?

Imagine you are a successful business professional. You are invited to many events after work to network, create useful contacts and learn about new areas impacting your work. You go to such an event one evening and, as you walk into the room, you quickly scan to see if there is anyone there like you. And event, after event, you are the only one of your kind in the room. There may be 100 people in the room and you are still the only one.


This is the experience of being a female CEO, or I suspect an African American CEO of either gender, in Silicon Valley.

This week I went to an evening event run by one of the top executive recruiting firms on Developing Business in China. I walked into the cocktail reception, scanned the room, and saw no women, not even a waitress. As I sat down for dinner at a table of white men (all charming) the dinner guest to my left asked me "Don't you feel intimidated coming to a dinner like this since you are the only woman?" He noticed, and projected, and predicted intimidation. I just laughed and said "it's the norm for me, so no" - and proceeded to have a delightful evening.

A few months ago I went to a PE (private equity) reception for CEOs to meet the partners and each other (they were developing deal flow). Again I walked into the room of about 100 people and saw no women whatsoever, not even a waitress. Sometimes there will be a young woman on the desk handing out badges (most firms have good looking young women on the front desk), but rarely in the room with the players. That particular evening was a "Monday Night Football" cocktail party - huge screens and speakers, lots of alcohol, and so I worked the room and briskly left. Not my scene.

If you are a white male, can you imagine how you would feel if almost every time you went to a professional event for executives, investors and CEOs (of which you are one) you were the only man in the room. Or the only Caucasian in the room in a room of African Americans. How would you feel? Remember, you're not there for social reasons. You're there to be respected, engaged, treated as a professional equal. Could you?

How many times would you have to be put in that situation for you to become blind to it?

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Why Personal Positioning is Toxic in the Office

Which matters more - how you are personally positioned, or what you get done?


Sometimes popular wisdom would tell you personal positioning truly matters. Who you know, what they think about you, how much "face time" you get, are you networked... but while this strategy may be effective in some large or political companies, it's death in a fast moving, apolitical one.

I define politics in the office as any person, or behavior, that puts their personal interest in front of the company's interest. When you're growing fast, and making a thousand decisions every day, there simply is not room for people's self interest if it's not aligned with the company's. But the learned behaviors, from larger political organizations, still hang around with new employees until we stop them.

Behaviors like obfuscation of the details - let me make broad statements as if I know what I'm talking about to shut you down, but I don't actually have the details to solve the problem. Or CYA - let me tell you why the problem I am bringing to your attention is a result of something that happened before I had the job to solve it. Or the "Well everything's all effed up so I'm the hero for trying to fix it". Or the eye roll when describing someone else's problem. All behaviors designed to position the source as superior and not responsible for whatever problem you are tackling.

But in a rapidly moving company, I want my staff to be responsible. Even if it is effed up, and the fire was burning before you arrived. Personal positioning is just a waste of my time.

A customer is unhappy. Bring me specifics. This happened. I think the issue is A or B. I've formed a small team to get to the bottom of it. We'll tell you if/when you need to speak with the customer.

A release is late. Tell me what and why. This piece of code took longer than we expected to deliver, or that piece is unstable and we need two more weeks to test it. We'll come to you if we need more time or resource to solve it.

To the point, specific, centered on action and resolution.

And blame is simply not helpful. Things go wrong some times and individuals are to blame. But the time for blame (if there is ever a time) is after the problem has been solved and then in a post mortem. Bring the team that failed in a situation together and debug what went wrong - with no blame. That allows you to make sure it doesn't happen again.

I have a friend who, early on in his career, proudly called himself the vice president of personal positioning. He had it down to an art form. He was smart, articulate, good looking and senior management loved him. This served him well for a while. Then he came to work for me and I called him on his BS, repeatedly, until he figured out he was capped until he solved real problems. Because he's smart he stopped it, and is now an SVP at a large enterprise software company.

People who are repeatedly successful, across multiple companies, figure this out. They focus on action. On creating solutions, solving problems, helping others. Despite the number of blogs written that say you should manage your brand, and how you are perceived, the truth is power accumulates to the people who know what to do and how to get it done (See my post about Pfeffer's books on Power if you are not familiar with this concept). Not people with friends. Not people who know how to network. It accumulates to people who know what to do and how to get it done. Period.

So if you find yourself worrying about your personal positioning, yes, you're human, but put it aside and set about solving the problem you're faced with.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Feelin' Sorry for the Ladies

Guest post from Tom Bentley, board director at Rambus, Nanometrics and Cortina, former investment banker, and one who loves to stir it up!

In reaction to the "Ban Bossy" campaign write up in the WSJ:

Sheryl Sandberg must be their worst nightmare.  It's hard enough meeting the expectations for a Superwoman, having a wonderfully successful career, raising a passel of great kids, attending all the extra-curricular events that have blossomed in recent years, managing a wonderful home, and looking your best every day (how much time do you think Sheryl spends getting ready in the morning, compared to Mark Zuckerberg?).  Now they have Sheryl telling them that they're losers if they don't behave exactly as she tells them to.

This gets to pass for science these days: "Over the past 30 years," she (Joyce Benenson, a psychologist) writes, "I have come to believe that boys and girls differ in some of their basic interests and accordingly behave in different ways".  Who knew!?  The good news for women is that the world is moving their way, collaboration is becoming a far more powerful tool for success than competition.  The great success of American business results in substantial part from an evolution of management towards a more collaborative, less hierarchical style – flatter organizations and more empowerment at the group level.  Social media is the phenomenon driving the tech world these days.  Leading business schools have all moved towards group learning and team projects, and away from the traditional individualized classroom teaching.  We could look at this as the feminization of the economy, but then we have Sheryl telling us that girls need to become boys.

Not only has internal hierarchy been breaking down, but businesses behave much less like silos, now depending on lengthy and complex supply chains, collaboration with partners in all sorts of areas, great inventions coming from widely dispersed teams rather than the Einstein in the closet, etc.  Over the years, I watched the traditional autocratic tech founder/CEO's pass from the scene, to be replaced by professional managers whose ability to draw on the talents of the people under them was the overarching key to success.  Women should be rejoicing at this evolution, until Sheryl tells them to stop being afraid of being bossy, and to "lean in" until people get sick of them being so obnoxious.

Disclaimer: I am a victim of my own reality, my daughter is a psychologist, a field dominated by women.  She's married to an econ major who teaches math and coaches men's basketball, i.e., all male.  They have a great life, and I assume that my daughter has no idea who Sheryl Sandberg is.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A journey through time in Turkey

The cradle of so much Western history. We tripped over thousands of years of history just by walking down the street. Sleep was elusive because my imagination was on fire. The history pulsed under my feet and at the tips of my fingers.

First stop Istanbul. Founded as Byzantium in the 7th century BC, then re-imagined by Constantine the Great in 330AD, captured by Mehmet and the Ottomans in 1453 and now a glorious international city at the meeting point of Asia and Europe.

Constantine's city - surrounded by water and a powerful wall - that stood for 1,000 years as a bridge between Europe and Asia. Today it still acts as a buffer: a moderate secular state (for now) between radical Islam and the West. As it did from the beginning of Islam until the fall of Constantinople and the end of the Byzantine empire.

 

Justinian's Hagia Sophia - 537AD (minarets added later).
We were hunting Byzantine mosaics here and in Chora.

 

Glorying in the scale of Justinian's vision The largest building in the world for 1,000 years.

A humble 6th century AD cistern, filled with water to withstand siege for years, now a beauty in it's own right.

The Fort of Europe built by Mehmed the Conqueror in 4 months as part of his strategy to choke trade in the Bosphorus and take Constantinople. He was only 21 years old!


The Sultan Ahmed Mosque (the Blue Mosque) - 1616 AD - at sunset


In the Topkapi Palace Harem, stunned by the blue tiles in 300 rooms, thinking we'd have gone crazy with the political intrigue at the heart of the Ottoman empire.



Then down the Aegean coast hunting ancient Greek, New Roman (Byzantine), Medieval European and Ottoman history.


The temple of Zeus, Euromos - 2nd century BC


 

Ephesus - 2nd century AD. One of the 4 largest Roman cities in the world. They lived well here.


 

Ephesus - My kind of theatre! Beautiful location and large enough for serious entertainment.


 

One of the Seven Wonders of the World, the 6th century BC temple of Apollo at Didyma near Miletus. Hard to realize the scale in a photo.


 

The ruins of Miletus. A glorious 4,000 year old city, conquered by Alexander in 334 BC, turned into a bishopric with a castle by the Byzantine's in the 6th century, used by the Ottomans in the 14th century but finally abandoned when the harbour silted up.


 

The knights of St John's castle in Bodrum - build in 1400 to resist the Ottomans


Nice place to be sent if you lived in Medieval England! Kos and Greece in the distance.


Full circle in time. to the oldest shipwreck ever found - 1400 BC treasure on a ship carrying enough tin and copper to make bronze armor for 5,000 soldiers. A king's ship.


And of course, great food everywhere!

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