Being an effective leader is about more than just managing people efficiently. Krister Ungerböck (unger-bahk) joins us today to talk about why being a leader is about changing the language you use. Krister is a keynote speaker, CEO Coach, and global expert in The Language of Leadership. Prior to retiring at age 42, Krister was the award-winning CEO of one of the largest family-owned software companies in the world. His expertise in the Language of Leadership is based upon his unique experience as a global CEO leading teams in three languages while observing and doing business with executives in over 40 countries, building businesses in six and living in three.
As a corporate keynote speaker, Krister is passionate about sharing the secrets that his team used to win 5 consecutive Top Workplace awards and achieve remarkable employee engagement levels of 99.3%. His upcoming book, The Language of Leadership: Words to Transform How We Lead, Live and Love, will launch on Bosses Day, Oct. 16
Are you in a leadership position, but often find yourself floundering, unsure of your role? Do people find you domineering or hard to work for? Krister sought to write a book to help you develop and embody a leadership style that isn’t only effective in the workplace, but in your personal relationships as well. A crucial element of effective leadership is the language you use.
Krister shares a story on this episode about a woman who stayed loyal to her company—despite the fact they forgot to pay her multiple times. Would your best employee stay if you were unable to pay them? Does your leadership elicit that kind of loyalty? You’ll want to listen as Krister and I discuss the language of requests and why it’s important to be a leader, not a manager.
Why do you think most people get promoted? It is usually because they have proven their expertise in whatever field they’re working in. They’re simply good at what they do. But does being an expert qualify you to be a good leader? Obviously, it’s a great quality to have, but Krister talks about why you do not want to lead from a place of expertise.
It puts you in a position where you are constantly required to give people answers. When you find yourself leading anywhere from 10-30 people, this is no longer a feasible option. There is not enough time in your day to constantly answer questions. Instead of giving answers, you want to equip your staff to be able to answer some of the tough questions and come to their own conclusions. Your goal as a leader is to attract and retain great people and build a company full of top-performers. You definitely want to listen to the full episode—Krister and I cover the key to employee engagement—you don’t want to miss it!
Effective leadership requires the ability to ask better questions to get better responses. One way Krister puts this into practice is asking permission to give someone feedback. He does this for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it gives the person the opportunity to be honest and state they’re not in the right headspace. Secondly, you want them to be engaged, interacting with you, and be moving towards a solution.
One of Krister’s favorite ways to phrase a question is “On a scale of 1-10 how open are you for feedback?” Or, “What do you think are the top 5 things you need to work on?” You need to ask a question to engage your employee that doesn’t elicit a simple yes or no answer. When someone answers with a number, it gives you the opportunity to follow up with “What can we do to make that seven a nine?” It’s a great tool for better engagement and communication.
I think many leaders struggle with the idea of emotional intelligence and leading from a place of vulnerability. But think about it—you are more connected to people when you actually like them. Being an empathetic leader allows you build deeper connections and creates a safe environment for your employees where they are not motivated by fear.
In this segment, Krister talks about how the phrases “to feel” or “I feel” have different connotations in different languages. Too often, in English, “I feel” is usually followed by “like” or “that” which takes a feeling and turns it into a thought. Doing so creates disconnect—and tends to make others defensive. The fear that ensures shuts down the creative part of the brain and you’ll quickly lose the ability to get them to problem solve.
So what should you do instead? Convey how you’re truly feeling. “This account is very important, and I am afraid we may lose them if we don’t meet this deadline.'' You want to convey that you’re not accusing them or laying blame, but wanting to work with them to reach a solution. This is just a brief part of everything we cover on this episode of Simple Leadership—listen to the whole episode with Krister for more details on effective leadership.
What does it take to up your game and improve your management skills? Do you need to read better books or get around the right environment? Here to help us dig in and understand some key aspects of an effective manger is, Jocelyn Goldfein.
Jocelyn is a technology executive and investor. She is the managing director and a general partner at venture capital firm Zetta Venture Partners. Previously she was a director of engineering at Facebook and vice president of engineering at VMware. Jocelyn is passionate about scaling products, teams, and companies, and she cares deeply about STEM education.
In our conversation, Jocelyn talks about the lessons she learned as a manager, how to create a positive work culture, advice for leaders, how to encourage diversity, and much more. You’ll want to listen closely to the helpful insights that Jocelyn has to share!
How do you go from zero management or leadership experience and expect to hit the ground running? The truth is - you can’t! Most people thrust into a sudden leadership role will struggle at first; no one is born with solid management skills. It is your responsibility to be flexible and learn as you go.
Unfortunately, in most situations, someone won’t come along and hold your hand, showing you exactly what you need to do. If you can find a mentor or a peer who has also been thrust into a new area of responsibility, then learn from them. Leadership is often lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.
Did you know that motivation is a manager’s secret superpower? It’s true! While some managers will try to dangle carrots or get their team members to perform with sticks, good managers will search for a deeper motivation. Remember, people are not systems or machines; they don’t always respond in predictable or logical ways.
If you want to improve your management skills, you need to focus on praise and encouragement. Don’t be so quick to jump to financial incentives - most people just need to feel like they are moving in a positive direction and accomplishing their goals.
What does a healthy culture in an organization look like? Does it all come down to putting the right words on the wall or the right onboarding video? Culture starts from the top. Jocelyn Goldfein’s definition of culture is the behavior you reward and punish. What behavior does your organization reward and punish?
If your successful leaders embody the vision and values of the organization, then you are headed in the right direction. You can learn more about Jocelyn’s perspective on building a healthy work culture by reading her blog post located in the resources section at the end of this post.
One of the key aspects of improving your management skills is learning to pay attention to the level of diversity in your workplace. Diversity is a critical component, especially when it comes to the technology sector. If you want to see your team’s potential increase - then pay attention to the level of diversity!
There is a massive opportunity right now for tech companies to tap into underrepresented groups in the workforce. Don’t be afraid or worried about diversity - embrace it. Start with an assessment - where is your organization at, right now? Is there a sufficient level of diversity and inclusion, or is there room to grow?
To learn more about improving your management skills by focusing on diversity and other helpful topics, make sure to catch my full conversation with Jocelyn on this episode of Simple Leadership - you don’t want to miss it!
What does it look like to create a work environment where employees can succeed and thrive? Are there steps you can take as a leader to encourage and support your team members in a meaningful way? Here to help us understand what makes Asana a, “Top 5 Best Place to Work” is my guest, Scott Carleton.
Scott is currently the Site Lead of Asana’s NYC office, dedicated to enabling all teams to collaborate effortlessly. Previously, Scott was the VP of Technology at Andela, empowering engineering talent across Africa. Scott co-founded Artsicle as CTO, building a global community of visual artists now featuring over 6000 creators in 100 countries. His work on Artsicle's discovery engine, which was able to create a personalized experience for passive users, earned NYER's "Best Use of Technology" award in 2013. Scott also built the first internal engineering team at Teachers Pay Teachers from 0 to 12, while integrating a high functioning remote team.
In our conversation, Scott talks about his journey to management, lessons he has learned along the way, the value of transparency, why an empowering work environment is so important and much more. You’ll need pen and paper for this one - Scott has a ton of helpful insights to share.
Throughout your career, are there any values or principles that stand out to you as “Must-haves” to create an empowering work environment? Maybe for you, it’s integrity or competency. For Scott Carleton and the folks at Asana, one of the top values is transparency.
Transparency is crucial, especially for a distributed company like Asana. Scott says that the value of transparency is constantly top-of-mind for him as he engages with his team and works to build consistency and collaboration at Asana. Hand-in-hand with transparency is Scott’s goal to make as much of their processes and systems as clear and understandable as possible. While this is no easy task, Scott is proud of the ground they’ve been able to cover thus far.
Any good manager worth their salt focuses not only on their team members’ productivity but also looks for ways to encourage and empower them as individuals. Can you think of a manager who has empowered you at critical moments in your career? What did they do that made their efforts stand out?
At some point in their career - just about everyone encounters a dysfunctional and unhealthy work environment. How can leaders like you ensure that the environment you are building is a healthy and empowering one?
One of the primary reasons Scott joined Asana is their relentless commitment to organizational health. They’ve created clear and concise pathways that encourage their managers and team members to reflect on and learn from projects that were successful and unsuccessful. It is of paramount importance to Asana as an organization that everyone understands how their tasks directly contribute to the overall mission of the company. To hear more about how this plays out at Asana - from Scott’s perspective - make sure to listen to this episode of Simple Leadership.
Let’s face it; life as a manager is not for the faint of heart. Yes, you get a lot of great opportunities to influence your team and make great strides for your organization, but there is also a fair share of challenges and obstacles that come with the territory. How do you navigate those challenges and serve as an effective manager?
According to Scott Carleton, if you want to succeed as a manager, you’ve got to be willing to give your people honest feedback that helps them improve. We’ve all been in those one-on-one’s where the feedback you received was not helpful or constructive - don’t make that same mistake! Scott also points to the value of knowing your limitations and a willingness to be vulnerable as key aspects of an effective manager. Ask for help and be open about the challenges you are facing - what do you have to lose?
Remember - this is only a snapshot of my conversation with Scott - make sure to listen to this episode of Simple Leadership to get the FULL conversation.
As the economy and various business sectors continue to evolve, many leaders are looking at how transitioning to a distributed company might be the best option going forward. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Zapier’s Bryan Helmig to discuss all the benefits and some of the challenges involved with running a distributed company.
Bryan co-founded Zapier in late 2011 with his friends Mike and Wade, and they were soon admitted to Y Combinator’s YCS12 batch. Zapier is a web automation application, with Zapier you can build Zaps which can automate parts of your business or life. A Zap is a blueprint for a task you want to do over and over.
In our conversation, Bryan and I discuss the crucial role of hiring, what that process looks like at Zapier, the three ingredients for running a successful distributed company, lessons he has learned along the way, and much more. I can’t wait for you to dive in and learn from Bryan’s fascinating perspective!
What would you identify as the number one area that business leaders should focus on as they work to take their business to the next level of growth? Should they focus on big-picture strategies or less sexy aspects like their hiring process?
Looking back at the growth of Zapier, Bryan Helmig says that the hiring process is the most important area for businesses in general and startups, in particular, to focus on. Hiring can be even more complicated for a distributed company but, in Bryan’s view, it doesn’t have to be. At the end of the day, it all comes down to relationships - the people who you hire and trust are critical to your business’ health. Learn more about Bryan’s approach to the hiring process at Zapier by listening to this episode.
Let’s face it, running a successful business is hard enough but the challenges can increase tenfold when you are operating as a distributed company. Thankfully, leaders like Bryan Helmig are leading the way and paving a path forward. In our conversation, Bryan was kind enough to share his three ingredients for running a successful distributed company.
Which aspect of Bryan’s three ingredients resonates the most with you? Make sure to catch my full conversation with Bryan as he expands on these three ingredients and much more.
What is your knee-jerk reaction when you think of a distributed company? Do you have a positive impression or a negative one? Don’t assume you know all of the relevant information, get it from the source!
One of the unique advantages of a distributed company is the limitless opportunities it provides when seeking talent. You don’t have to limit your talent search to those in your geographical area; you can choose from qualified candidates all over the world. Connected to this unique advantage is another advantage - diversified points of view. With a distributed company, you have the opportunity to get a global perspective that can give you an advantage over your competition.
While it might seem like there are only positives, the reality is there are a good number of challenges that arise from operating a distributed company. One key aspect is pretty obvious, you don’t get to look your peers, employees, and supervisors in the eye - this can lead to a whole host of challenges.
People who tend to view their workplace as a key aspect of their social life would find working for a distributed company challenging. Clear communication can also be a barrier for many individuals as well - what may come off as curt and obtuse in an email might not be what the sender had in mind. These challenges may prove too overwhelming for some, but the evidence shows that many people find the freedom and flexibility of working remotely are too good to pass up. Get even more insights into how a distributed company operates by listening to this episode of SimpleLeadership with Bryan Helmig!
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There’s good news for all you tech leaders who feel you got thrown into management without much preparation - leadership can be learned. My guests on this episode of SimpleLeadership are Johnathan and Melissa Nightingale, the founders of Raw Signal Group - a company with a simple promise, “We Build Better Bosses.” They are also best-selling authors of the book, “How F*cked Up Is Your Management?: An Uncomfortable Conversation About Modern Leadership.”
I can't think of two people better suited to talk to about the challenges of tech leadership. Prior to founding Raw Signal Group, Johnathan and Melissa were both tech execs who spent their careers running large parts of companies (product, engineering, data, design, marketing, PR, etc.). It’s honestly hard to find a role that one of them has not taken on. Through their work with Raw Signal Group, they've helped thousands of leaders understand their roles, build their skills, and be better bosses. Join us for this great conversation and learn how great leadership can be learned.
There is a strange belief that exists among those who are in tech management roles - they think that leading engineers is somehow different than what other leaders within their organization deal with. It’s true that engineers can be a bit unique, but there is much more that can be learned from other leaders in different areas of your organization than you think. Even leaders in entirely different industries have something valuable to offer.
Johnathan and Melissa speak to the issue by pointing out how significantly tech leaders can be helped when they learn to humbly approach others they see doing things well to simply ask for insight into how they do it. Listen to hear how they coach leaders to build cohorts of help within their own organizations, across departments.
When it comes to learning leadership skills, every leader needs to be on the lookout for the things the leaders around them do well. It’s one way you can see things in others you admire and develop a list of leadership qualities or skills that you want to improve in yourself. Melissa refers to it as the “leadership skills you want to steal.”
But the truth is that you don’t really have to steal anything. Most leaders are eager to help others understand the things they do well. But it requires that you have the bravery to approach them to ask for help.
We’ve all heard someone described as a “natural born leader.” While we understand what is meant by the phrase, Johnathan and Melissa push back against the notion that some people are born with the skills needed to be leaders and others are not. Even casual observation proves it not to be true. None of us naturally know the critical skill of leading teams, having effective one on ones, conducting effective meetings, or firing someone. If that’s the case, then how did those who do those things well get that way?
They learned the skill over time. Melissa and Johnathan developed their company, Raw Signal Group after years of observing the terrible leadership practices being carried out in the tech industry. They felt that not only did they have a responsibility to ensure that their personal leadership was not guilty of the same abuses they saw going on around them, but that they also had an obligation to help solve the problem industry-wide. You’ll enjoy hearing their frank perspective on how leadership can be learned, why it’s important to grow as a leader, and how anyone can do it.
We’ve all done it. We misspeak or forget to respond in a way that is sensitive to the diverse people and backgrounds in the room. And when we’re told how we hurt someone, we often say, “But that was not my intent.” Johnathan says "intent" is something we fall back on as a defense when what we should be doing is accepting the correction, admitting our wrong, and committing to do better next time. When we say we didn’t “intend” to do what we did, we are attempting to avoid accountability.
We all have to learn how to be better humans, people who care enough to learn how to communicate with more inclusiveness and more sensitivity toward others. Leaders especially. It's a big part of what makes for a team that gels well and becomes powerfully effective - and it starts with the leader. Learn how you can and should grow in this area, on this episode.
Patrick has spent his career applying his engineering talents to the healthcare industry. In that time he’s focused on learning and growing as an engineer, a teammate, team lead, and more recently as an engineering manager. He considers himself a people gardener and coalition builder and believes in people-first leadership. Patrick loves teaching and tackling people and process opportunities to help teams and individuals grow.
On today's show we discuss communication, psychology, having a growth mindset and his upcoming conference talk.
Jason Wong is a proven engineering leader, diversity & inclusion consultant, and doughnut enthusiast. With almost two decades of experience in building and scaling web applications, he has worked in a range of industries from academia to online media and e-commerce. He helped establish web development and administrative computing at Columbia College, led development of premium video streaming services at Yahoo! Sports, and spent seven years at Etsy leading their Infrastructure Engineering team. He currently works with engineering leaders to improve their engineering management practices and establish inclusive cultures.
He spends most of his time in the San Francisco Bay Area with the most beautiful woman in the world.
On today's show we discuss the leader's role in setting the tone and culture of teams and how important it is for scaling.
On a technical note: Due to a hardware issue, I had to record this episode on a backup computer and although the sound quality of Eric is awesome, my sound quality is lower than normal. Hopefully, this will be fully fixed by my next episode.