Thank you French American Chamber of Commerce! Honored to be a Role Model.

I don’t really like to talk about myself, but when you win an award, people talk about you even if it embarrasses you. So I’m going to share my thank yous here from this week’s French American Business Awards.

I had a great time at the French American Business Awards (May 26, 2017), organized by the French Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco. My special thank you to Sophie Woodville Ducom and Laurence Fabre Bordet for creating such a wonderful night.

This 4th edition of the event was special, as it launched a brand-new category close to my heart: 2017 Woman Role Model. Not only was I blessed to be a nominee, along other very inspiring women, I also received the special distinction award for being a Woman Role Model.

Thank you also to Merci Odile Roujol, and the rock start female executive team of the chamber who worked so hard to add this award to the event.

There are so many amazing people who helped me on this ongoing journey—some acted as role models, some played cheerleader during the tough times, some provided support, some challenged me to go beyond what I thought I could achieve, and others provided the love necessary to make it all worthwhile.

I want to start with thanking my mum Chantal Michelon, without whom I wouldn’t be here, nor would I be the woman I have become. I also want to thank my partner in life Julien Salanon, my Best Friend Cheerleaders (BFCs) Aurelia Rivier Setton, Murielle Thinard, Karina Sobieski, Virginie Maitre Infanti, Stephanie Jaffre, Aude Quancard Sun, Aurelie A Vincent, Aurelie Ferre, Olfa Zorgati, Danielle Reid,  Céline Goudy, Olivier Lauzeral, Cedric Sellin, Michal Sellin, Sandrine Clouin, Ariane Gorin, Nicole Collet – I cannot tag them all! My apologies and my appreciation to anyone I missed!

For those of you who want to watch it, here is my acceptance speech:

Our host Eve Chaurand, and French Consul general in San Francisco E. Lebrun-Damiens, reminded us how fortunate we are to live in an area where two wonderfully innovative communities come together—and how much further we can grow together. I was constantly enlightened by the new talent brought to my attention as the Chamber presented their awards. Every one of them praised the quality, cooperation and support found in San Francisco’s French community.

As many of you know, I have been traveling a lot over the last month. This evening offered a great opportunity to nurture my roots with the help of many good friends as I return home.

And finally, a little bit of laughter still comes to my lips as I think of Clara Bijl, a talented French stand-up comedian who made the night go as a breeze.

Thank you ALL! I am honored to be considered a role model!

You can find more images of the event on Facebook with web coverage at French Morning and Lost in SF.

More pictures. (Thank you to Octamedia for taking some great shots!).

Five Joys of Being a People Manager

Five Joys of Being a People Manager

Five Joys of Being a People Manager

So on the back of a rather negative post focused on managers avoiding bad behavior, I thought it would be good to write a blog that shares five of the biggest joys I experience when managing and leading people.

  1. Seeing people grow. I love to see people accumulate experiences and become better people. Better at their job, better at life, better at relationships. Too often we look at people only through the lens of performance. But when we hire people, we hire the whole person, and we need to appreciate all the ways they learn and grow.
  2. Learning from my team. I know there are a lot of things I still need to learn, and I love learning them from my team. Diverse teams bring different perspectives and a variety of knowledge. I think good managers become better managers when they open themselves up to the knowledge of their team and drink deeply.
  3. Watching stress turn into celebration. We have all experienced difficult projects that create stress. We are over budget, out of time or the customer isn’t happy with result or progress. But you know, we come through all those difficulties, and many times after passing through the trials, we can look back and celebrate our accomplishments. Those difficulties teach us about our business, about the world, and about ourselves—and I think they can create powerful moments of personal and team celebration that recognizes joy in overcoming a difficult path.
  4. Learning through new eyes. The more we learn and experience ourselves, and the narrower our focus becomes, we tend to forget the pure joy of learning something new—the delight in revelation of new ideas or relationships. I not only enjoy seeing people on my team get very excited about their work, but also thrive on the energy passed on to me—and the reminder that I need to keep pushing myself to find new experiences that will bring me that joy directly.
  5. Staying connected to former colleagues. Perhaps one of the biggest joys comes from the friendships that cross the boundary from work to personal. That can be a tricky thing for those who currently work for you, but retaining a friendship with former peers and colleagues is a pleasure.

You may have your own list, but regardless of which items fall into your top five, I think you will agree that managing and leading people should be something you really enjoy doing, something that thrills you and inspires you. Our businesses are important, but they wouldn’t be nearly as valuable to our customers, or to us, without the great people who contribute their time, their intellect and their physical being every day.

How to Avoid Being a Management Turkey

How to Avoid Being a Management Turkey

How to Avoid Being a Management Turkey

I’ve had the privilege to manage people for many years, and I’ve watched others manage as well. Fortunately, I have not experienced all of these behaviors myself, but I have seen some—and I have heard the horror stories from friends and colleagues about the others.

In the spirit of the holiday, I offer ten behaviors managers should avoid so their employees, partners and peers don’t think they are acting like turkeys.

  1. Saying one thing, doing another. Inconsistency damages organizations because people never know what to expect, and that leads to inaction across the board.
  2. There is just no excuse. Anyone who is asked to lead or manage other people needs to, if nothing else, respect the people he or she works with. If you don’t respect people, you cannot expect them to respect you, which means that any achievements will be the outcome of fear or politics, not commitment and excellence.
  3. Not apologizing. We all make mistakes. We need to say we are sorry and mean it. A real apology doesn’t include a “but” or an “explanation”. A good manager owns his/her mistakes and his/her apologies. The best apology is action that isn’t repeated.
  4. Blaming others. This one goes hand-in-hand with number 3, not apologizing, but extends it from the individual to the organization. Passing off your mistakes to others hurts the organization by rapidly degrading trust.
  5. Holding a grudge. People who design things expect failure, and therefore, create designs that forgive users for mistakes. We don’t design most organizations, they just happen, and too often, when mistakes reflect on a leader, he or she holds a grudge rather than thinking through how they forgive and move forward. I like the idea of resiliency, as resiliency means that the recovery from an error makes things better, not worse. I see forgiveness as a tool of the resilient organization.
  6. Encouraging politics. Humans are political animals. We really don’t have a choice, but we can recognize politics, call it out and try to rise above it for the greater good. The manager who encourages and gets caught up in politics only helps those that help him or her, which isn’t how an organization learns and grows together.
  7. Taking credit for other people’s work. This represents a simple decision to do the wrong thing. There is no excuse for this. People work hard, and good managers recognize those who deserve recognition regardless if a person wants the accolades or wishes to avoid them out of humbleness or selflessness. Taking credit for other people’s work steals goodness from the work experience.
  8. Avoiding decisions. Some decisions are tough. Some are easy. Many prove unpopular. But one of the primary responsibilities of a manager or leader is to make decisions.
  9. Not trusting people. Managers who don’t trust others end up ineffective for many reasons. Most importantly, they either do everything themselves, or feel compelled to be so involved in everyone else’s work that they might as well do it themselves. This results in poor team productivity because everybody knows that no matter what they do, it just won’t be good enough unless the manager adds his or her touch or spin.
  10. Always being right. Always being right is just as bad as not trusting people, because it leads to teams who don’t trust themselves—and that means little learning and little progress. Stuff just doesn’t get done well or very fast.

I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving. If you are a manager, may you return from the holiday refreshed and self-reflective—if you are managed by another person, may you discover the assertiveness to confront bad behavior, and therefore make the world a better place for all.

Managing Uncertainty in a Time of Chaos and Shifting Realities

Confusion Diagram Shows Direction Or OptionsManaging Uncertainty

Change is inevitable, and it arrives from many sources. Last week, those in the United Kingdom, the European countries, and most places across the world felt a wave of uncertainty as the Brexit measure passed in the UK. This left governments, businesses and individuals with many uncertainties about jobs, trade, regulations and many other areas. This one event is precipitating uncertainty across the globe.

Closer to home, uncertainty is a huge issue in technology-heavy places like Silicon Valley, where many have worked for a company that has been acquired, re-organized, or perhaps just ceased operations.

We all face what I call the dysfunction of transition, the chaotic time of moving from one reality to the next. Individuals make a choice of letting the future happen to them, or participating in the co-creation of the future. Those who worry about protecting the past will likely find themselves on the wrong side of history. Those who help co-create the future also help find their place in the future.

As leaders we can help our team when facing uncertainty. Here are 4 practices that I redouble in times of uncertainty and ask of the leaders and managers in my organization:

  1. Keep moving – Manage deadlines and priorities. Uncertainty does not mean that things stop. Leaders must manage to deadlines with great vigilance in times of uncertainty because even the best employees start second guessing what is important. In less stressful times, it might only be necessary to reach an agreement, and the staff will go off and do what they have committed to. In times of stress, people get distracted and miss deadlines and let other responsibilities, like maintaining good customer or partner relationships, suffer. Unless a company is closing its doors, those partners and customers are part of the new future, and it is important to remind people that the best future is one that arrives from a strong present.
  2. Increase communication among the management team. It is very important that the management team be on the same page and deliver consistent messages. In times of uncertainty, knowing the right thing to say can be difficult, and just making a statement from experience may not result in the best statement to share with a team or individual. The management team needs to discuss any questions that aren’t clear and come to a consensus about how to answer those questions consistently. Managers need to look to each other to keep their own issues with uncertainty in check, and to shore up their personal safe guards in order to avoid making the already difficult situation of change into something negative.Businesspeople sitting at the table during a meeting in office
  3. Create as many learning opportunities as you can. One of the drivers of fear in the face of uncertainty comes from being too routine, or too personally connected to a particular skill or discipline. Most businesses give people opportunities to stretch their experiences, learn new areas and challenge themselves. I find that those who do this are much less fearful of uncertainty because they know they can align with whatever happens. Instead of wasting time worrying about what might happen, take that worry time and focus it on learning.
  4. Listen, console and coach. Not everyone has been through major changes in their lives or careers—and some don’t deal with change well, even if they have been through this before. Managers need to recognize this and make maintaining a cohesive, engaged and productive organization their priority. That means listening to people, coaching them through transitions and reminding them of priorities. Sometimes it may mean consoling them because something they believe is important is going away, be it a technology or a process, or perhaps a colleague. Good managers are at their best when they help the people who rightly or wrongly perceive themselves as facing the most risk, work their way through the transition.

It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity.

It is important that we see change as a learning opportunity. I learn something new about myself, my organization, about the world, every time change occurs. It is important for me to pass along this love for learning to my management team and to the entire organization, as I believe that only by actively learning from change do we find a way to face it without fear.

Wellness at Work: Take Time to Manage Wellness into Your Day

Wellness at Work: business man practice yoga at network server room

Wellness at Work

I have always been an active person, but until a few years ago, much of that activity was directed toward work.

When I moved to the US, the culture of working both on one’s mind and body enabled me to commit for my first half marathon. Now six half marathons and three Olympic triathlons later, exercising is part of my everyday life. Three days without exercise significantly impacts my mind and my body.

While I was preparing for the marathon, I realized that there is an inverse relationship between health and mind. Elite athletes talk about their mental preparation all of the time. In the most recent football season, quarterbacks in college and on professional teams used virtual reality systems to help them learn to read defenses. Golfers practice swings on courses around the world in simulations. These are all examples of mental preparation.

Rarely, though, do I hear executives get out and talk about physical preparation for work. For those of us who spend most of our day with a computer, it is the organ in our skull that we think is most valuable. But that organ, our brain, requires blood and oxygen—and it requires it efficiently.

Wellness at Work: Decisions and Empathy

I talked to a few of my CEO peers about exercise and work, and while our roles might differ, we all spend a lot of our time on two key areas that are highly impacted by wellness: decision making and empathy.

First, a large part of our day is spent making decisions on matters which cannot be resolved before we arrive at our desk. For most of the issues we deal with, there are no black or white answers. It is really making a decision as the Latin origin of this word means – de caedere, a cut off, or the death of one option over another.  Decisions are never perfect.

Second, we spend a lot of time working with our teams—managing challenges, dealing with emotion situations and helping people and our ecosystem to thrive. It often requires a lot of empathy, compassion and patience which we never have enough of in our very active business life.

Wellness at Work: Closeup of metal dumbbell holded by young woman athleteIn both of these instances, I heard too many times that my fellow CEOs all had bad memories of actions and behaviors influenced because they were on the edge—too stressed, not enough sleep, mentally exhausted.

We live in an era where there are plenty of studies that establish a clear linkage between mind and body. The ability to manage both our mind and body to operate at peak performance is our responsibility as leaders.

Let’s be honest, I’m not an elite athlete, but I am proud of what I’ve accomplished in terms of operating at my optimal self – this is what matters, not the volume of muscles or how fast I finish a race. In fact, we have to be cautious for as much as exercise is good for the mind, some people can become obsessed with it to the point that they suffer from conditions like “excessive exercise” and “overtraining syndrome”.

Wellness at Work: Finding Time

When I decided to add more regular exercise to my day, the biggest challenge for me was finding the time. My preparation exercises taught me that I have to make real time for staying healthy. I can’t just work it into my routine and do a couple of crunches in the lunch room, or knee bends waiting for a conference call to start. I think in a way my body knows when I’m paying attention to it. It is part of the design of my life. This body & mind preparation became an official block on my business calendar.

I have to make time for my body—for my heart and lungs and muscles—as much as I make time for strategy, evaluating the competition and nurturing the career goals of my staff. Balance is an important idea in design. We must find a balance that lets us be whole people, not just brains with bodies or bodies with brains. We have to design our own personal mind-body experience.

This isn’t new wisdom, just a new realization.

As the Buddha said:

To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

Continuous Learning: Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best

businessman and social network structure relationship building

Be a connector and find the relationship building approach that suits you best

When you are given an opportunity to meet an interesting person, don’t be shy, even if you are shy. I’m kind of shy, but I’ve meet CEOs, diplomats and technology leaders, and some of them are now my mentors and friends. They would be neither if I hadn’t made the effort to meet them and talk with them. Relationship building is an active, not passive activity.

Sure, a lot of your encounters are brief, and you may not get to do much more than say hello, but sometimes, you get to have a leisurely breakfast or a deep conversation ahead of a presentation, or the opportunity for a chat over a glass of wine at the end of a day. But you know what? If you are standing shyly on the side, not approaching a person to at least say hello, none of those things is ever going to happen … unless you are the interesting person and people come over to you. Yes, that is a bit of extra advice: you are an interesting person and if you are confident and open, people will want to know you.

To be honest, I don’t do well when I’m in a big group— I find in big groups all of our defenses are up—and that’s not where I connect best. So I have learned to not only master my shyness when in big crowds, but also to not be bashful in reaching out to people I already know at conferences and get myself invited to dinners, for instance, where I can really talk to people. In a smaller setting, over time, everybody can get comfortable and we become more vulnerable — and that is when we really start having a conversation, when we really start getting to know each other.

Some readers may be comfortable in other situations. If that is true, then you should try to find a way to bring yourself into those situations more often. That is where you will learn best.

Continuous Learning: Get out of your comfort zone, but on a schedule that fits your lifestyle

Get out of your comfort zone
Get out of your comfort zone…

To put it simply, you have to get out. Out of the office, out of the house—you have to get out of your comfort zone. Our global connections let us learn anywhere, but there is nothing like the conversation after an interesting presentation as people descend on snacks or a sunny patio. If you can’t afford, or aren’t invited to major industry events, you can still get connected to local groups or associations like Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce, as well as more topic-specific clubs. Many cities now hold regular networking meetings coordinated through organizations like Network After Work. I am always fascinated, and often humbled, by the people I meet. I usually go to an event with a question in mind, or a hypothesis I want to research — sometimes the best question is just: “What brought you here tonight?”

…but on a schedule that fits your lifestyle

I have two very personal thoughts about events. First, local events need to recognize that people have families. Rather than starting at 5pm, they should consider starting later so people can get home, share time with their children, eat a meal together, and then go out after the children are asleep. My Lean-In Circle starts at 8:30pm in recognition of this need and this reality.

 While you have to balance priorities between work and family during a regular week, when you travel, your priority should be to get as much out of that trip as possible.

The second event thing for me is using travel as a time to meet people and connect. When I’m traveling, I run on a different schedule, so I leverage that to go to everything I can and to meet all of the people I can. I don’t think it is a good use of your time to go to an event, paid for by your company or yourself, and spend all of your time in a hotel room working or watching television. How many opportunities do you have to meet and interact with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people who can provide you insights, potentially buy your product or add value to it, or to just hold a good conversation? While you have to balance priorities between work and family during a regular week, when you travel, your priority should be to get as much out of that trip as possible.

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Creating Opportunities for Refugee Education and Work

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Refugee Education and Work
Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey

As the daughter of a Muslin father and Jewish mother raised catholic, bridging cultures is part of my inner-self. I personally experienced all kinds of misunderstandings — fell through the cultural gaps – but I also loved and learned how living together, finding a way to create harmony and understanding, that helped move us toward a compelling future together. This is vitally important to the world we live in today. I am not saying we should blur all differences, but we should appreciate the differences, learn from each other, and even celebrate the differences. Globalization has created a very large melting pot. America over the last century certainty, and in many other parts of the world where many cultures found themselves together,  were experiments in the transformative power of different cultures blending, learning and enjoying life together.

But some do not appreciate this diversity, nor do they have tolerance for those different than themselves. We saw this on Friday, November 13 in Paris. Since I was raised in France and lived in its capital for over 10 years, that attack was very personal.  While I did not know anyone who was directly impacted by this tragedy, we are all affected, and we will be for a long time to come.  The Paris attack s are yet another reset point in the continuing effect to establish peace and stability throughout the world.

Two years ago I made the decision to leave Microsoft, a company that I consider more or less the place where I I grew up, the company that created great learning experiences, including those that exposed me to the global technology market. As much as Microsoft contributed and participated in a number of philanthropic endeavors, I wanted to continue my personal journey at a company that created social impact at the core of the business, including its technology and its business model.

I joined Pearson English Business Solutions with a mission I could personally relate to. The impact of this division has been beyond my expectations. We’ve changed millions of lives and continue to help create a viable middle class in countries like Mexico and India.

Now, two years later, what amazes me the most is that this company continues to fight every day to keep innovation moving forward, to maintain its competitive advantage, to create a sustainable for-profit business, because it wants to be even more impactful tomorrow than it is today. Little did I know this was the beginning of finding a path that would align my heart, my soul and my brain.

I have a voice in my head telling me I have a role to play in bridging the cultures that are at the essence of my being. I want to bring my passion for seeking solutions to the global need for understanding and peace in a sustainable way. I see this as a core part of my personal mission.

When we understand our passion, and define our mission, we see opportunities in new ways.

On November 16, 2015, I was invited to the U.S. State Department to connect with other key policy makers, NGO leaders, donors and other private sector executives to seek about innovative ways to bridge the educational gap for Syrian refugees in Turkey.

This is critical because about a million Syrian refugee children lack primary and secondary education. Many refugee children have already lost five years of education, creating irreparable gaps. Many of these children are working because their parents cannot find work, nor obtain permits required to work. Young adults face a future with no educational paths – this creates short to midterm social pain and risks not only for the victims, but for the stability of the region. Many women face accelerated, forced marriages, while men often return to their home countries to fight or get radicalized, or both. If they stay in the countries to which they migrate, they often face underemployment, if not unemployment.

In order to address these issues, we need Innovation. I have outlined four areas of focus that we discussed during this visit:

Innovation Required to Help Avert Crisis in Turkey: Four Areas of Innovation

  1. Improved access to formal education
    • Privately fundtechnology-oriented schools.
    • Track achievement and attendance.
    • Fund educational program advisors.
    • Adopt a common communication/collaboration platform.
  2. Informal education
    • Vocational training and integration of Syrian refugee into the workforce.
    • Specialized classes: Catch up classes, hybrid digital supplements (literacy, numeracy, Turkish) and accelerated learning classes – Psychological, ESL, life skills, learning tools for parents.
    • Bridge-building after-school activities, exchanges between Turkish and Syrian children.
    • Content availability and access: Library without borders – Portable media center.
  3. Language learning
    • Provide access to Turkish and English – both general and professional.
    • Teach Turkish educators
    • Deploy digital tools: Online English learning tools; Bi-lingual online learning tool for children.
    • Bring communities together to dialogue: Language exchange programming to connect Turkish and Syrian children together – Global online community to connect people and resources.
    • Increase access to mentors and coaches from outside of the country by leveraging International resources such as the U.S retirees in Chicago who help Brazilian children master English online via Skype (see the Chicago Tribune article, Chicago-area seniors teach English to Brazilians, for more information).
  4. Vocational learning
    • Develop learning hubs for career-focused content.
    • Hire skilled Syrians or older siblings to be mentors in skills they have mastered.
    • Connect with local private sector to understand needs, and create a placement paths to jobs.
    • Test and certify skills so people can work in areas like education, health care, and engineering, along with skilled vocations like electrical repair and plumbing.
    • Engage with foreign outsourcing, in-house hiring, and freelancing platform companies such as Samasource, Andela and Upwork to provide work opportunities.
    • We are at the risk of losing many of those immigrating from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East to Turkey, throughout Europe and other locations. We risk losing them to radicalization, and perhaps to death. We risk losing their innovative insights by not finding ways to inspire them, by not giving them opportunities to transform ideas into products and services. We risk losing the knowledge and expertise of educators and doctors, nurses and engineers who don’t align with national standards or hold the right certificates. For all of us, some part of our humanity is at risk if we don’t find a way to help avert these other risks. Now is the time.

Here are two actions to consider this holiday season. First, engage with agencies already on the ground in Turkey by volunteering to contributing. Two groups that already working hard on this problem are Unicef and Save the Children. Second, if you are working in a group, or in a company, seeking to solve any of the issues listed above, reach out to me through the comments so we can connect.

If you want to read more on the refugee issues in Turkey, here are additional resources to consider.

Three Keys to Making Every Day Thanksgiving

 Three Keys to Making Every Day Thanksgiving

Three Keys to Making Every Day Thanksgiving

As we approach Thanksgiving, I think it is important that we stay connected to the thankfulness we express during Thanksgiving all year. It is easy to be thankful when we are surrounded by friends and family, when people are giving us gifts — it is much harder when we are negotiating with a tough partner, or find ourselves in a difficult conversation with an employee, or when we face the uncertainty of global economic markets. But it is in those stressful times that we need to remember that all the love and joy we receive, and that we give back, isn’t just for a day, a month, s year or season. All of that love and joy exists all year, but we often fail to tap into it when needed.

Thanksgiving begins with perspective. If you can be vital, set high standards and be grateful for everything, you will be better able to navigate through change, and you’ll be a better person too.

1. Vitality

The dictionary describes vitality as ” the state of being strong and active; energy.”  Vitality is critical for leaders from large organizations to start-ups. Leaders need to demonstrate their passion through their energy. Leaders often need to work long hours, and if they aren’t physically capable of working those hours, quality suffers, and they aren’t available when needed.

This is one of the reasons I run. I also just like running. I know running isn’t for everybody, but everybody can find some activity that helps them maintain their vitality. Eat well, move around, at least a little.

The Mayo Clinic suggests at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. As leaders perhaps we should mine minutes from our lack of trust. If we trust people, and don’t micromanage so much — or eliminate other unproductive work — we can probably steal 150 minutes from our own bad habits.

It is also important that we find ways to maintain our mental vitality — to think about the future, to challenge our assumptions, to solve problems that use mental muscles we don’t stretch often enough. We have to put energy into life and work if we want to achieve the goals we set for them.

2. Set High Standards

For me, an important part of Thanksgiving is taking the time to look back on how we measure success, and to challenge ourselves to set high standards. When we see family together, we realize everyone is a role model. The children look up to all of the adults and expect to learn from them. During Thanksgiving, we should ask ourselves if the bars we set are high enough, if the goals we set are ambitious or easy.

As much as setting high standards is important for those we lead or manage, it is equally important for us to believe we can meet the goals we set. We sort of have to set high standards for our high standards.

Giving thanks is something we choose to do. It requires us to be active rather than passive. The same is true of setting high standards. If we let others set our standards for us without our input, we may never achieve our real potential. Only when we become active in setting our own goals can we push ourselves forward.

When you look around the Thanksgiving table, ask yourself if you are just there, or if you have standards for the role model you want to be for your wife, your mother, your husband or your sister, your brother or cousins, to your other relatives and friends. I believe setting high standards is a responsibility I owe to myself and to those around me.

3. Be Grateful, Celebrate

Of course, being grateful is the core of Thanksgiving. Over the last year I have had the opportunity to help start-ups, inspire women working in high technology, engage in international education policy, and even visit the Whitehouse to talk about the value to English to business. All of these new experiences could be overwhelming, but I choose to replace fear with gratitude, to be thankful for the opportunities rather than afraid of the unknown. As I look to 2016 I am already thankful for the challenges and opportunities that will help me grow.

The Journey Toward Thankfulness

We journeyed a long way through life to arrive at this 2015 Thanksgiving. We made a lot of choices, overcame innumerable obstacles, experienced wonders, made mistakes and achieved many things both great and small. Thank those who helped you, be gracious when they thank you, and be grateful that you are who you are. Spend your day enjoying, and being in the moment.

Thank you to those who read this blog and to those who have inspired the posts on it.

Why Bringing Diversity to your Start-up Team is Critical


Why Bringing Diversity to your Start-up Team is Critical – A good leader seeks diversity in work and life experience, as well as in approaches to problem solving, leadership and development.

Why Bringing Diversity to your Start-up Team is Critical

Too often, we think about diversity too narrowly. Usually terms like race, gender, sexual orientation and religion come to mind. For start-ups, these diverse descriptions are a good place to start, but they don’t go far enough. Diversity is not the same as inclusiveness … and both are important.

Start-ups, however, need to think more broadly because they need to create leadership teams that represent not only diverse life experiences, but a range of mental models, problem solving abilities and relationship-building skills in order to quickly identify problems, overcome challenges and generally be agile and resilient as they navigate toward their goals.

Why Diverse Teams

I have been involved in some very diverse teams having worked in international organizations over the last 15 years. Not only did I enjoy the diversity of sharing my work experiences with colleagues from different nationalities and cultures, but I found it easy to do. Many people who haven’t experienced a culturally-diverse organization think it is difficult to blend different cultures and perspectives, but I have learned that it is much to the contrary – I found that diversity created a  thriving environment that brought with it so many new ideas and opportunities to learn. I found these diverse teams were a major contrast to being on teams where everybody shared similar life and work experiences.

Beyond general agility and resilience, I have found that diverse teams:

  • generate more innovative ideas.
  • manage through problems more effectively.
  • offer different world views and perspectives on a market.
  • bring with them varied networks of potential partners and customers.
  • make better decisions. Homogenous teams don’t challenge assumptions, debate ideas or force people out of their conceptual boxes. Diverse teams will look at a problem from many different perspectives before making a decision.
  • are a good place to start for the next round of recruiting.
  • create a more exciting place to work.

Today, I use diverse teams and inclusiveness as a key dimension for evaluating the leadership capabilities of founders. If the founders encircle themselves with like-minded people, that tells me they think they will always be right and they seek only people who will confirm their world view. Today’s markets are global and diverse, so it is important that start-ups, especially those with global ambitions, recognize this early and recruit people who can bring a global perspective.

If you are a founder, surrounding yourself with great talent is important. Don’t look into a mirror and decide that everyone you recruit should look like you. Take the time to not only design the product or service you want to launch, but also the team that is going to help you launch it.

Diversity Means Diverse Development Paths – As Leader, Celebrate All Accomplishments

To nurture a diverse team, identify individual strengths and develop the people along a path where they perform the best. This is crucial. It is important though, that your staff understand there is just one path toward success.  There are technical paths and leadership paths, as well as paths that allow people to switch disciplines either to align better with interest, or, with abilities.

For instance, I recently came across some really great technical people who did not have the best interpersonal skills. That is okay. Let them do what they are good at, the kind of work that fulfills their passion, and let others do the more customer-facing work.

Letting technical people do technical things seems counter to the development of a leadership team into a well-rounded, multi-skilled group. It is not. It really reflects the empathy and people skills required to develop and keep talent. Not all people want to be people managers, or develop customer relationships. Good leaders will create opportunities for advancement as the company grows which will offer people paths, customer paths and technical paths.

People paths lead to management and leadership opportunities, focused on nurturing the people who comprise the organization. People paths look internally. Customer paths look externally, ensuring that customers have what they need to succeed, really helping the organization develop long-term relationships with customers. The technical paths recognize technological skills and allow people to progress with those skills, developing into mentors and coaches for other technology-oriented people within the organization. This approach goes beyond the individual contributor because it asks senior technical people to be leaders of technical communities. They are still able to demonstrate their leadership, but in a way that aligns with their interests, rather than forcing them into roles that often, frankly, do a disservice to the organization because it takes them away from where they can best contribute. These technology leadership roles help make sure the organization keeps exploring the technical boundaries at the same time they ensure the quality of the technical solutions.

What Start-up Leaders Should Consider When Creating a Team

So there are some general thoughts, but I want to share some very practical recruiting and organizational design thoughts as well. I have learned these from the start-ups I’ve been engaged with, as well as those I have helped mentor.

  • Think about diversity in education, country of origin, age, travel experience, language, lifestyle — these lead to a diversity in thinking models, as well as approaches to problem solving.
  • Hire technology specialists, not generalists, people who understand deeper architecture and scalability issues.
  • Make sure you hire people with prototyping skills. On the flip side, you need people who can build prototypes that can be used for fundraising, marketing and demonstrations. These people differ in skills from the deep technical talent because they know how to make something appear to work, that may not actually work. They also possess the ability to let go of deeper technical issues, at least for a moment, while they build and deploy the demonstration system.
  • Hire sales people who can both listen to feedback and understand the feedback so they can bring it back to the technical team. Early sales people should also be very enthusiastic about the product, helping to get customers excited about the possibilities.
  • Bring in business management people as soon as it makes financial sense. Let the technical and management team do their thing. Much needed hours spent in front of QuickBooks, HR, legal and other issues don’t generate revenue or innovation.
  • Never outsource core product or service development. Start-ups need to be the team that can build something, not the team that can specify something to someone else to build. (If you outsource, full IP protection is recommended.) This implies that you know what your core product or service is. If you are offering a service, and you need technology to facilitate the service, it is okay to outsource that technology component because it is not core. Start-ups often think that technology is everything, but innovations in business model, service or partnerships don’t always need unique software to make them work.
  • If you are building a global team, hire people with global experience.

Finally, don’t get over concerned with finding leaders to take the business to the next level.  I have seen too many founders getting outside “business experience” in too early. Not only does this potentially dilute the stock for the founders and early employees, it often has the opposite effect on the company. Rather than creating a more mature company quickly, it can disrupt good working relationships and add rigidity that isn’t necessary. Spend time building a good diverse team and achieving your goals. If you do a good job, and hire adaptive learners, perhaps you won’t need to bring in outside leadership – you’ll be able to take the company to the next level with the team you have built.