Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference Sets Goals for Collaboration


White House Technology in English Conference

Getting to know people at the White House Technology in English Conference. All images source: Flickr via Exchanges Photos

Attending the Inaugural White House Technology in English Conference

I was recently invited to the Inaugural meeting of the White House Technology in English Conference. It was an honor to be a member of a small group of twenty four attendees, consisting of academics, policy makers, and private and public executives, all gathered to discuss opportunities for more collaboration with each other around a common goal: helping more people communicate in English.

20824332343_deb0480451_oWhen looking at an industry, such as technology, many historical breakthroughs occurred because an ecosystem was built: Apple and its app store, or Microsoft with its deep developer programs. If this group can drive collaboration and joint initiatives we can be much stronger tackling the global challenge of English communication.

Here are a few of my takeaways:

We share common challenges. One of the things that struck me was how many great technology, product and service initiatives exist around English language learning. The problem is they are all separate, un-connected, and most of them don’t scale. Many of these solutions were very local, adhering only to local standards and local cultural expectations—and unfortunately, most were ephemeral.

The first agreement among participants, an early commitment, was to collaborate more, and invest in development projects that can be replicated and scaled.

  • Venture capitalists and private sector members who were present said they could provide their grille de lecture — key for understanding — to NGO and government representatives in order to assess project scalability when they look at funding opportunities.
  • Global private solution providers will share how they create sustainable products and solutions.
    At Pearson English Business Solutions (PEBS), we will share learning and expertise about how to build and maintain a global platform which provides outcomes for learners across the 4 continents and in over 34 countries. We will also continue to partner with government entities.
  • Public or NGO representatives committed to drive more due diligence when they execute on a project in order to leverage existing commercial investments and platforms, avoiding wheel reinvention and the waste of limited resources.

Three ways to leverage technology

After many hours of discussion, the attendees converge on three key ways we can cooperate to better leverage technology. These ideas can also be brought back to our organizations to help us remain aware that our platforms and services are a part of a large ecosystem of solutions.

Create new ways of making learning more relevant

21453934211_b576c6cf08_oAutomate the creation of learning materials using semantic technologies, and leverage free access to multi-sensory online assets.  Voxy is a great example of an app that creates reading and vocabulary exercises from existing content.  Load an online article and the service does the rest. Voxy identifies key words and creates the relevant exercises in a matter of seconds. It would take about two hours for a teacher to do this same work.

Not only does Voxy create content faster, its speed provides for an increase in the variety of exercises that align to the learner’s interest. And rather than using stale content like a textbook might, it uses articles relevant to the learner to create fresh content, increasing the motivation of a learner by leveraging his or her interests.

The speed required to develop a new learning experience is moving toward a tipping point. As I shared in a previous blog, a rhyming exercise by a Project Literacy Makethon team created its app in just four hours, using a YouTube API.

Usage data captured in the digital world can help tailor and prioritize investments. LinkedIn’s economic graph is very relevant here. Millions of resumes and associated skills inventories are searchable by city, country, continent and industry—while millions of job posts capture which roles and skills are In demand. By better understanding this demand context and its relationship to existing skills, the English language learning community can better direct funding so we deliver relevant learning experiences aligned with needs, and capable of filling gaps.

Digitalize learning to capture data within the learning experience in order to drive better outcomes

21434468302_81bd27826e_oHow many times have you heard someone say that 50% of what they learned was not relevant.
Today at Pearson English, we use data we capture to identify patterns, and we use those patterns to inform personalized learning experience. First, we guide learners along the most relevant paths. Second, we use data to help identify those most likely to prematurely exit a learning experience, so that we can help them achieve their learning objectives.

Also when you can capture multi-sensory digital assets from voice, text, and video, you can better assess progress, and ultimately if the learner reached the goal they set for themselves. It also enables personalization and improved measurement of the learning experience.

Offer more opportunities to practice English

One of the key barriers to reach our mission to have more people communicating in English is the limited opportunities for learners to apply the language. Technology breaks down geographical and communication barriers by connecting people more easily, by providing a platform to communicate and collaborate. Learning experiences need to be designed to so people can practice and apply their English skills.

At PEBS, our coaches and trainers work through Skype or other communication tools to deliver virtual classes, or one-on-one coaching sessions. This technology helps eliminate the barriers of finding quality teachers by locally sourcing across borders. We not only train the learners, but also help educate local teachers.


However, in today’s world, the application of English does not stop at learning environments. Practice can be found in activities which provide social and economic empowerment.

A few examples came up during the meeting, most notably gaming, working in the global supply chain and transaction-based e-commerce: all global experiences or processes often developed and delivered in English. The continuing adoption of Facebook or other social collaboration platforms across borders can also offer practice, and perhaps peer social motivation.

Perhaps most important, facilitating trade in English is a key driver which will motivate many adults to practice their English.

The Great Decoupling: Is There A Prescription for Work Displaced by Automation?

Robot repair technician represents the Great Decoupling.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, ‘The Great Decoupling,’ Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, authors of, The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies, face the reality of wage stagnation in average incomes in the United States and the elimination of many mid-level jobs.

Early in the article Brynjolfsson says: “Digitization is creating new types of economic disruption. In part, this reflects the fact that as computers get more powerful, companies have less need for some kinds of workers. Even as it races ahead, technological progress may leave some people—perhaps even a lot—behind.”

And McAfee follows with: “There’s no economic law ensuring that as technological progress makes the pie bigger, it benefits everyone equally. Digital technologies can replicate valuable ideas, processes, and innovations at very low cost. This creates abundance for society and wealth for innovators, but it diminishes the demand for some kinds of labor.”

Three Issues with The Great Decoupling

We have to ask ourselves if this is inevitable. For the most part I like this. Anything that can be automated means I can do something else. There are three areas that bother me though. First, is personal motivation. If someone loses their job to automation, are they motivated to learn a new skill to engage in a new role, so that they can continue to positively contribute to society. The second factor is tougher, because we have to ask, that as the industrial age wanes, and the digital age takes over, what will people value. In other words, will the kind of work people find fulfilling be something that society values.

And third, we have to address wealth distribution. As U.S. corporate profits rise to heights in the aftermath of the  great recession, we are not even seeing labor’s share of GDP keep up with that trend, and in fact, it has fallen. Wages as a percentage of GDP are ten percent lower than they were in 1950. Corporations, however, are accumulating great amounts of capital that has not been taxed and that isn’t being invested in anything.

Innovation in Wealth Distribution

We have to ask if legislators need to insist that the large holders of cash in the technology industry redistribute their wealth—or better, do companies like Apple and Microsoft, Google and Facebook — including not-for-profits like the Gates Foundation — start investing their money in creating the new skills required to really use technology effectively rather than to just create it. I think we really need to look not at solutions where government redistributes wealth, but how to encourage businesses do it better. The companies that can do that will be winners. Unfortunately, they have their own investment portfolios and advisors that aren’t great at looking at these issues. As I said, we will need to encourage, and we will need to be patient.

The work displacement is real, and it isn’t all in repetitive factory jobs. It can also be seen in the service industry. Let’s take a look at an example of a bakery. In traditional bakeries, a person working there would get to know the clients, they would greet them personally every day and anticipate their orders. Today, we do this with technology and loyalty programs. The person you have never met sees you are coming to the counter and anticipates your order. But this person isn’t necessarily knowledgeable about baking or customer service, or even interested in becoming so. The traditional bakery worker would stay perhaps their entire career at one bakery, earning higher wages every year. Today, that person is probably a part-time college student with no interest in a career. It isn’t at the same scale as people being replaced by robots in a factory, but it is just as much a labor displacement where automation makes it less expensive, but results in multiple reductions in knowledge and customer experience. But if we only look at the profits of the bakery, their margins, then everything looks OK, at least for now.

The next issues becomes what to do with the profits. That margin goes back into the capital. What happens to that capital? Who do you give that to? If an organization accumulates huge surpluses that go beyond a capacity or willingness to expand the business, do they in turn encourage personal investment in the people they know—do they encourage people to study or explore new areas where they want to create value? Do they go as far as creating new definitions of value?

One way we are seeing this happen is through “B” corporations. These corporations can get around the traditional view of shareholders, who ultimately expect financial returns, and focus on social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Redefining the Relationship to Work

But we also have to redefine our relationships with those who work. We have to encourage engagement, we need to ask how long we tolerate those who avoid participation. I create an environment where I don’t require people to attend meetings. People choose which meetings they need to attend. What do we do with the employee who chooses to never attend a meeting? This approach is set-up to encourage personal responsibility, not to let people avoid it. We have to consider this question when considering how to re-engage displaced workers.

In many ways, the population isn’t ready. We have been giving them junk food and stupid TV. If we end up redistributing wealth, it can’t just be a check for doing nothing. It has to be tied to people doing something positive to contribute back.

If we think about new forms of value, I think we are seeing the resurgence in creative skills too, which is really encouraging. It’s already there in some ways. It probably isn’t as strong as what we are seeing with the push for STEM, but the creative piece is back also with innovation. If we don’t have people who can create and collaborate, then we can’t create new value. Businesses are starting to realize this.

Investing in Leveraging Technology, not just Making It

I think we have to really worry about a zero-sum game where technology companies only focus on creating technology and not how it is used. If we end up bankrupting the economy, no one will have the means to use the technology, let alone the interest in anything beyond survival. We need to create a new set of values that are more holistic, and more connected. We need to help people imagine innovative ways to take advantage of the technological capabilities that go beyond simple ideas of productivity.

I’m all for eliminating the complexities of the digital economy, so I can concentrate on bringing value to the human economy.

Cisco Women’s Professional Development Day: My Career Journey as a Woman

Cisco Women's Professional Development Day

Cisco Women’s Professional Development Day

On the morning of August 25, I presented to the Cisco Chief Strategy Office, Women’s Professional Development Day.  I thought I would share the notes I used to prepare for the presentation. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in a comment!

Watch the video of my presentation:

Cisco Women’s Professional Development Day Overview of Talk

You have in front of you someone that many people would categorize as a rare specimen. You could think that this is because there is something a bit odd about a French women, working for a British corporation dedicated to helping people learn English. Actually, unfortunately, I am rare because I  am the CEO of a 300 person subsidiary of a public company.

When I started my career at 22, I believed I could do anything, get any job. I did not believe that women needed any special attention to have successful career.

Today, as a CEO, I am now acutely aware of the challenges women face in the workplace, and strongly believe we need to proactively help women to succeed at every level in the workplace.

What life experiences changed my mind? What lessons could I give to my 22 year old self?

My career journey as a woman

Work Before kids

My mother has always been, and continues to be, the greatest influence on my life. She was always a working mother (and a hard working mother) and despite difficult moments she always managed to get back on track and succeed, giving me a sense that she (and women in general) are invincible.

I started realizing there were differences when I got closer to motherhood. In Europe, around 28 years old people expect you to have a baby sometime soon.

I was working at Oracle at that time. I decided to make my first real-estate investment to build a house for my mother who, after she retired, did not have high income.

While planning for it, it was clear my current job would not allow me to do everything I wanted. Deep inside me I knew I was worth more, that I could bring more value. I felt I was under-valued.

I had the choice to accept the status quo and delay my life projects, or to take a risk and leave a comfortable position to join another company.

I decided to prepare my resume and post it online. It also helped that a head hunter called me with an offer to join an innovative startup. I jumped on it immediately.

When I announced to my boss I was leaving for a new opportunity, he tried to convince me to stay.  He told me that I was a great talent for the company. Then he played with my womanly fears: “We appreciate you. You have a very stable environment here to have your first child. You are welcome to stay in your current role.” I was shocked, to say the least. This was the first time someone said out loud that motherhood would keep my career as a status quo, and that men were more likely to get promotions than someone who wanted to have a child.  I realized that, my boss and still friend, while not wanting to harm me in anyway, could negatively impact my career. Sheryl Sandberg, in Lean In, put a name on it: Cultural bias.

What I would tell my 22 year old self or my daughter? Believe yourself. Do everything you can to continue to grow, and when you believe you are underutilized, make a move.

Work After Having Children

Later in my career, when I gave birth to my first child, I was fortunate to be living in France with the benefits afforded to working mothers in the French healthcare system, and funded daycare.  When I had my second child in the U.S., I had the chance to work for Microsoft which offered great maternity leave. I was advanced enough in my career to be financially independent. I did not have to ask myself the question: “Shall I quit my job because the economics don’t make sense?”

While most people cannot choose the country of their choice to have kids, they can select states, or companies to work for in the US.

What I would tell my 22 years old self?  Work for a company that cares and that has favorable benefits regarding flexibility, maternity and childcare. It could make or break a career.

However, right about that time my family expressed a desire to relocate from Seattle to California to pursue one of our dreams. As I was having my second child, California seemed like the right place to raise him. With clear a clear goal in mind, I came to my boss to announce to him that not only was I pregnant– you can imagine how happy he was–but also that I was moving to California.

I did not know if I could stay in my job working remotely, but in any case, I believed I could always find a solution. 3 months after moving to Silicon Valley, and after many hours of negotiation, I ended up bringing my family to California.

About a year later, I decided that going back-and-forth to Seattle was costing my family too much, so I started to search for a more local role. While Microsoft had my heart, most of their commercial leadership roles where in Seattle. So I started to look at what could be next. It was clear to me that it needed to be in a field where I could have social impact. When I came across the opportunity to work for Pearson, leading the team designated to deliver digital technology designed to increase access and efficacy of education, I jumped in. I started as a general manager, and 2 months after I was offered the CEO role, at 37 years old.

What I would tell my 22 year old self? Have a clear goal and go get it. Don’t always plan for everything–and align your passion to your work. You can make wonders happen.

But how can we accelerate?
As the leader of my company, I am now more empowered, and can act in my sphere of influence: I can work on the benefits for new mothers, build in flexibility for both male and female employees, and recruit a more diverse leadership team– however, there are unfortunately way too few other female executives to create the perfect storm.

As it will takes time to bring more women to the top of our public companies, I started to take a look at how else I could help move the needle. I decided to invest outside of my day job. Life does not stop when the work day ends.

First, I engaged in a support group, or what we call a “Lean In Circle.” We started by having a theme around transitions in our career. We listen to each other, we challenge each other, we offer support and most importantly, we offer a safe environment where we discuss the un-discussable. In the last three years all members changed roles to a better one, and we keep transitioning!

Second, I looked at the private companies, and specifically entrepreneurs, to work with. I was shocked by the low number of women who successfully received funding. Studies have shown that a more gender-diverse angel network encourages more women entrepreneurs to pitch.

So without any investment banking background I looked at how I could get engaged with investing. About a year ago I found Pipeline Fellowship, a program where you learn how to be angel investor, and where members fund women-lead social startups. In two days I will have another three companies presenting their projects, and probably will close some new investments.

For those of you in interested in becoming angel investors, keep in mind that this is a long-term, relational process. The investor generally plays a role in the development of the company, whether that means an opening, or a rolodex, or actual hands-on advising. If you are ready to apply your capabilities or your assets to a start-up,  you too can become an investor and help push the envelope.

I look forward to meeting, connecting and learning from this new community.

Thank you!

Leadership and Management: It’s Time to Teach Empowerment

Leadership Diagram Shows Vision Values Empowerment and Encouragement

Leadership and Management: It’s Time to Teach Empowerment

Management was the role that imposed the discipline and managed the process. Managers were taught to think like this. And the only model they had until they started work was the education system — and previously it was about the authority.

We live in a world in which employees are expecting to be influenced, motivated, and enabled to contribute toward the effectiveness and success of a common goal. We often call this leadership.

I think our current issues of enabling future leaders versus managers goes back to education as designed for the Ford assembly-line system and the industrial age.  
We often still teach one subject at a time, one class following another, one teacher lecturing many students.

Remember, I’m French! I like a little process, or else it’s chaos, but sometimes, sometimes you just have to let people go so they can explore.

Do students really need that level of authority? Do the students need a manager to tell them what to do? Do they really need detailed instructions for everything? When there is a project, there is a beginning and an end, and a lot of stuff that goes in between that is about negotiating your way toward a goal. Especially if it’s something new. How do you manage to do a project that nobody has done before?

I’m not sure that a person who is managing and leading you is the person who has to manage the process. If you are building a house with a plan and certain entry ways, think about the leader as the one who creates the context for people who need to do the details. She says, here’s the budget and the general idea, but all of you, architects and builders and craftspeople, go do what you do best within these guidelines. They create a creative community in the moment and the leader helps that community come together. Yes, you have to have people who know how to hang cabinets, and a vision to align with; they could hang the mismatched cabinets on-time and within budget, and they could be good managers, but they wouldn’t be helping create something wonderful–they would just be following a disconnected process.

In France and more Latin cultures, there is not as much process as I find in the US. People just think. They do what they think is the right thing. Too often people fall back on the process and say I failed because it wasn’t in the process. I say, just think. Empower people and let them do what needs to be done. People need to think critically, fail and learn from those failures. Just think and you might succeed at the first trial, or you can fail and learn and try it again! You don’t need process for everything.

If we go back to education, you have to start with thinking and empowerment at a very young age. If you empower someone trapped by process thinking, they won’t know what to do. They were raised with rules and instructions, limits and constraints, and they can’t just be empowered out of that. We have to help educate people on how to be empowered. I don’t think a manager can do that, only a leader can create the environment that supports empowerment.

Start-up Lessons: More Business Opportunities With Better Talent Management

businessman writing leadership skill concept

Start-up Lessons

When I think about all the companies that I’ve worked for, not leveraging the talent already in a place always strikes me as one of the easiest things to fix, and one of the hardest management missteps to explain away.

A company at its most fundamental is its people, and if managers can’t find a way to effectively use their most important, and most accessible asset, then they need to rethink the way they approach opportunities.

When looking for good practices, I look to start-ups, which would’t survive without good talent. They need to not only center around a cool idea or cause, they need to immediately engage, continue to intrigue, and perhaps more importantly, they need to prove that they know how to build an organization.

Here are four practices that I see in all good start-ups. I encourage you to consider taking these up today, so that you can turn opportunities into business, and create a more fulfilling work environment at the same time.


Unlike mature companies which create departments and functions, and organizational charts and job descriptions, start-ups avoid creating these, choosing instead to have different people, with different backgrounds and varying degrees of experience, rally around shared goals to just get the job done. Many times, start-up roles are filled by people without deep management experience. Big issues that require collective action get addressed as a group and not obscured by the silos. In mature organizations, people often just keep their heads down and do their work. They rarely get called upon to do something outside of their job description, and few volunteer, even if the opportunity arises.

It may be important for a mature company to create efficiencies of scale, but that doesn’t mean they need to completely abandon the idea that everybody is working toward the same goals, and if you can contribute, by all means, jump in and contribute.

Of course, this requires organizations to create practices that overcome the momentum to block the flow of information, to bottle up talent inside of functions, to ignore experience that doesn’t fit the job description, and to make work about getting the work done, not achieving anything bigger than the moment.

Bring in transparency and empowerment by making all meetings public and open to all employees who have some interests or passion on a subject. This approach to meetings eliminates silos–it gives people who really care permission to come to meetings that align with their passion and experience. It helps organizations transform meetings into collaborative experiences that find solutions.

And it doesn’t hurt if all meetings are optional. Create an environment of choice and empower your teams.

And it doesn’t hurt if all meetings are optional. Create an environment of choice and empower your teams.

Some people have a difficult time with the idea of transparency. In this context, the idea is pretty simple. Think about a one room start-up. The phone rings. It is a customer. The customer is on speaker phone. Everybody in the room hears from the customer. They hear about pricing, licensing, customer service, design and quality…all at the same time. The customer’s input doesn’t get parsed, doled out, and passed along from one function to another to treat discrete symptoms. The communication with that customer is transparent. Everybody, in every function, gets all the information.

Even the most mature organizations can use tools like collaboration technology to create transparency and make sure people are aware of opportunities when they present themselves. Individuals can subscribe to channels in enterprise social networking, for instance, to see what opportunities exist, to listen to what the customer is saying.

Hire the whole person

People looking for a job today are being told they should shrink their resume down and tailor it to meet the jobs they are applying for. Often the first reader of a resume is an algorithm looking for key phrases, phrases like years of experience, Masters in Electric Engineering, or worked in Singapore. I was talking with a recruiter for a large software company not long ago and she told me that what keeps her up at night are all the great resumes she never sees because they are filtered out by technology.

This sad situation has created a world where recruiters and hiring managers don’t really get to know the whole person. By not hiring a whole person, organizations end up not knowing things about a person that may prove valuable in future situations. Does somebody in a marketing role have a solid retail background — a background perhaps better suited to crafting messages about a new retail-oriented product than the person assigned? Does a customer service person have a strong manufacturing background so that he or she could take the lead on enhancing technical product responses by engaging with manufacturing and engineering on solutions that aren’t in the current documentation? Has someone spent most of their school years through college, playing in an orchestra — but because that wasn’t relevant, failed to be consulted on the background music for the new corporate video?

In a start-up, you do not get hired for today, nor tomorrow–you get hired so you can contribute as your company grows.

In a start-up, you do not get hired for today, nor tomorrow–you get hired so you can contribute as your company grows.

Hiring the whole person enables and empowers. It enables the organization to match emergent opportunities with people already inside the organization. And it empowers the employee to say yes when opportunity knocks.

Make work meaningful

Organizations should have a higher purpose than making profits or serving shareholders.

Organizations should build social and environmental good into their outcomes. They need to have vision that inspires employees. But organizations don’t make work meaningful, people do. People create the work environment.

Start-ups have a clear advantage when creating a meaningful work experience. Most of the time the founder is part of this process. He or she can share the vision and the passion that inspired the creation of the company. The meaning starts with the interview.

Each manager of your organization needs to translate the passion instilled by the founders into inspiration for their team. Managers need to act as leaders, to go beyond just getting things done.

Each manager of your organization needs to translate the passion instilled by the founders into inspiration for their team. Managers need to act as leaders, to go beyond just getting things done.

Managers also need to think holistically. They need to design work experiences. They need to connect people across the organization, and facilitate the discovery of meaning. Managers need to think beyond tasks and actively tie work to strategy. The book, Management by Design by Daniel W. Rasmus, suggests that organizations think about this as the rhythm and motion of the business — that work flows for a purpose and that people need to understand its destination. By creating these connections, as the organization moves forward, all of its assets stay aligned because they are working toward a common purpose.

I know we don’t all work in post-industrial organizations with innovative, co-created cultures that offer distributed deliberation and decision making with highly transparent processes and data. If we want to improve employee engagement, though, we need to help those we manage make sense of what they are doing at the highest level possible, and perhaps that will help us bring some additional meaning to our own work.

Unleash talent

A major organizational strategy should always be: find work that best fits people’s talents and passion. We need to unleash people to apply their talent. But work doesn’t always end up accomplishing this. The hiring process forces people to squeeze their talents into a job description. Once hired, they hone their work to meet the objectives they negotiated. Some people put their objectives on the wall of their cubicle so that when asked to work outside of the parameters of those objectives, they can point and say, “sorry, that isn’t in my scope of work.” In all the reduction-ism we end up under-utilizing people. We hire people packaged in boxes and then put boxes around their boxes in the cause of productivity. We tell them to eliminate distractions and to focus on what is important. And these boxes keep people from exploring the organization. And they also keep the organization from exploring its people.

If we want engaged employees in a world of rapid change, we need to get to know them, and allow them to get to know the organization.

In a startup, goals change at a fast pace. People know that today’s objectives might well change tomorrow. If we want engaged employees in a world of rapid change, we need to get to know them, and allow them to get to know the organization. We need to accept it when people leap out of their boxes and demonstrate a willingness to contribute in new, unexpected ways. We don’t need to create incentives if we offer permission. Letting people explore is good for engagement, and it’s good for innovation. Too often we try to turn businesses into machines. That makes us think about people like machines, and when we do that, we lose all hope for passion and novelty.

A concluding thought

We all get caught up in what needs to be done. There is no excuse for ignoring the value that can be realized by helping people find ways to bring their knowledge and experience to bear on important challenges and opportunities.

The seemingly insurmountable levels of employee disengagement can be reduced one percentage point at a time, one person at a time. Managers need to think beyond the boundaries of the boxes they are in, and help those they are responsible for nurturing find ways to move beyond their boxes and apply their best selves. The mighty combination of transparency, a holistic view of the employee, an investment in meaning, and employee empowerment, creates a business environment that doesn’t need to be told to succeed, it is one that just wants to succeed.

Learning from Lean In Circles


Learning from Lean In Circles

The idea of leadership is very simple. It means helping people realize their potential.

This is a very important piece of how I define my own success. I am always heartened when a previous team member says thank you to me for inspiring them or encouraging them to take on a new challenge, even a new role.

Creating team harmony is central. Leaders need to help people get along and work on achieving shared goals. Leaders need to avoid anything that encourages, or even ignores, divisiveness.

Good leaders don’t stop when the work day ends. They have to reach out into the community. I’m very involved, for instance, in a Bay Area Lean In Circle that was developed to empower women in transition to build a rewarding professional and personal life.

Lean In Circles reinforce my belief that everyone can have a chance, if prompted, to seek positive directions.

In the Circles we meet regularly to learn from each other and find ways to nurture each other. They are a great learning experience because everybody who comes to them wants to learn from the other people who join.

Think about a work environment where learning was really as first class a task as doing. While some organizations talk about continuous improvement, most don’t really embrace continuous learning. These ideas go hand-in-hand.

I think the Circles are a great model. 80% of members say they find the confidence to undertake new challenges or opportunities because of the Circle. If Circle members can translate that kind of self-confidence back into the companies they work for, we would see huge shifts in value creation.

Circles are collaborative. Too often work is about competition, not about collaboration. The Circles teach the power of peer support. Let’s talk about our shared goals and figure out how to achieve them. If we only compete, we end up undermining not just ourselves but our companies. When we cooperate, we all benefit.

Too often work is about competition, not about collaboration. The Circles teach the power of peer support.

The other thing I think companies can learn from the Circles is their informal approach to meeting. People meet at their homes, sponsor brown-bag lunch series at their work place, or get online and meet virtually. Learning from each other only needs the goal of learning plus people with a willingness to teach and share, listen and reflect. We too often mix up the ritual of work with value creation for customers and clients, but not for colleagues.

I have talked to people who have gained new jobs, found the courage to pursue a promotion or a raise, or absorbed feedback, in order to become a better leader  — all through Lean In Circles.

Businesses can learn a lot from what people do to learn and build relationships outside of the workplace. We need to encourage more of those approaches into the work experience, so that we can make business and personal improvement as important as meeting quarterly goals. Our ability to retain employees, create an environment for consistent performance and engage our staff at an emotional level requires that we find new ways to provide value for them that goes beyond traditional incentives. Lean In Circles offer a good insight that we should apply in our organizations.

Vive Le Petit Pot

Le Petit PotI was at a recent French American Business Awards, sponsored by the French Chamber of Commerce and I got very excited listening to Pierre Coeurdeuil of Petit Pot. His company makes gourmet puddings. That’s right, puddings! The business is so impressive with its 3-digit growth in 2014 and so far in 2015 that the French Chamber of Commerce named them Start-up of the Year, or as we say, Start-up de l’année.

Every business is a learning experience. Pierre has a great perspective on entrepreneurship. He sees it as a personal quest. If you don’t see it as a quest, then you will get frustrated by the ups-and-downs. He sees the tough times, and the good, as part of the journey. You have to keep your eye on what you want to achieve and navigate your way to that goal.

He shared that he was able to pay his first payroll recently, but he wasn’t sure he would be able to pay the next one.

The boundary between success and bankruptcy is a very fine line for start-ups. – Pierre Coeurdeuil

After college Pierre worked as a food engineer for chocolate manufacturer Valrhona in France, which is where the best chocolate comes from.  He helped the company expand its chocolate factory. And then Pierre shifted jobs completely, deciding to build solar and wind farms. Pierre then met his wife just as she was planning to move to San Francisco. Pierre followed her.

While Pierre was in college, his current business partner Max Pouvreau learned to cook at his village’s bakery. After traveling the world for a bit, Max ended up working at Le Meurice. And then Max followed a girl to San Francisco. He became a pastry chef at Coi and mastered California cuisine.

It was in San Francisco that this unlikely pair of French ex-patriots found each other, and shared a passion for French cuisine with a California influence. They founded Petit Pot and the rest is history in the making.

I wish you could all hear Pierre tell his story. I was so inspired to become an even more passionate leader, and I think, to eat a little pudding.