Women Of The C-Suite: “Leadership isn’t about getting other people to do what you want them to do” With Nasrin Azari CEO of Mobile Reach
Leadership isn’t about getting other people to do what you want them to do. It was easy for me to confuse “directing” with “leading”. Earlier in my career, I put myself into the Director’s chair and felt like I was responsible for driving everyone else forward by telling them what to do. When I wasn’t comfortable telling someone what to do because they were too busy or because I wasn’t quite sure how to do it myself, or if I received push-back, or if they didn’t perform the instruction “correctly”… I would take the task on myself. So I was mired in the intricate details of daily tasks, figuring out how the work had to be done so that I could be a more effective Director. The problem with this approach is that when you act as a Director, you don’t have time or energy to look at the big picture. You miss the holes; you miss seeing where interactions aren’t happening or aren’t working well; you miss opportunities to refocus a team that has gone astray. Through this learning process, I have discovered that leadership is really about getting others to see a common vision and act together to make it a reality. Instead of getting their people to do something, leaders actually need to get people to see something.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Nasrin Azari, the President and CEO of Mobile Reach, a 12-year-old software company based in North Carolina that provides mobile field service software to organizations around the world.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I developed a passion for mobile computing in 1996 when I was completing my MS degree in Computer Science at Duke University. At that time, the mobile industry was in its infancy and use cases were just being explored. My mentor was creating an application to help visiting nurses capture health information during home visits, and she was working on the problems associated with collecting data onto an early mobile device — everything from memory management, to battery life, to user interface. Relative to today’s standards, the device was large and clumsy, slow, and basic. But, I immediately saw the potential for real-world business use cases that could disrupt and improve a variety of industries, from health care to transportation to construction and beyond. For my master’s thesis, I designed a client-server system called “System for Mobile Access to Remotely Distributed Information” (SMARDI) that enabled mobile users to exchange information with backend systems even when located far away. My thesis was published in 1996 (prior to the proliferation of the “World Wide Web”) and is still relevant as many organizations embark on digital transformation for their field service teams to improve their operations and make their business more competitive.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We have had some interesting twists and turns throughout the years. One story in particular springs to mind. Early in the company’s life, we won a deal with a large retailer in Arkansas. It had been a long and tough sales cycle and just about everyone in the company helped bring it in. The project was very interesting, and we were excited to deliver our best work. I went out to visit the customer with one other employee. Our mission was to design our deliverables and teach the customer how to use our mobile platform. Our project was highly visible and expectations were high on both sides. Even though we knew our customer had a reputation for a low-cost business model, we were surprised by the minimalistic nature of our visit. Our meeting was held in a bullpen-like area in the basement of their building. There was no fluff, no executive meeting room, no expensive furniture or lighting. Lunch was simple; they were all business — very smart people focused on getting the job done the quickest way possible. It was a highly productive meeting. The lesson I learned during that visit was how a strong culture filters throughout a company. There was no confusion at this organization. No extra cost was spent on “unimportant” extras, and that was the basis for the company’s success. As we recently developed our own culture formula, I remember that experience and take seriously the filtering of our corporate objectives down to the smallest detail, both internally and externally. I credit that retailer for imprinting on me a valuable lesson!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that
Early on in Mobile Reach’s existence, we had a very large sales opportunity that represented five times our annual revenue at the time. Working on this opportunity took a huge amount of time and effort from a good portion of our team. We were convinced that our product was the perfect fit and poured our hearts into the work, planning for how we would invest and change the company with the proceeds from the project. Alas, as it turned out, we did not win the deal. It didn’t kill us, but it hurt. During the process of working on that opportunity, we neglected too many other important prospects and fell behind in sales. Perhaps worst of all, we suffered a major crash in team motivation. It was difficult to pick ourselves up and jump back in to rejuvenate our business. Two big lessons I learned from this mistake: 1) never count on a win before it’s actually in the door, and 2) you’ve got to keep all balls moving forward, so don’t take your eyes off of any one of them for too long!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What stands out to me the most about Mobile Reach is the quality and integrity of our team and our commitment to our customers. I formed the company with five partners who all came from an organization that had made a slew of poor business decisions. As such, the six of us were very conservative from the start. We were careful with every dime and set our priorities based on feedback from our customers. We have a history of treating our customers like royalty, because we know they are our lifeblood. We deliver the very best solution and service that we possibly can, in every situation. We meet our commitments at all costs, and go out of our way to meet any special demands or requirements. Our long-time customers know that they can count on us for the little things that make a big difference… a quick response from our support team, adding a critical feature to their solution at the last minute, special attention and support during a global deployment, taking their suggestions to heart as we put together our product roadmap. We have an awesome product, but it’s really the people and how we deliver that stand out.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are currently working on a fantastic new product that we expect to announce in the next few months. As a company, we make field service technicians’ work easier, more efficient and more rewarding. This new product provides brand new ways for field service leaders to engage, enable, and empower their technicians, actually helping them to do their job more effectively. Our new offering is the natural evolution of our mobile-first approach to managing field technicians and field service work
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Be true to yourself. Many women in leadership positions who work with a lot of men tend to feel that they have to try to act like men in order to build confidence and trust from their peers and direct reports. I have found that it is best to be authentic and draw on your own strengths, using your own words and methods of communication rather than to try to live up to some male image that we create for ourselves.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Focus on hiring a great leadership team, and make sure to work together on creating your core values, mission, and purpose. I brought the Enterprise Operating System (EOS) into my organization, and it has been a great tool to keep us in sync with each other and focused on our biggest priorities.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Like most who have been leading a company as long as I have, there are many people who have helped me through a variety of challenges along my path. Without a doubt, there is one person in particular who has provided constant support for me and truly stands out: my sister. She is a professional career coach and does a lot of work with executives to help them grow as leaders, with a special focus on people-issues and personal growth. She has been a great resource for advice in tricky situations, uncovering things I may be doing to derail my own success, helping me with confidence building, and learning how to build an effective team.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Bringing goodness to the world is something that guides how I work and how I lead. Integrity is incredibly important to me, and I am motivated by bringing value to others. Within Mobile Reach, we have consciously built a culture that revolves around putting others first, interacting with the utmost integrity, and constantly looking for ways to provide better value to our customers. Our mission is to improve the operations of our customers, which enables those companies to provide better service to their own customers. I see it as a domino effect — making one little corner of the world better and watching it spread!
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Leadership isn’t about getting other people to do what you want them to do. It was easy for me to confuse “directing” with “leading”. Earlier in my career, I put myself into the Director’s chair and felt like I was responsible for driving everyone else forward by telling them what to do. When I wasn’t comfortable telling someone what to do because they were too busy or because I wasn’t quite sure how to do it myself, or if I received push-back, or if they didn’t perform the instruction “correctly”… I would take the task on myself. So I was mired in the intricate details of daily tasks, figuring out how the work had to be done so that I could be a more effective Director. The problem with this approach is that when you act as a Director, you don’t have time or energy to look at the big picture. You miss the holes; you miss seeing where interactions aren’t happening or aren’t working well; you miss opportunities to refocus a team that has gone astray. Through this learning process, I have discovered that leadership is really about getting others to see a common vision and act together to make it a reality. Instead of getting their people to do something, leaders actually need to get people to see something.
- When you become a leader, your people are your highest priority. When you become a leader, you have to let go of tasks. This is a very difficult thing to do, especially if you get a lot of satisfaction out of completing tasks or actually making something! In order for the team to thrive, the leader’s role is to enable the team to perform at its highest level. As the leader, you are responsible for the dynamics of the team, the health of the team. Your focus needs to be on the people themselves — if they have what they need, you have to be confident that all of the tasks will get done.
- Good leaders don’t have to have all the answers. I used to get stressed out when I didn’t feel like I could answer every question about my business, my market, my competition, my product. In order to feel confident, I would need to feel that I could handle anything that anyone could throw at me. But the reality is that nobody can ever know every answer. I’ve discovered that being a good leader means that yes, you need to be able to speak confidently about your business, market, competition, and product, but having all the answers at your fingertips is not as important as having a cohesive vision and story and a team behind you who can get the answers for you when needed.
- Building a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint. When you’re constantly looking at the latest craze, trying to compete against the latest claim by your biggest competitor, worried about your current ratings … you end up focusing on short-term results, bandaids and “wow” features that get attention today but don’t necessarily build long-term value. Over the years, I’ve learned that although the quick hits are sometimes helpful and important, building a scalable business is a long process. The most successful businesses have not always been on top. Sometimes they are leading and sometimes they are lagging. But, throughout it all, they are innovating, growing expertise, building functionality and brand, learning from their ups and downs. All of that experience results in a business that endures.
- Good Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, colors, genders, and personalities. I used to picture the ideal leader as a dynamic, assertive, charismatic, and confident male. A man who knows what’s right and what’s best, never makes a mistake, and when he speaks, everyone stops to listen. Because that look and that personality were so different from myself, it made it hard to picture myself successfully in the role. Over the past 3 or 4 years, I have consciously looked at a much broader range of leaders, particularly women, and have noticed that the ones I admire most are very different from each other. Different styles, different looks, different priorities, different passions. The common thread is that each of them is true to who they are. They embrace their own personal “why.” They can be loud and commanding or quiet and reserved. They typically lead by example and by empowering others. Some are very technical, and some are not. This has inspired me to become more comfortable in my own skin, embracing my strengths and my weaknesses, knowing that I have what it takes to be successful and that I don’t need to be any more than who I currently am.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I wish that there was more genuine kindness in the world. It’s so easy to extend a helping hand to another person, but most of us rarely do it… I fall short myself sometimes. We are all very self-focused and worried about checking the next task off of our to-do list that we hardly pay attention to others around us. I would love to inspire a movement where each person would make a conscious effort to do one kind thing for another person every day. It could be as simple as holding a door for someone who has their hands full, giving $5 to the homeless person holding a sign on the off-ramp, helping a neighbor find their lost dog, or engaging in conversation with the elderly gentleman who walks down your street every evening. The amazing power of kindness is how it lifts the spirits of the giver and the receiver :)
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There are no right or wrong answers…. just choices.”
A lot of leaders, including myself, get caught up in trying to figure out the right path, the right choice, the right decision, and then evaluating themselves based on how many of those decisions were correct after analyzing the results. It has been incredibly helpful to me to stop viewing decisions as black or white, right or wrong. Once I started to view them as choices, it has become easier for me to actually make and commit to a decision, move forward and fully embrace the journey without worrying so much about all the “what ifs” that could have been had I made a different choice. I have accepted the fact that I may not always choose the easiest path, or the one that nets the best result, or one that even gets me to where I wanted to go! The lens I want to view myself through is the one that looks at whether I am making the most of what I have in front of me, in the environment that I have chosen to be in, and with the people I have chosen to surround myself with. With this awareness, no grass is greener than the stuff that’s right under your feet!!
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Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!