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28 Words on Leadership

I have admired the work of Walker White for years and have valued the opportunity to compare notes and share lessons-learned with him during that time. At this point, I am excited to explore ways to expand and deepen that collaboration. With his recent transition following a long and successful run at BDNA and its acquirer Flexera, Walker will play a more active advisory role to Lock 8 Partners. This week Walker shared on LinkedIn some of his thoughts and observations from 25 years in leadership roles in the tech space. His post really resonated with me, and I wanted to share it here on the Made Not Found blog.

28 Words on Leadership, by Walker White

After 25+ years, it is time for me to shake it up and pursue career 2.0. I’ve been fortunate to be entrusted with leadership roles over that time, and in an effort to continue learning, I kept a running list of quotes and anecdotes that struck me. As it is good to pause and reflect during any transition, I recently found myself reviewing that list. Sometimes with a chuckle and other times with a sigh, I was reminded of when I heard them, what they meant to me, and how I put it into action (or didn’t, hence the sighs). I thought I would share four of my favorites:

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

  • Who: Management guru Peter Drucker
  • To Me: Despite increasing focus, culture is still overlooked for its strategic value. Strong cultures are known to increase productivity, performance, retention, organizational reputation, and ultimately profits. However, many organizations still toss buzzwords on laminated cards that employees are told to post near their desk.
  • To Action: Your culture is not what you say it is, it is what others say it is. Take the time to frankly assess your culture — inside and out — then work to fix the broken pieces, and you should expect it to take some time. The Culture Code is the best place to start.

“You get what you tolerate.”

  • Who: Professional Outsider David Belden
  • To Me: From youth, we know that hypocrisy crushes the spirit. “Do as I say, not as I do”. When exceptions are made because “that’s just John’s communication style”, “Jill has been here for 13 years”, or “he’s tight with the CFO”, you undermine the organization and implicitly encourage that which you do not want. You’ll only get more of it.
  • To Action: After establishing your culture, reinforce it through hiring, performance management, rewards/recognition, and dismissal.

“Everything is in walking distance if you have the time.”

  • Who: Comedian Steven Wright
  • To Me: While I have often used this quote for its raw comedic value, I interpret it as a call for focus. In small-scale businesses, focus is a primal instinct, but we often lose it chasing a deal or when our courage is tested. In larger organizations, lack of focus can create huge inefficiency as well as sapping morale as projects are started with great fanfare then whither away unaddressed. The result is that when big change is required, employees won’t commit to the heavy lift as they’ll just await the next distraction or shiny object from leadership.
  • To Action: Define, document, and — most importantly — communicate your strategy to the organization, assuming it is a strategy. If objectives and goals don’t have an obvious line of sight to the strategy, take a deeper look or just say no.

“Control leads to compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”

  • Who: Bestselling author Daniel Pink
  • To Me: Trust is the bedrock of high performing teams. There’s a place for control (e.g. travel policies), but control is top-down construct. For high performance, you need employee engagement, which comes from trusting people and giving them autonomy. Plans must be made and goals measured, but its far easier to motivate people by asking questions than making statements.
  • To Action: With a defined, documented strategy of “why” and “what”, have the team develop the “how” within some execution framework (try Scaling Up or Traction if you’re a beginner). Then give them the autonomy to do it; they’ll engage. Also, talk less, ask more.

When you hear a quote or anecdote that resonates with you, take the time to jot it down. In my experience, so much of leadership is common sense, but the pace of the day-to-day often caused me to over think the best solution. Simple quotes — like those above — always served to ground me back to what really mattered and more often than not illuminated that which I had overlooked.

Still learning and laughing,

Walker White

Walker White recently left his role as Senior Vice President of Products at Flexera to pursue Career 2.0. Prior to acquisition by Flexera, Walker White was the president of BDNA Corporation. He is passionate about helping organizations excel by building the right team and culture, setting and communicating a compelling vision, and driving momentum through courageous decisions.

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Todd Gibby

Todd Gibby

SaaS operator-turned-investor | Founder of Lock 8 Partners | Sharing observations, thoughts, and lessons learned from the ever-educational journey.