Month: January 2016

The Good & Great Recruiters

The Good & Great Recruiters

We’re all looking to conquer the world with what we are doing, and we need the right people to help us do it–people who want to achieve success for themselves and can help us do it as a company.

The difference between good and great in recruiting–like everything else in life–ends up being about passion, focus, and discipline. You always know it when you see it – and it always shows up in the results of that recruiter’s work. The best way to put it is that a good recruiter has a keen interest in recruiting and knows all the rules. A great recruiter knows how to go beyond the rules.

Great recruiters reach mastery level because more than just being interested, they are deeply committed to achieving great success for their clients. Talent is not enough. Applying years of hard work produces skill. And recruiting is a craft that is best learned from apprenticing with a skilled master.

A good recruiter has solid first-order thinking, and a significant amount of subject matter expertise in any number of areas that make executives successful. This means that they are keen evaluators of technical chops and delivering candidates that are a strong technical fit for any given role.

This is not enough. Technical chops are no guarantee of whether a candidate can work with the team, fit into the company culture, and stay motivated and engaged in the long term.

This is what great recruiters understand and master. A great recruiter will add value by understanding a company’s cultural DNA, and delivering candidates who will fit and integrate into the team perfectly. Great recruiters know how to identify an executive’s blind spots, and can anticipate how the new hire will complement the CEO’s personal traits and leadership abilities.

Good recruiters also know how to walk away. When necessary, they will advise their client against making a hire, even if it’s a pressing role. Closing that search would undoubtedly mean an immediate benefit to the recruiter in the short term, but great recruiters know that their reputation depends on delivering the best possible hire and have two other candidates on the ready. They can’t afford to let their client close on a candidate if they know it’s not the right match.

I always tell people that recruiting, on its most basic level, is about understanding human relationships. Good recruiters understand roles. Great recruiters understand people; they have conceptual models of how to differentiate top talent. They have a proven methodology for achieving outstanding results. For this reason, the periodic check-in with your friendly, neighborhood recruiter is a great way to get feedback and market assess the competitiveness of your own executive team.

It’s tough to go from good to great in this field. It can often seem that great recruiters are born, rather than made. I also recognize that there are a lot of green recruiters just beginning their careers out there, with the seeds of greatness in them, looking for how they can make it to the next level. Learning to evaluate a person’s ability to fit in a team requires a keen sense of understanding about culture fit, leadership agility, social intelligence, and pragmatism, all for the purpose of being able to lead the organization towards its strategic objectives. Here’s my advice for those people:

  1. Be a student of leadership. Apprentice yourself to a truly great recruiter, and study the work of business leaders and cutting-edge, best-quality thought on executive leadership at every opportunity. Read the books on leadership from the great thinkers on this subject. Your life’s work is to help top executives find the people they need to win. You should understand those people, their challenges, and their priorities inside and out, in order to excel in your own role.
  2. Build something. Spend time, as an internal executive operator, actually building and growing a company. My time at high-growth companies like TheLadders and HotJobs helped me to develop an understanding of the needs and challenges of large high-growth businesses, and taught me how to hire and develop leadership from within. This has aided me immeasurably in helping other companies find the talent they need; my clients can trust me and communicate with me effectively, because I have walked a few miles in my clients’ shoes.
  3. Get your hands dirty. Spend a significant amount of time, energy and considered thought in studying the fine distinctions of character and leadership in practice. Learn to make judgment calls on character – and watch your results, by tracking the success or failure of those you have personally tapped for leadership roles. When you are able to verify your judgment of character by a track record of identifying successful future executives, you will know you have progressed to the highest level of recruiting prowess.

In 20 years of doing this work, I have never found anyone who is crazier about recruiting than I am. Mastering the art and science of recruiting allows me to now spend my time with the top CEO’s, the top venture investors and the top 1% of A+ executive talent focused on making the world a better place. The level of understanding of new technologies, latest methodologies and the synthesis of new ideas is intellectually fulfilling. Changing the lives of real people who happen to be visionary CEO’s and their executive teams is heart-warming. Helping companies that are doing good in the world satisfies the soul. Great recruiters everywhere share this passion. We know that by finding the world’s great leaders and putting them in the right roles, we’re changing the world.

How To Make A Great Chief Inspiration Officer

How To Make A Great Chief Inspiration Officer

I made the varsity swim team when I was in 7th grade. I was a scrawny kid that hit puberty late, so making the varsity swim team was less indicative of a personal achievement than it was the state of our high school swim team. And Coach Swenson was determined to turn things around.

At our very first swim meet, just a few weeks after training began, I witnessed a fully developed high school senior have what could best be described as a temper tantrum. It turned into him proclaiming that he would quit the team if Coach Swenson made him swim the dreaded 500 – the longest race in high school swimming, 20 laps. The memory of what Coach Swenson did next would stay with me throughout my life.

Looking around for quite possibly the strongest contrast with the fully developed senior, Coach Swenson asked me to come over and join him in his huddle with the Team Captains — some of the strongest seniors on the team. He gave me a pep talk, along with precise instructions on what I would need to do. With unquestionable resolve, he commanded that I achieve something that I didn’t previously believe was even a remote possibility for myself.

“Carvajal, I need you to swim the 500. We are spread thin and I’ve got no one else on the team for this slot. You just need to finish the race, even in last place. The team needs the 2 points. With your 2 points, we could win the entire swim meet. I know you can do it, Carvajal, I believe in you. The team believes in you. Will you do it?”

Before I could hit the “s” in yes, the huddle erupted in a celebratory burst. The sheer terror of what I had committed to was palpable. Yet, because he believed in me, I did finish that race.

As a leader, you have many responsibilities. One of the most under-valued is that of Chief Inspiration Officer. The best way to get anyone to do anything is to make him or her want to do it. A team that is positive, motivated and engaged can move mountains! You must be the motivating force that keeps that team excited, inspired, and moving together toward success.

Of course, in order to inspire your team, you need the right team. First, you must make sure that you have built a strong group, with the right players in each position. All of your team members should be intrinsically motivated by the system of values that is inherent in the company’s cultural DNA, established by the founders and CEO. They should also know that they have signed up for high performance, and that “good enough” isn’t good enough: They need to be great.

As the leader, your role is to always set the vision for a better world created by the development and delivery of your product. People are unbeatable when they believe they are working for the greater good: Communicate this vision for your team, and they can power through any obstacles.

Secondly, form a strong relationship with each player on your team. Help them to set an individual vision of a greater self, a self that will be built by learning and performing at a high level within your organization. Make sure each member of your team knows that you support their professional development and their quest to become someone greater than they are today through hard work and success.

It’s also important to celebrate the great achievements that do happen. Celebrate wins for the team, and individual wins, constantly. People will perform at a higher level when they are motivated by the promise of a celebration right around the corner.

One key tool for this work is the 5-to-1 ratio for positive and critical feedback. People are bombarded with negative information throughout the day. It becomes overwhelming, and can lead them to become demotivated and disengaged. So, offer your employees all the critique they need to improve – but remember to balance each piece of critique with 5 pieces of positive feedback.

So, instead of simply telling your employee John that he’s blown his last three deadlines and it’s become a problem, you might try this: “John, you’re fantastic and I love the way you work with the clients and team. I would like you to focus more on hitting your deadlines. The work you produce is awesome, just need to make sure it’s timely and we’re hitting the commitments we set out to and we’re holding ourselves accountable and to a high standard.”

That positive feedback also helps develop trust. Any business is a sophisticated network of complex conversations – the quality of those conversations determines the success of the business. By offering positive feedback and celebration of wins, you develop the relationships necessary for direct, honest, and open communication that makes your conversations effective.

Your work as Chief Inspiration Officer is more than hand-holding or “being nice.” By taking the responsibility to motivate your team, you are taking charge of their development. Your work will get your team moving together, in the right direction. That creates alignment and increases your velocity and operational excellence, making it possible for your business to soar to new heights.

Back to Coach Swenson. I did, in fact, finish the race — approximately 5 minutes after the second to last contestant. And as I pulled my fully spent body out of the pool, each limb feeling like a limp strand of spaghetti, the entire natatorium stood up to give me a standing ovation. We won the meet by three points.

In the years that followed, Coach Swenson would allow me to choose the race events that I wanted to participate in. Eventually, I developed a decent butterfly stroke and won a place on the starting lineup. He would retell the story of my 500 race whenever someone complained about race assignments.

Most importantly, Coach Swenson helped me create a greater vision of myself than even I thought was possible. His belief in me, as incredulous as I was about myself, allowed me to reach new heights.

Humility Is The High Road To Start-Up Glory

Humility Is The High Road To Start-Up Glory

Humility is underrated. As a virtue it requires taking a modest view of one’s own importance. This doesn’t sound much like a leadership quality. It is however, widely accepted as the one leadership quality common among the greatest leaders of all mankind.

True humility is not the same as poor self-image or self-defeating behavior, those could be considered false humility. Insecure timidity, low self-esteem, or anxious self-concern are also examples of false humility. In fact, those qualities can make one incapable of focusing on others or the greater good. True humility enables leaders to focus on those around them, and contribute to their welfare at an even higher level.

Humility is the way to honor the bigger vision that we are working towards: the progress of all humanity. It allows us to realize that there are much bigger forces at play in the market, apart from our individual concerns, and allows us to listen with the intent to understand.

True humility requires confident self-knowledge. It requires a deep understanding of the big picture. It requires a service orientation towards the greater good without seeking personal gain.

Humility preserves the soul in tranquility and makes us patient under trials. People move fast at high growth companies and decisions need to be made. With the open-mindedness nature of humility, we engender trust. We learn, adapt, do better. We can accept that there will be friction, stay calm, and treat each other with the dignity and respect we all deserve.

Keith Cunningham, my leadership mentor, advises that risk in business is inversely proportional to the perception of its existence. All leaders are one bad decision away from total calamity. The greater the perception that there is no risk, the more likely and vulnerable a business is to risk. Close-minded certainty, foolish bravado and pride were the cause of cataclysmic catastrophes at Enron, Barings Bank and Lehman Brothers.

In The Founder’s Dilemmas, Noam Wasserman distinguishes between the drives to be “Rich versus King” or the “profit” motive and the “control” motive. He says that by opening up our decision-making processes to others, we lose control. More importantly, we also build stronger businesses and experience greater rewards.

In my experience, the “profit” motive is about faith and creating abundance; the “control” motive is fear-based and about containment and constriction. Giving up existential “control” and moving strongly towards the greater vision for a better world – practicing active humility – is a quality of the best leaders. All growth and leadership require an openness to learning. The greatest leaders are voracious learners.

Humility works best in a team. When working toward a greater vision, the whole team needs to have alignment and move in that direction. It must start from the top. Hire people who practice active humility.

On leadership and on humility, one would be hard pressed to find a finer example than my friend Thilo Semmelbauer of Shutterstock. Thilo took from zero to over $100M, and then ran all global operations for Weight Watchers (over $1.5B revenue) before I recruited him to TheLadders. I only worked with Thilo for a few months before leaving to hang up my own shingle at Dave Partners and Thilo left a few months after that to run the business at Shutterstock. In the past few years, Thilo has helped grow the Shutterstock business from $60 million to an IPO to more than $300 million in revenues. He is a leader in the true sense of the word and beloved by all.

Thilo’s success demonstrates the power of true humility: He is an active listener, totally dedicated to his team and his company, and truly open to learning from the people he works with. This has helped him to build one of the greatest success stories in New York City Tech.

His humility constantly reminds me of the leadership benefits of this under-appreciated virtue, and helps me to keep my own humility intact, for the good of my company and the world we all share.

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed it, please share it with your network and recommend. Also, don’t miss this advice for millenials.

The Two Most Common Skills of The Top 1% of A+ Executive Talent

The Two Most Common Skills of The Top 1% of A+ Executive Talent

At least 50% of the success that anyone could hope to achieve, in any field where humans are involved, will be determined by their ability to relate and communicate effectively with other people.

Why Communication Matters

Every organization where humans are involved is a sophisticated network of complex conversations. The quality of discourse determines the health of the organization.

The language, social norms and culture of an organization play an important part in creating an environment that makes communication more or less productive. Further the CEO often sets the organizational climate, communication style, and the social contracts that executives make with each other while moving the organization towards the company’s strategic objectives. The impact of all these is felt significantly more strongly at smaller, early stage startups.

Nevertheless, self-determining professionals who are dedicated to performing at the highest levels of responsibility and leadership will benefit from the active development of their own communication skills. These skills, not taught at even the top MBA programs, have more to do with how we relate to each other as individuals.

Here are the two most common skills of the top 1% of A+ executive talent:

1: Active Listening

Active listening means listening fully, with the intent to understand first, rather than to be understood.

Most of us are not skilled listeners. The research says that we only remember 50% of what we hear, and sometimes less. If we miss the nuanced variables of tone, inflection, volume, and body language, or fail to read the emotional data through communication, the effects on performance, which often rely on team insights, could be quite poor.

To become an active listener, you must consciously cultivate focus and being present. Experts suggest that you make eye contact, and frequently demonstrate that you are paying attention, by nodding, smiling, and otherwise evidencing a clear reaction to what you hear. Empathic listening improves understanding and builds trust. Hone and fine-tune your comprehension by repeating what you hear: Responses beginning with “I’m hearing that ______” and “I understand that you’re saying _____” give people a chance to correct and enhance your understanding.

One warning: If you catch yourself thinking about what to say next, while someone is still talking, you are not practicing active listening!

2: Performance Feedback

Being a top-performing communicator means being able to give and receive feedback.

Too many companies rely on outmoded “performance review” systems, in which feedback is only given and received at set intervals. This makes feedback something to dread, rather than an essential part of motivating top performance. (My disdain for typewriters, corporate performance reviews and fax machines – vestiges from another era – will be something I explore in another post.)

And while nothing is better than direct, open and honest feedback done on a one-to-one basis in person, with the invention of email, “agile performance feedback” is now possible. Giving and receiving feedback should be part of every day. That means regularly checking in – pitching and catching, giving and receiving feedback where and when it is necessary, with an eye toward rewarding specific behaviors and setting goals together. This is a far superior model.

What is most important about active listening and the giving & receiving of performance feedback is the effect on trust, team building and both individual and collective team performance. Letting your team know what you need and why you appreciate their work builds a sense of real partnership and helps you to stay on the same page as you build and execute the tactics in the direction of your strategic outcomes. Being clear about accountability and ownership – both yours and that of your teammates – is crucial.

Feedback is not punishment. It is not something to fear. Feedback is how you form your blueprint for excellence.

We all succeed with the help of other people. Learning to actively listen and communicate feedback with the smart, capable people with whom we surround ourselves is essential to becoming a high performing leader that people look up to.


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The Key to High Performance Leadership

The Key to High Performance Leadership

High performance is the strongest desire of every CEO. High performance requires high-performance leadership. High-performance leadership is built on a foundation of excellence and a framework of harmony.

Too often executive leaders at startup tech companies try to build a foundation of harmony in order to achieve operational excellence. This is a mistake. They fill their office space with ping pong tables, video game machines, snack rooms, kegerators and creature comforts as a means to appear competitive with Google-style employment perks and to lure top recruits. They attempt to compete on a basis of social harmony and having an awesome “culture” without actually having spent any deep thinking time on culture and the practices that drive outstanding business performance. They’ve mistakenly prioritized social harmony over disciplined, measured operational excellence.

No-one is saying that harmony isn’t important — only that it’s impossible without operational excellence as its foundation. Both excellence and harmony are important for high performance. Excellence is of first importance; it is what you must lay down as a foundation first because there can be no harmony without excellence. If performance and results are where you want them, then, sure, I am all in favor of ping pong tables, laser tag and sleeping pods.

My advice to CEOs and executive leaders: Build a performance-based culture of excellence around performance drivers, KPI’s, measurable outcomes. Build a meritocracy where people get as much responsibility as they can handle on the basis of true merit: ownership, accountability, execution and results. This is the foundation of operational excellence.

Harmony is about creating the environment for direct, honest and open dialogue about the things that matter — trust, commitment, results. It’s about having adult conversations about performance metrics and holding each other accountable. Harmony is not the same as avoiding conflict rather it’s about engaging in meaningful productive outcomes and solutions-driven discourse. This is high-productivity harmony.

Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team provides a great model for building this kind of harmony around excellence. He pinpoints several dysfunctions that prevent a team from achieving excellence, including lack of trust, avoidance of accountability, inattention to results, and, perhaps most importantly, fear of conflict — which is to say, when employees avoid conflict and create artificial harmony by going along with others’ decisions indiscriminately — the results they achieve will be lacking and the team as a whole suffers.

When your employees are driven by excellence in their standards, by excellence in their craft, by excellence in the rigorous disciplines required for disintermediation of an entire industry then, and only then, can you have harmony from the top down and from the bottom up in professional life. Moreover, you will have a culture of excellence where employees can trust and rely on each other. They don’t have to worry whether their teammates will come through. They don’t clash over poorly executed projects. Rather, a focus on excellence magnifies the definiteness of purpose and accelerates productive collaboration on a team. This creates the kind of environment that magnifies everyone’s fire in the belly and a team spirit that the most capable of champions want to be a part of.

(Operational) Excellence + (Productive) Harmony = High Performance Leadership

In the Harvard Business review, Matthew Lieberman points to James Zenger’s research indicating that “results focus” and “social skills” are actually two different parts of the brain — and that these two parts of the brain never work at the same time.

“These two networks function like a neural seesaw,” Lieberman writes. “In countless neuroimaging studies, the more one of these networks got more active, the more the other one got quieter. Although there are some exceptions, in general, engaging in one of the kinds of thinking makes it harder to engage in the other kind.”

Yet leaders who were exclusively results-focused or exclusively social-focused both received poor approval ratings from their subordinates. Those who combined both skills were rated as great leaders a staggering 72% of the time. Great leaders are those who can effectively seesaw between the two parts of their brain that contribute to excellence and winning as a team.

Ultimately, it is a commitment to both excellence and harmony, with excellence in priority, that creates high performance. Playing full out, measuring, learning and adapting creates the kind of high performance execution that everyone wants to be a part of — because culture is everything. This fulfills not only the strongest desire of their CEO, but also the Board, investors, customers, and stakeholders. Most importantly, it fulfills the strongest professional desire of their own. This kind of high-performance leadership creates an indomitable culture that wins championships and creates the lasting impact of legends.

This post was originally published on the Dave Partners blog.

Thank you for reading! Who do you know that plays like a champion? Please share this with them and hit recommend. Here are 2 more skills of the top leaders.

3 Steps To Becoming A Start-Up Entrepreneur

3 Steps To Becoming A Start-Up Entrepreneur

You saw the movie. Mark Zuckerberg scribbles a couple of things on his window, codes for a few hours, meets Justin Timberlake and then he starts counting his billions. That’s not the way it’s going to work for you. You’re not Mark Zuckerberg. And you shouldn’t try to be.

But you can be a successful startup founder and builder. I’ve been there and done that and had a couple of exits. More importantly, I’ve seen it dozens of times as an advisor and recruiter. It’s not rocket science.

The world already has a Mark Zuckerberg. The world doesn’t need you to try and be someone else. You are the only person in the world who’s capable of being yourself. The world needs you to be awesome at being you.

Too many young people want to head straight for the glory, fame and riches of being a successful entrepreneur. They’ve equated being an entrepreneur with sure success. But in fact, most start-ups fail. Success is more than just ambition. If you want to do this right, you must choose the right career path.

Here’s my blueprint…

  • Optimize for learning
  • Develop insights
  • Learn financial discipline
  • Choose the people with whom you surround yourself wisely
  • Work harder than everybody

Optimize for Learning

Early in your career, what’s most important is to learn. Learn how to do something. Learn how to make tradeoffs. Learn how to prioritize. Learn what is important. Learn a craft. Learn how to play on a team. Learn how to lead a team. And learn all of this by working with the best founders and entrepreneurs you can find. A truly great boss is an invaluable asset; you can learn how to be a leader by being effectively led.

Startups are a great platform for learning because of their disproportionate growth. Disproportionate growth leads to disproportionate learning. Disproportionate learning leads to everything that’s good in life. The ability to learn in 3 years what might otherwise take 10 years — this is what startups are about.

Think of your early jobs at start-ups as a post-graduate education.

Learning and growth happen in phases. Develop technical mastery (and self-mastery). Learn to manage a team and/or function. Learn how to lead leaders by working with great leaders. Take on as much responsibility as you can handle in those roles. Learn to lead a meritocracy.

Develop Insights

Technological advances in the past decade have lowered the cost of computing so much that they’ve created an abundance of opportunity to start an app and immediately have a global audience as an entrepreneur. The opportunity seems tempting. But not every opportunity is made for you to take. Choose your opportunities wisely. Choose to maximize your learning early in your career rather than going straight for the entrepreneurial Promised Land.

Again: If you found a start-up without any prior work experience, the odds are high that the company will fail. Well, you might say, failure is a great teacher. You know what is a better teacher? An actual teacher! Think of yourself as Luke Skywalker: He became a hero, but only because he had other heroes willing to teach him the ropes. You need an Obi-Wan or a Yoda, a master from whom you can learn how to do stuff, before you can take on the universe by yourself.

Develop insights. Insight comes from applying experience to knowledge. Knowledge comes from analyzing information. Information comes from organizing data. Learn to organize, analyze and develop insights. Insights are the basis of all business decisions and the important work that advances effort towards outcomes. All progress is made by working on the “important” versus the “urgent”. Learn to develop your own wisdom, your own insights. And, execute the important work with thought leadership and insights. Create a vision for a better world.

Learn Financial Discipline

Once you have your vision in place, it’s easy to assume you’re ready. But you must also learn the day-to-day habits and behaviors that go into successfully running your business. Managing burn rate is one of the most important of these skills.

Keep your operating costs low, and remember that expenses rise to meet income. You may be frustrated because your early jobs don’t pay as much as you want — but as an entrepreneur, you will need to know how to manage costs and prioritize tradeoffs for an organization. Hone these skills by learning to efficiently manage your personal finances and budget.

Resourcefulness can be your greatest resource. Learn how to fully exercise your muscles of resourcefulness. Become a capable manager of resources. Knowing how to create value with scarce resources is the magic of entrepreneurship.

Beginning Your Entrepreneurial Career

Success is not just a matter of ambition. It’s a process: Roll up your sleeves. Do something. Do anything. Do everything. Throw yourself at projects that interest you and learn. Find the inefficiencies and learn how to do things better. Learn how to create value. Gain insights. These insights will give you the ability to lead. Learn to discriminate between good people who are skilled and people who are skilled but not nice. Develop and learn to exercise the full capacity of your horsepower.

THEN, go out and be an entrepreneur!

By all means, disrupt an entire industry! Drive creative destruction. Make your Momma proud. Buy her a house!

But, rather than launching a startup right now just because you can, follow a better plan: Learn, master, found a startup, then work hard and create a great product. Then, when you are successful, give back. Give other young people the ability to learn through your leadership, your mentorship, your guidance.

The best professionals — those that are the top 1% of A+ executive talent — don’t care about the social status of working for this company versus that company. They’re not worried about building a resume or designing a career. They are busy maximizing their learning. They are busy solving problems, implementing solutions, developing the insights on creating maximum value and making the distinctions that accelerate performance. They are leading.

You cannot be king of the world if you are a slave to the grind. If you find the work you are doing to be a grind — get out! Do everyone a favor and figure out what you are most passionate about. Decide & commit upon your true dreams and goals. Rise up and make it happen!

Every millennial saw the Facebook movie. Every millennial spends time on Facebook. Every millennial already has parents and/or grandparents on Facebook. The world doesn’t need another Facebook. The world needs you to be the best that you can be.

Thanks for reading! If you liked this, hit recommend, share and read high performance leadership.

Note: Thanks to Andrew Koch for reviewing and providing comments on an earlier draft.

This post was originally published on the Dave Partners blog.

2015: Year Of The Startup

2015: Year Of The Startup

One last post, as the brightly-shining promise of the New Year approaches:

This past year brought so much for which to be grateful in business and in life. We are still so grateful to Hank Paulson, and others we thanked and mentioned in last year’s post on gratitude. For new friends made; for old relationships made stronger; for the teams & companies that continue to make NYC a thriving metropolis of internet & tech enabled startups and for all our client-partners that had disproportionate growth, we are grateful.

And as part of this ecosystem, I’ve begun blogging seriously this year, and am excited to contribute more significantly to the community of people writing about tech. These are a few posts I’m most proud of:

Humility Is The High Road To Start-Up Success
Building A Startup Is Like Running An Ironman
The Two Most Common Qualities Of The Top 1% Of A+ Exec Talent

We started Dave Partners on a contrarian move during the bottom of the worst economic crisis the world had seen in over 80 years. When most headhunters scurried out of the headhunting business in 2009, we resolved to believe in the power of NYC entrepreneurs and also in the power of technology to create abundance and lead both the US and Global economies out of recession.

I believe that 2015 will be the year of the startup, when agile, lean, fast-moving startups in so many industries become a real alternative to the big-tech companies burdened with innovator’s dilemma. At Dave Partners, we’ve also declared 2015: The Year of the Lion.

With Love & Gratitude, wishing all of the members of our world, our community, our ecosystem and our family a tremendous 2015!

And thank you for reading! Please share with us what you are most grateful for and most excited about for 2015. Also, take a look at these posts for sharing.

Originally posted on Dave Partners blog.

Coaching, Sport & Life

Coaching, Sport & Life

My boys (identical twins) played soccer on the recreation team for a few years. This past year, they tried out for the travel team. I promised that if they made the travel soccer team, I would coach it. They made it. And I spent the last several months trying to figure out how to be an awesome coach. As for my coaching skills: We didn’t lose every game.

Learning to coach soccer taught me to be a more effective and fearless leader in life. I’ve found that I can apply what I’ve learned in soccer to my work as a CEO — in sports, certain core principles of leadership always apply.

Here’s what I learned in my first season of coaching travel soccer.

Everyone wants the fame & glory of putting up points and scoring goals. An important part of leadership is re-defining the goals and affecting the things you can control to drive team performance: possession, number of passes, chances at goal, defense, and attitude, for example.

The attitude of players in the other (non-scoring) positions will determine the team’s win or loss outcome at the end of the game. Building team consensus and buy-in is better for team performance than the ego driven self-validation of the few scoring players.

How you play at practice is a great predictor of how you will play the game. Champions are forged when no one is looking. Everyone needs a coach. Players need to be reminded about personal excellence, team leadership and how to hear the unspoken assumptions guiding the team. Progress occurs when the unspoken is stated.

The occasional Goliath is impressive. The courage to be a David is more impressive. Mental toughness is about courage and overcoming your fears. Playing your game, playing the ball is more important than being focused on the competition.

Great teammates are skilled, hard-working players who are nice people. If they are skilled and not nice, they are simply jerks who tend to hog the ball.

Kids play hard until the game is over. They fight to the last minute (even from the sidelines). Giving up is a learned adult condition. You can unlearn it at any time.

Individual talent is important. Teamwork is more important. Teamwork trumps talent.

How you play a sport is an indication of how you play in life. I’m proud of what the kids on my sons’ team accomplished. I’m also proud to see so many great, co-operative, focused young people learning the skills that will take them forward to success in the adult world — and happy that I got to play a part in it.

Oh, and one last thing I learned:

Pizza parties are awesome! It’s important to celebrate wins.

Leadership & Love Are Your Highest Calling

Leadership & Love Are Your Highest Calling

I went to India to study one of the greatest forces in world history: religion. What I got was a profound, life-altering appreciation for the three most powerful invisible forces that drive all human motivation and behavior:

1. Love
2. Self-determination
3. Fear

Fear drives people to make decisions for the sake of simply surviving. Self-determination drives people to satisfy their ego’s desire, personal significance, fortune and fame. Love drives people to make decisions about “we” and act from a place of wisdom, meaning and purpose for the greater good.

Stephen Prothero, a leading authority on the world’s religions, made a compelling case for understanding the differences among the great religions of the world. Religions are, among other things, great philosophies, and an understanding of philosophical traditions empowers us both socially and intellectually as leaders of teams.

While I myself grew up in the Catholic tradition, understanding the unique beauty and distinctions of other traditions offers practical insight into our common humanity.

Religion is not the same as spirituality. Whether it’s the Five Pillars, the Seven Sacraments, the Ten Commandments, the Four Noble Truths, or some of the other great traditions of the world, having a richer understanding for other perspectives allows us to have a greater grasp on the whole truth — that the greatest force in the universe which binds all of humanity, the force that the greatest spiritual leaders throughout the ages have all fundamentally professed is love.

Belief systems are immensely powerful

What’s even more powerful is that we can choose the beliefs that empower us most. Many great leaders and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Marc Benioff have been students of the profound impact of spiritual leaders and leadership. Aside from our personal beliefs, understanding what drives the motivation and behaviors of others is a critical component of leadership. All communication is either a loving response or a cry for help. And as a leader, operating from a place of awareness and affect for your team members and the people with whom you connect allows everyone to operate at their best and create the greatest good in the universe.

Entrepreneurship is the highest calling of the self determined

It’s great to have talent. Only by applying hard work to talent for years can you have something greater: skill. Becoming highly skilled and developing mastery of a functional discipline — this is the path of self-determination. Entrepreneurship is the highest calling of self-determined people who have developed insight, functional mastery and a vision for how things could work better.

Leadership is the highest calling in business

The greatest growth a startup will make is when a visionary entrepreneur grows into a leader of leaders or hires a leader to help drive progress. And most startups will never get to scale or have the kind of growth to see an exit without a true leader.

Love is the highest calling of humanity

Business can serve a high purpose in a human life. It has the power to redeem, transform and shape the fate of a person, a team, a community, and the world. And the best leaders inspire their people with wisdom, meaning and purpose. The greatest spiritual leaders in human history, the ones with the greatest influence, all professed the one powerful force that brings humanity closer: love. Caring about your people is the best way to get people to care about your business, performance, and results and to create the greatest good.

Leaders Have The Most Influence When They Serve a Higher Purpose

True leadership is about bringing people together for the advancement of human progress. The belief systems that we choose for ourselves have the power to move us from self-interest towards the advancement of humanity. Learning from compassionate leaders and developing our deep beliefs can inspire us to keep humanity in mind in our business lives and rise up to our greatest calling. It allows us to move from a group of self-determined people in an entrepreneurial environment to something much higher. Just as it did for Jobs and Benioff, learning from the great spiritual leaders to serve the universal good with divine meaning can awaken you to love and to the great calling of leadership.

All entrepreneurial ventures, if they are to succeed and become more than a lifestyle business require leadership. Leadership has the power to impact positive change on the lives of people, teams, communities, and the world. Leadership advances human progress by bringing wisdom, meaning and purpose to those people in a business. In business and in life, leadership and love are the highest calling to the life that is inside of you.

How To Tell If You Need To Fire Your CEO

How To Tell If You Need To Fire Your CEO

Everything bad that happens at a company is fundamentally a people problem. Most startups fail. Often, they fail because the person at the top fails. The problem is exacerbated by the reluctance of board members who for reasons of self-interest, have no desire to be branded as being non-friendly to startup founders and turn a blind eye to CEO incompetence. Venture investors with their risk-adjusted calculations and with the same yearning to be perceived as pro-entrepreneur are also often remiss to exercise the intellectual rigor and moral imperative of ensuring that real leadership is established from the top down.

The greatest growth a startup will experience is when the CEO / Founder becomes or hires a leader of leaders. That is the pivotal point when a startup becomes a real business. CEO / Founders can help launch a business and can help grow a startup. A startup will only metamorphosize into a high-growth business with leadership. And it all starts at the top.

For the CEO to take the helm of the company, he or she must be Chief of Strategy, Vision, Coaching, Cheerleading, and Mentoring. CEOs should also surround themselves with giants — people who are better than them at any number of functional areas. If they don’t, the consequences will be dire and the only question will be ‘fast & sudden?’ or ‘slow & painful?’ An under-performing CEO, whether he or she is a founder who’s unsuited to running a growing company or a hired CEO who simply isn’t living up to expectations, can drag a whole team down and make success impossible, making CEO failure the primary cause of the destruction of value in startup land.

The competitive nature of venture investing puts pressure on investors to further lower their standards in order to win the deal, and adds yet another vector towards the destruction of value.

And so how can boards and venture investors still be supportive of entrepreneurs and also uphold the merit and virtue of being intellectually honest and morally correct in their analysis of the founder/leadership gap dilemma?

The time for the title of ‘Chief Entrepreneur Officer’ is now.

Most board members would never hire the CEO / Founder to be the CEO of any other enterprise. So let’s not kid ourselves anymore!

Let’s hold Founding CEO’s accountable to a different yardstick, that of Chief Entrepreneur Officer, and let’s reserve the title of Chief Executive Officer for a well defined leadership role to be filled by someone who deserves it, based on proven leadership and merit.

How do you know when it’s time to take your CEO out? Usually, a CEO replacement happens for one of two reasons:

  1. The board has lost faith in the CEO’s ability to drive the company toward its strategic objectives.
  2. The CEO has lost the faith and/or the will of his or her people.

Whether the verdict comes from the top down or the bottom up, a consistent pattern of failing to meet expectations is hard to miss, and requires immediate action.

Advice to board members: keep a sharp eye on executive turnover and turnover in general. Engage in exit interviews. You will get all of the raw data you need.

The board’s first responsibility is in succession planning and in ensuring that strong, competent, functional leaders are in place to support the continuity of the business and drive growth. The second-in-command, as the person most likely to succeed the CEO, should be a detailed-oriented, operations person with a strong grasp of the business. They should also have been mentored in the skill set that a CEO needs: Selling the vision of the company to team members and the world, making sure all of the right people are on board and sitting in the right seats, and making sure the company has enough cash in the bank to execute the vision.

The board has a responsibility to investors to make sure the CEO is surrounded by strong executive leaders who can lead the operational functions with high excellence. If you’re a board member, do yourself a favor now and make sure your company has a deep bench of potential leaders in case of crisis.

To get started with this, you will need to perform a brutally honest assessment of your organization as it exists.

Here’s a simple 3-step plan for success:

  1. Get crystal-clear on your company’s strategic objectives for the next 6, 12, and 24 months.
  2. Build a functional org chart that is pure and honest in its assessment of what your company needs to achieve those outcomes. Take individual executives’ names out of the equation, so that you can create a plan of the necessary functions at your company, not the people filling those seats.
  3. Perform a gap analysis and form a strong understanding of the leadership team you need, versus the one you have — and then start filling those gaps.

There’s a common misconception that it’s better to have someone doing a bad job than to have no-one doing the job at all. This is motivated purely by fear — and like a lot of fear-based beliefs, it’s a bad one. An underperforming employee is a cancer in your company, at any level. So if your CEO isn’t the right fit, discuss with your board members the opportunity for value creation, organize a communication plan and begin a (confidential if necessary) search for a new CEO today!

You can do a search to fill that role with a true leader.

In the meantime, the strong leadership bench you’ve developed will come together, in that vacuum, to heal the damage a bad CEO has caused. Soon, you’ll have the best possible person doing the most important job at your company. You’ll create good in the universe. And give everyone a real chance at maximizing value creation.

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Thanks for reading! If you liked this post, show some love with a like or comment. You might also enjoy my other work: Check out

Leadership and Love Are Your Highest Calling

The Two Most Common Skills of the Top 1% of A+Executive Talent, and

The Ultimate Key to Millennial Start-Up Success

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