Alain Benzaken has decades of experience developing innovative technology for some of the most successful Internet companies in the world. Most recently, Alain has served as CTO, Americas of Decisyon. He was also Vice President of Development at Priceline before leading the technology organization at Ladders with me in 2005. Alain also led the technology organization at Buddy Media during its $800M acquisition by Salesforce.
Alain and I have trained together for Ironman triathlons. In business and in sport, Alain understands that strong mentors help you achieve bigger results faster.
Alain was one of the first technology hires at Priceline and was an integral part of building the company’s core systems. During the dotcom boom, Priceline was one of 3 companies valued over a $1B. Alain talked to me about the importance of choosing tech opportunities wisely.
Throughout his career, Alain has had to overcome what he calls the “Super Bowl challenges.” It all comes down to hiring the right people to help you conquer.
Alain also talked with me about how strong leaders master influence. Understand which levers to pull, adapt to each situation, and remember to solve new problems without fighting old battles.
For more insights from my good friend Alain and from other outstanding executive leaders, visit DaveCarvajal.com/videos.
Chris Hummel is a one-of-a-kind executive leader with experience at the helm of global organizations in places as far-flung from his hometown of Boston as Kazakhstan and Singapore.
He is Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of United Rentals and has also served as the chief marketing officer of Schneider Electric SE. Chris has more than two decades of executive leadership experience in senior sales and marketing positions at Unify, SAP and Oracle. Over 13 years in a number of senior roles at Oracle, Chris helped Oracle’s customer service organization earn certification from J.D. Power and Associates for its “outstanding customer service.”
Chris’ success is proof that anyone can define his or her own unique path. He started on a track to become a U.S. diplomat. And he soon found himself traveling and working with some of the greatest tech companies in the world. Here’s how he built Oracle’s office in Kazakhstan from the ground up:
Great leaders don’t all march out of prestigious business school doors. Chris learned early that being different from the rest could become one of his strongest assets.
Leadership, for Chris, is more than a title – it’s a mindset. Chris looks for these three defining characteristics that all great leaders share.
For the rest of my conversation with Chris Hummel, check out DaveCarvajal.com/videos. You’ll find more insights from some of my favorite leaders on the planet.
Victor Hugo said “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” We are living in historic times. And the time for women to be in more executive, business and leadership roles is here now.
Female founders are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs, yet they receive less than three percent of venture capital funding. According to research by Korn Ferry, women hold just a quarter of the top jobs across the most prominent C-Suite titles. And that number is even smaller when it comes to the chief executive position. Women hold only 5% of CEO posts; the role that shows the lowest gender diversity in the entire C-suite.
Fortunately, tech and HR are slightly ahead of the curve. 1 in 3 leaders working in tech are women. And the chief human resources officer position is the only C-suite role where there is gender equality – 55 percent of CHROs across industries are women.
There is concrete evidence that in life and especially in business, for creating stronger communities and enterprise value, women are the greater sex.
Companies that fail to recognize this, are actually paying the price. At Twitter, only 13 percent of employees in tech roles are women – a point of embarrassment for the company as it has struggled to secure strategic options.
Of the c-suite and board member positions my team of recruiters is asked to fill, close to half our clients are asking for diversity and inclusiveness in the search process. The ‘Mad Men’ era of doing business is a vestige of the industrial economy – when the domestic space was a woman’s queendom and a man’s ego battled in business. Entrepreneurship today is about building communities, tribes and the enterprise value that comes from network effects. The growing evidence is that diversity of thought creates the most value.
You are the architect of your life. The vision and grand purpose of your life must be decided and committed on by none other than yourself if you are to maximize your life’s meaning. If you’re in the wrong leadership role, you’re probably the first to sense it. Are you still learning, growing and moving closer to the greatest version of yourself?
Here are three signs that you’ve found the leadership role that is truly best for you.
1) It Keeps You on Your Toes
Great leaders love a challenge. Innovators have an insatiable urge to build and create. Ultimately, you’ll know you’ve found the right leadership role when you feel driven to solve problems, take strategic risks and push your business to greater performance. When you engage with your work out of obligation and fear of risk or challenge, you leave at the end of the day feeling exhausted or anxious. When you’ve found a role that dares you to level-up your own leadership capabilities, you’ll begin to anticipate activity that drives production. You’ll feel pride, fulfillment and a sense of invigoration. You’ll go home thinking about the mission, not because you’re worried, but because the work has tapped your skill set and engaged you at the core of who you want to become.
2) You Trust Your Team
When you take a leadership role, you should feel that your executive team is communicating and cooperating in all the right ways to bring the company’s vision into reality. Strong trust in your team is rooted in a performance-based culture of excellence. Some companies try to build a foundation of false harmony in order to achieve operational excellence. They fill their office space with ping pong tables, snack rooms and kegerators to appear competitive with Google-style employment perks and to lure top recruits. But no one works for Google because of the free food. When your team is driven by excellence in its 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’ll be working in culture of excellence where colleagues can trust and rely on each other to grow, expand, provide more value to your clients and become more. This is the way to prosperity.
3) You’re Working For Something Greater Than Yourself
Everyone wants happiness from their professional role. This includes a sense of security and appropriate compensation. A big paycheck, even if it’s from a big name, might provide partial fulfillment. The most fulfilling roles are those where you genuinely feel connected to a mission that’s larger than yourself and you are being pulled to grow and expand in your capabilities. Productivity drives progress and lifts humanity. A great company always has a vision for serving humanity at its core. Look for companies whose vision matches yours, and you’ll have an enduring source of energy and passion for the work. You might find value in doing the role even if it comes with a smaller paycheck than you’re used to.
The most important responsibility any top leader will have is to make good decisions. Every challenge or triumph a business will face will be decided by its leaders’ ability to make a tough executive decision using strategy and sound critical thinking in order to serve a greater purpose.
As a headhunter building all-star leadership teams composed of only the top 1% of A+ executive talent, and as a CEO and co-founder of my own high-growth companies, I’ve come across three underrated abilities that elevate executive decision making:
Exercise Critical Thinking Over Judging
Critical thinking is a skill of all great leaders. The biggest transition people make in their careers is to grow from being an individual contributor to the responsibility of a group of people. And the biggest leap in executive capabilities happens when a leader moves from being driven by personal significance to committing to a mission of serving others.
Individual contribution and performance can improve on a linear basis. Team performance and productivity increases on an exponential basis. The thing that holds leaders back from their best executive decision making, their biggest saboteur, is the need to judge. Making a judgement and practicing critical thinking are not one in the same. “Judgment” is often confused for “judging” rather than the productive endeavor of critical thinking.
Judging is egocentric, and rooted in a fear-based drive for self-aggrandizement or preservation. When you are busy managing the perception that others have of you, you judge. Someone who is stuck making judgments rather than thinking critically is someone who thinks he or she is the most important person in any given situation and is subject to getting stuck in myopia. Rather than finding creative solutions that turn lemons into lemonade, those who judge simply place blame on others and then admit defeat.
To preserve and advance the desire of the ego leads people to judge. Judging is an act of close-mindedness and playing small. It’s rooted in the primitive, reptilian part of our brains, where we’re wired for fight or flight. It’s fear-based and motivated by feelings rather than thoughtful analysis. Its purpose is to disguise or manipulate perceptions to appear as truths.
We’re all likely to fall into judging at some point. And we are also capable of overcoming our fears and exercising critical thinking. We practice critical thinking when we transcend survival-mode into instead being driven by mission and service.
When we are mission-oriented, we are driven by team purpose. We value others and think selflessly. Critical thinking is empathy based — instead of being a slave to our own emotions, we consider the feelings of others. We stay open-minded and solutions focused. We’re able to more objectively analyze a situation and make a fair evaluation.
Overcome Your Fear of Taking Strategic Risks
Being a CEO comes with the immense responsibility of continually driving growth by providing vision, purpose and leadership to your team. And while you’re constantly in service to others — in meetings, writing emails, answering questions and making important decisions — it still feels lonely at the top.
You might feel like an imposter putting on a brave face to hide your inner doubts. You can’t let yourself slip. People depend on you. Any wrong move could destroy tremendous value.
The pressures of executive leadership can at times feel overwhelming. CEO depression and anxiety are real. And harboring that anxiety without taking steps to overcome it only makes things worse.
Research on executive decision making has found that a CEO’s anxiety can hinder a company’s growth. A leader with anxiety will focus on potential threats rather than seeing potential opportunity. This kind of fear can prevent an anxious CEO from taking important strategic risks.
Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
While every decision should be thoughtfully evaluated, it has also been proven that calculated risks often precede high growth. Thankfully, our fears as CEOs are not insurmountable. Struggle, in fact, is a requirement for growth.
Here are concrete steps you can make to overcome anxiety and take strategic risks:
1. Be Purpose-Driven
Are your fears inhibiting you from fully actualizing your mission in business and in life? Leaders with the most influence lead with purpose. Napoleon Hill wrote that ‘definiteness of purpose’ is the starting point of all achievement. Clarity around your purpose gives you power. It gives you the courage and conviction to take risks that move you towards your grand purpose.
2. Take Massive Action
Taking massive action begins with simple steps. Try different things. If something’s not working, try something else. Restrategize and reinvent. You know Einstein’s quote about insanity; it makes no sense to repeat the same thing while expecting different results. Take note of what doesn’t work and create a new solution.
3. Bring Your Best Self
When you’re under extreme pressure, it’s easy to focus on your work and not on how to take care of yourself — even though self-care will help you optimize for better results. Remember the important instructions: if your plane loses cabin pressure, put your oxygen mask on first before helping others. Love and care for yourself by staying active, practicing good nutrition and getting enough sleep. Work on getting your brain chemistry right by finding healthy ways to promote good vibes (through exercise, meditation, good music — get creative!). As a leader, the best investment you can make is in your own learning, growth, health and wellness. Then you can maximize the contribution you make to others.
Learn to Master Your Mojo & Get in the Zone
Professional development at its core is a process of personal growth. All self-improvement begins with self-reflection. The biggest catalyst of growth for any leader is almost always the realization of a truth. And yet for many of us, a huge gap remains between our self-image — what we tell ourselves and portray to others — and our inner truth.
Ego and hubris are telltale signs of someone who has not taken the time to reflect and search for their inner truth. This person searches for personal significance from external sources — prestige and power over others. Someone with this inflated sense of personal significance is disconnected from reality and exhibits three qualities: they’re entitled, invulnerable and invincible.
But we can’t always be invincible. Those who can’t embrace this human truth never find self-love. Real confidence is self-love rooted in humility and a growth mindset. And the reconciliation between inner truth and self-image requires loving yourself.
Greatness in any field begins with a powerful inner state. This quality has been called ‘being in the zone,’ finding your ‘flow’ or ‘mojo.’ What this really means is that you’ve achieved internal reconciliation between who you truly are and the person you portray who is worthy of respect, admiration and love. When you are convinced of yourself and no longer preoccupied with seeking external validation, you have mastered your mojo.
Love is humanity’s greatest gift, and we are all still learning how to love. Once we have trust in ourselves that we are enough, this inner abundance creates external abundance. Reconcile the gap between inner truth and self image. This is the way to master your mojo and make the greatest contribution to your grand purpose.
From truth comes wisdom. From wisdom comes limitless possibility. Make sure your executive decision making is always rooted in truth and wisdom.