Purpose Driven Leadership

Teal Ideas Podcast – Episode #1

About Our Guest:

Corey Reid

As a Principal at Upspark, Corey’s providing wisdom and purpose-driven leadership for growing technology companies in the Greater Toronto Area.  Upspark is on a mission to help companies turn vision and ideas into smart teams that deliver on time.

Upspark – Get Your Tech Vision Right The First Time.

We are on a mission to help companies turn vision and ideas into smart teams that deliver on time.

Teal Ideas Podcast Launch

This post marks the start of our new ‘Teal Ideas’ podcast, where we’re going to explore the ideas, experiments, and experiences of others trying to avoid bureaucracy in the workplace.

In our first episode, I’m talking with Corey Reid, Principal at Upspark.  In just 20 minutes, we get a chance to cover all kinds of great topics including:

  1. Purpose Driven Leadership;
  2. Aligning Teams;
  3. Running Effective Meetings;
  4. Spotting Great Managers;
  5. CTO Career Paths; and
  6. Tech Worth Following 

Below are some transcribed highlights, but I recommend ‘listening in’ to the podcast to get the full experience. If you like what you hear, subscribe on iTunes or Google Play and let us know what you think on Twitter @Teal_Software.

1. Purpose Driven Leadership

All leaders want to translate vision into results. From your experience, what is one of the prime things that can get in the way of this happening?

The number one thing is the internalization of the vision by the founders. 

Founders by their nature have the idea of the problem their product is supposed to solve or the impact their business is supposed to have so internal to them it’s just a part of their identity.  Maybe the first couple of hires have enough time around the founders they ingest it by osmosis, but once you start hiring past that you have to find a way to communicate the vision.

Turning vision into results is often blocked by the internalization of the vision by founders Click To Tweet

For founders, it can actually be very difficult to draw it out and find an articulation of it that will connect with people.   Founders regularly underestimated the degree to which they need to externalize the purpose of the company and the vision.

What are some of the symptoms founders can spot that can give them a sense that now is the time for me to work harder at externalizing their vision?

You’ll hear founders talk about a ‘drop off of urgency’ as the company grows.  That it feels like…“Back in the old days when we were all in the basement working together, everybody was working so hard and doing whatever it took, and now it doesn’t feel like there’s the same urgency”.  

That’s usually because the purpose of the company has gotten lost, but often instead they go to… “We’ve hired the wrong people”; or “We have the wrong process”

Fall back to the purpose. Make sure everyone understands why it's important that you succeed. Click To Tweet

Honestly, I think the first principle of all that is to fall back to the purpose and make sure that everyone understands why it is so important that your company succeeds. Share how your company is about to do something powerful or amazing or world changing.  If not, then it’s time to start a new company.

For a founder that purpose is so internal to them that they never have to go looking for it.  So it’s very hard for them to connect to the idea that for other people it has gotten lost. That for other people it needs to be articulated to them over and over again.  To the founder it’s the last thing they need, they’ve been living with this probably for decades.

So what are the things that they can do to start to get the purpose and vision out there?

This is biased by my background as a writer, but I think there’s a writing problem here.  I’d suggest that like writers they try to find new articulations of it, come at it from new angles; ask “What are we doing to make our customers lives better?”, or “What’s the world going to look like when we succeed?”

Always think of it as a draft, always seek to improve it.  You don’t have to puzzle one thing out and then write it down and you’re done forever.  Keep coming back to it, keep refining it.

2. Aligning Teams

I’ve heard the word “Alignment” so much it has become a little bankrupt for me.  What does it mean to you and how can teams that are seeking this start to make this possible?

Alignment is a water-downed version of the real idea which is 'Consensus'. Click To Tweet

I may have some really unpopular thoughts on this.  I believe that alignment is a water-downed version of the real idea which is ‘Consensus’.  

A consensus is an idea that usually sends corporate leaders ‘running for the hills’.  They don’t even want to talk about it, they think it’s ridiculous, they often think it’s “A bunch of people sitting around campfires singing songs and expressing their feelings to each other”  

A consensus is really about getting a group to agree that we’ve heard all the objections and concerns, have looked at a sufficient amount of data, and now we’re deciding how to go forward.

Alignment in a group is really just a consensus on the purpose and vision of the company.  We want alignment because it creates greater productivity. So, step one is getting everyone to agree on the direction and that step is usually overlooked.

Let’s assume we achieve alignment for the general direction we want to go, teams then start to talk about setting goals.  What’s the most common mistake that teams make when setting goals?

Yeah, goal setting is really hard.  I’d say the first mistake is underestimating the difficulty of articulating meaningful goals.  Again, coming at it through an iterative process and working in concert is important.  I think it’s always a bad idea to send people off by themselves and have them create goals.  It is much better if you’re a group of people that are talking with each other, pointing out things that might have been overlooked, and hearing what each other thinks is the goal.  That process of hearing each other is the thing that builds alignment, that is a part of consensus building, hearing out other people’s objections whether you agree with them or not.

People often define goals as actions rather than outcomes. You’re better off defining outcomes. Click To Tweet

The other thing I’d say is that people often define goals a little more tactical.  People often define goals as actions or activities rather than outcomes.  You’re almost always better off defining outcomes.

3. Running Effective Meetings

So as teams grow and they have to collaborate more, and a lot of what we’re describing here involves people coming together. Meeting fatigue can really start to set in.  Have you seen anything that has been effective at curbing it?

Company’s leaders need to take seriously the skill of running good meetings. Click To Tweet

Company’s leaders need to take seriously the skill of running good meetings.  If the leader is always 15min late for every meeting, you’ll have a toxic meeting culture.  If a leader dominates conversation in every single meeting you’re going to have a toxic meeting culture.  It’s so important that leaders set the example.  There’s nothing wrong with meetings, what a meeting is, is a group of people getting together to do something.  That shouldn’t be a problem.

Along those lines, have you seen any meeting hacks or simple techniques that help?

Meeting Hack #1:

Decide how long the meeting needs to be, then book half that amount of time.

Whatever you’re trying to get done you can probably do it in half the time

Meeting Hack #2:

Set a timer at the beginning of the meeting for the ‘half-way point’ to stay on task.

Once the meeting starts you’ll inevitably get lost, and when that timer goes off you can look at your agenda and gauge are we halfway done and change expectations.  Unlike doing this in the last 5mins, you avoid missing those later agenda items which will get no time at all.

4. Spotting Great Managers

When teams are small in the early startup days nobody feels like they’re wearing the “manager” hat.  Then they grow to a certain size and they start to ask the question “Do we need managers?”  Any advice for when that question starts to come up?

People tend to also underestimate the complexity of “management”.  It’s often the case that the person the best at a thing, gets made the manager of doing that thing.  I think at this point in management history, many are recognizing that that’s not always a good idea.

So what are the skills or passions that you should look for in the ideal manager?

Who out there is a bit fussy about their paperwork and is going to relish in the opportunity to do that same thing for others and serve them in that way.

People that don’t mind doing the administrative work. That is a big part of management.  Cleaning up the tickets, confirming the requirements, all that kind of stuff.  Somebody has to do that.  At a certain size of the team, it is no longer practical for each person on the team to do that for themselves.  That’s one reason why you bring in managers, to handle that administrative stuff and to make sure there’s someone who’s able to sit down and talk to the other members of the team and coordinate it.  That’s one of the first things I always look for, who out there is a bit fussy about their paperwork.  Somebody that’s going to relish in the opportunity to do that same thing for others and serve them in that way.

Any other balancing qualities that we should look for in addition to administrative passions and skills?

Obviously, social skills.  A big part of management is communication.  People who have good communication skills have a knack for building rapport with people.

Look for calmness and steadiness when searching for the next leader of your team. Click To Tweet

Another is a propensity to never panic.  One of the things that often happens in an emergency is that everybody starts jumping in on everybody else because they don’t really know who’s handling which part of the thing that’s on fire.  If the manager is calm and just says… “I just need you to fix the load balancer and get that back online.  We’ve got someone else working on the database don’t worry about that.”  and looks calm while they say that, you believe them and can focus on what you’re doing.  So I look for calmness and steadiness.

“I just need you to fix the load balancer and get that back online.  We’ve got someone else working on the database don’t worry about that.”  

They look calm while they say that, you believe them and can focus on what you’re doing.  So I look for calmness and steadiness.

5. CTO Career Paths

If you were to sit down with an early stage CTO and could give them just one piece of advice what would that be?

I’d say that being a CTO is a post that can go in a bunch of different directions and you should decide which of those directions you want to go in.  

For example, you might want to run a ‘high productivity development team’ in which case what you need is someone to come in and be a chief architect or a visionary technology person.  You might want to be that visionary technology person.  Great, so now what you need is something like a VP Engineering to help the team.  You might just say I want to write code, be the owner of the code, and solve all the technical challenges the company and product face. Great, Who’s going to handle administration, whose handling the vision piece?  

It really comes down to what do you want as CTO and hire around that.

At Teal, we often think about where’s your personal zone of passion and skill and how do you hire in folks who have passions and skills that are complimentary.  That’s great advice!

6. Tech Worth Following

As a fun way to close things out, what piece of advanced or early research tech are you following that you can’t wait to get your hands on?

You know what, I’m not really much of a technology person.  It’s a long and hilarious story as to why I’m even in the technology industry.

That said, if you haven’t seen today’s Google Doodle, it’s completely amazing!  What I really love about technology is seeing small clever things that you just never thought of before.  They don’t necessarily have to have a purpose immediately.  

For example, I love the story of the laser.  The first lasers were demonstrated in the 50’s (or something like that) and for 30 years nobody really knew what to do with the laser. They were obviously incredibly cool, but there was no obvious purpose for them. Now we use them for everything.

The early application for lasers were as scary devices in Bond films [LOL].  Thanks for joining us, Corey!


For those interested, the doodle Chris is referring to in closing out our show is the Oskar Fischinger’s 117th Birthday Doodle [https://www.google.com/doodles/oskar-fischingers-117th-birthday].

Quite neat, as it allowed people to interactively compose their own ‘visual music’ with a fusion of sounds, colors, and lights.

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