Thursday, August 9, 2012

Emerging Leader Spotlight: Courtney Behm

Name: Courtney Behm
Current title: Senior Program Manager, Product Strategy and Operations
Company: NetApp
Favorite quote: Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are. Bertolt Brecht

1) What is the most important thing you have learned that has been critical to your career success?
You will emerge stronger from any trial if you can take a breath, stay calm, speak with compassion, and flex with change.

a) What key steps did you take to get to the role you are in today?

There are three key elements in my career path that have been indispensable in furthering my ability to be successful. First, after four years in business, I took two years off to get an MBA. It was a fantastic opportunity to immerse myself in the decision-making process required to excel in a fast-paced technology leadership role, and when I returned to the business world, I found myself resolving complex issues with far greater ease.

Second, though I sometimes call my resume “Courtney’s Checkered Past,” due to its eclectic mix of positions and technologies, the breadth of experience I’ve gained by meeting so many different industry and organizational challenges has strengthened my ability to find the path of the easy through the thicket of competing agendas.

Third, and perhaps most important, in the late 90s I jumped off the corporate train for seven years to run my own consulting practice focusing on organizational effectiveness, process change, and leadership/team development. It was an exciting and rewarding time in which I not only learned a great deal about how to help others become more effective, but also gained a deeper understanding of how I could make my best contribution as an employee. When I returned to the corporate world in 2006, I did so with renewed enthusiasm and clarity about my ability to make an impact.

2) What is your leadership style? (Self-described and/or how others might describe you)

I have a strong personality, and some pretty definite ideas about how things should be done, but I’ve learned that I’m much more effective when I collaborate and guide things forward with a firm, but friendly hand rather than forcing the issue. I have a great sense of humor, and I use that to full advantage to disarm resistance and foster cooperation. I also have a passion for making things work, and things just work better when people are aligned behind a course of action. That being said, at the point when the decision must be made, or the message must be delivered, I’m ready to take personal responsibility for bringing issues to closure, and for communicating the decision to the rest of the organization.

3) What tools or resources have you used that have been crucial to your success?
I have a background in Performing Arts and Communications and my ability to present, influence, and communicate remains one of my strongest key success factors. Along with that goes an ability to listen, absorb, and translate the points of view of one organization or individual to another so that people leave a meeting with a more full understanding of each other’s positions and issues. In some ways, I’ve fulfilled my high school dream of speaking five languages fluently and becoming a simultaneous translator at the UN. My colleagues and I might be speaking English, but our differing perspectives and priorities can make us seem as alien to each another as if we were from different planets. It’s thrilling to untangle the threads of discussion so that we achieve clarity instead of sinking further into confusion.

4) What steps are you currently taking to improve yourself, professionally?
My current role is, in and of itself, a professional improvement activity. My responsibilities range from managing the high-level product release teams to defining a five-year site strategy to guiding a refresh of our Product Release and Product Lifecycle processes to delivering our annual leadership event for 400 senior leaders. When people ask me what I do, I often tell them that I mind everybody’s business! I have had intense on-the-job training in how to keep many disparate balls in the air, and it’s been an exhilarating and rewarding experience.

5) What is the next step you plan to take in your career to develop your leadership skills?
I am currently moving back into people management after many years as a single contributor and influence manager; I’m looking forward to renewing my line management skills, and discovering new ways to be an effective mentor and coach to my team.

6) What are some top tips you can recommend to other women who want to be recognized as a high potential emerging leader?
First, it’s not enough to be intelligent or to know your subject matter, unless you learn how to communicate effectively to a broad audience. Even though I was a skilled communicator in many ways, it wasn’t till the middle of my career that I learned that effective communication was not about how well I spoke, but how well I was heard. I spent a number of years creating a speaking style that could be tailored on the spot to the different cadences and vocabularies of the different functional groups I worked with so that my message could be received in the manner I intended.

Second, as you rise higher in an organization, you will share the fate of politicians and celebrities: there will be greater demands made on you by larger numbers of people more of the time. To maintain your sanity and your effectiveness, it’s important to find the appropriate balance between being an authentic, accessible person and maintaining sufficient professional distance to protect your energy and time for the work you need to accomplish.

Third, learn to take things seriously, but lightly, because everything is changing all the time. This is a business climate unlike any other; the speed of life is faster than humans were designed for, and we need to always be open and ready to consider a new set of circumstances. Becoming too firmly rooted in one opinion, or one decision, or one outcome will make it impossible to retain the flexibility and resilience necessary to succeed.

7) Have you experienced a career or leadership challenge recently that you have overcome?
I recently managed a four-day leadership event for 400 of our senior leaders held offsite at a local hotel. This was my first experience with an event of this size and we had a very small…though mighty…team to accomplish the task in a much shorter time than we would have chosen. Though we were ultimately successful, the demands were relentless; we all had times when we wanted to sit down in the middle of the road and refuse to take another step!

a) Could you share some of the ways you were able to overcome the challenge?
With so much going on, and so many stakeholders needing information or reassurance or solutions to problems, I had to maintain very clear priorities, resolve things quickly, and…big surprise…keep my sense of humor intact. I also needed to know when to ask for help, as this was not a project I was capable of doing on my own. I’m a practitioner of meditation, and I made sure to take short breaks when I would close my office door, ignore the email and the phone, and take 5-10 minutes to breathe quietly and let the agitation in the inner pool of my mind settle and clear. I always emerged from these respites remembering something important, or finding the next step to a knotty problem.

8) What professional accomplishment or result have you achieved in the past year that you are proud of?
See above! The leadership meeting exceeded all expectations, and provided an unparalleled opportunity for alignment and relationship building across the entire organization. When the dust settled, I realized that, even with the pressure and the details and the constant demands on my time, I had loved every minute. Because there was no time to question or to stop or to dither, the team was fully engaged, totally absorbed in doing what it took to make things work. We became a well-oiled machine, sometimes anticipating what needed to be done without having to discuss it. It was just great! After it was all over, I had a little post-partum leadership meeting depression to go through, but the wonderful thing is, I get to do it all again next year.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

From the Article Arhives:Establishing Credibility and Influence

Question: My biggest question about being a better leader has to do with building greater credibility and influence. I am about to start a new position and would like to begin on the right foot.

Answer: When it comes to building credibility and influence, Nina Bhatti is an inspiring role model. As Principle Scientist with HP Labs, Bhatti is among HP’s highest-ranked technical women; her research has resulted in commercially successful products for some of HP’s largest customers.

In a recent conversation, I asked what advice she could offer to someone who wanted to build credibility and the positive influence to make a difference in their organization; how should they go about influencing and gaining support for an idea or project that they are passionate about.

1) Build credibility
While acknowledging that this is never easy, Bhatti advised “When you enter an organization, your first job is to build credibility. I don’t think there is anything more important than that. You say what you are going to do and you do what you say.”

Be aware that you are being observed and people are watching to see if you can be relied upon to deliver what you say you will deliver.

If given an assignment, you must confidently execute well. “You need to show enthusiasm”, Bhatti explained. “You need to show engagement with the mission of the organization. You need to take on assignments and do them confidently and enthusiastically.”

People will learn to trust you and know that you are going to achieve what you say you will do. “Train people that you are good for it”, Bhatti emphasized.

2) Contribute to the goals of the organization
Bhatti’s next step to building credibility requires finding valuable ways to contribute to your organization and making those your priority. “When there is an opportunity, show professionalism. Help other people, but never forget what your main goal is.”

If you are not clear on the objectives of your role, Bhatti would encourage you to clarify those goals with your manager.

She cautioned against taking on volunteer assignments that do not directly contribute to the organization’s business goals. “As a junior person, I volunteered not to be on the Site Beautification Committee but for things like recruiting new interns. I knew a lot about colleges and universities and what to look for in a summer student. I worked on committees with the head of the world-wide organization. I got opportunities to work with people I would never have the opportunity to work with as the bottom rank player.”

3) Seek out influential sponsors
To make your mark on the business, find an initiative that you want to do, that is also a leader’s goal.

“Find somebody in a position of power and authority who has something to gain from your doing this”, Bhatti suggests. “They need to have something to gain from you succeeding. You need someone who is in alignment with what you want to do.”

Early in her career, Bhatti approached a Senior Vice-President who needed to accomplish something for a large customer. “I gave him something that I could do that he really needed to deliver.” As a result, the Senior Vice President was intrinsically motivated to become her sponsor.

4)How will you know when you have gained credibility?
Bhatti’s observation is that “credibility is built along a sliding scale. If you have a small project and you executed well within that little envelope, that’s how credibility is built. You are given as much credibility as the last freedom you were given.”

For Bhatti, the realization of her growing credibility came the day a manager threw her a large and intimidating assignment.

“When the manager threw the monster task at me, I was very overwhelmed. How would he measure my success in an area with subjective goals and measures? It was truly scary.”

In the midst of that overwhelm, she asked “What do you want me to do?”

Her manager replied “I don’t know. I am not going to tell you how to do your job. Something good will happen that wasn’t going to happen without you”.

“See how much credibility I built with him?” Bhatti said, with a chuckle.

Bhatti had to figure out what the real assignment was and what the successful completion might look like. Over coming weeks she managed to validate the measures of success and then execute.

In concluding, Bhatti said, “At some point your manager won’t know this better than you do. So you end up having to learn to manage yourself and provide direction when there isn’t any.”

Jo Miller is CEO of Women’s Leadership Coaching, Inc. which offers women’s leadership seminars and coaching programs.