Great leadership is the foundation of any organization, big or small. Without capable leaders guiding the way, growth is impossible. Effective business leadership requires a skillful captain to navigate the ship, and not simply a passive presence standing near the helm. Quality leadership is active, not static. One person who knows what it takes to be a successful leader is technology veteran Sue Barsamian.
We sat down with Sue during our recent Udacity Thought Leader Series Webinar to discuss the qualities leaders need to create and manage high-performing, productive teams. Sue’s extensive background in general management, marketing, sales, and engineering is a testament to her reputation as a foremost expert in team development. Currently, Sue serves on the boards of Symantec, Box, Gainsight, and Xactly. Previously, she was the Executive Vice President, and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Software, where she orchestrated the successful spinning-off of the division from HPE and merger with Micro Focus International, to form the world’s seventh-largest software company.
During our interview, Sue shares her 35-plus-years’ worth of experience and offers anecdotes relevant to every business professional. Sue’s expert approach to executing critical business initiatives leaves nothing to chance as she carefully plans and deploys differentiated strategies, and refinies them over time.
Sue offers these five tips to becoming a successful, high-performing leader.
Stay close to the product or customer.
“There are many great roles in a company,” Sue said. “But no matter how you do your job, the closer you are to understanding the customer and the product, the closer you are learning what makes the business of the company run.”
Diversity makes strong teams.
Sue credits much of her success to surrounding herself with a wide range of people – each with their own unique skill-set. Diversity, she believes, can mean so many things. But for her, the idea is to always build a non-homogenous team.
Understand the roles and responsibilities in a matrixed organization.
“Everybody thinks about the art of selling,” Sue said. “The art of selling is understanding how you make your customers successful. And when your customers are successful, they buy and buy more. The same concept holds true in a matrixed organization.” She believes there’s a science to dividing up complicated tasks among departments where there are clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Sue stresses that leaders must recognize, credit and empower teams across the board so that everyone feels like they’re working together for a common purpose.
Keep evolving in your career.
Deciding who you are and who you want to be is a crucial component of long-term career success. Relying solely on your job description to define your abilities or waiting for your manager to fine-tune your job is a dangerous game. Employees who take charge of their future path are both more valuable to their company and satisfied with their career. “I subscribe to the career concept of, “It’s both a jungle gym and a ladder,” Sue said. Here Sue is describing how a career path can track sideways as often as it scales up. Traditionally, employees operate under the impression that following a predetermined career trajectory is a sure path to success. But in today’s evolving workscape, there lies great value in forging a non-traditional route to reach your ultimate goals.
Don’t wait to reskill
Employers are still mastering the challenges of mapping their current workers’ skills, identifying the abilities required of their future workforce, and filling the gaps between the two. By the time many companies figure out their exact needs, it’s often too late to invest the necessary time and money into retraining. “The future is becoming more automated with the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence,” Sue said. “Don’t be passive in how your role will transform.”
Sue’s engineering background is a clear contributor to her natural passion for creating, building and solving. Her conviction that human capital is quantitatively a much bigger share of the economy than physical assets like technology, and equipment underscores her belief that employees need to be much more proactive in carving out their own career paths.
Be sure to listen to the rest of our conversation with Sue here.