How to Make Tech Teams Stronger with Leadership and Coaching | Intel Technology
(light mellow music) - [Announcer 1] You are watching "InTechnology," a videocast where you can get smarter about cybersecurity, sustainability, and technology. Here are your hosts, Tom Garrison and Camille Morhardt. - Hi and welcome to the "InTechnology" podcast, where today, we're gonna get to know the man behind the mic, my co-host, Tom Garrison.
He's actually a VP and Chief Strategy Officer within the Client Group at Intel where he works on strategy and partnership deals. He spent more than two decades in the tech industry where he's worked on cybersecurity initiatives, supply chain assurance, product development, sales, and strategic planning. He's also a trained and certified leadership coach, which I did not know until very recently. And when I found out, I asked that he be on a podcast where we could talk about building effective technical teams as well as coaching, what it takes, what it is, and what it isn't. Welcome to the podcast, Tom.
- Well, thanks for having me as a guest. It's kind of weird being on this side of the microphone, but hey. - So first of all, do you remember your earliest experience building a team? - It's kinda funny, I was hired into a group at Intel to do market research basically.
And within only maybe a month or so of taking that role, there was a large reorganization that happened, and I was vaulted into being a manager of that team. And then within like just a couple of weeks, that same sort of reorganization went through and some people were upset, they didn't get the jobs they wanted, whatever, and they took other roles. And I ended up going from being an individual contributor to being a second level manager almost overnight. - How'd it go? - It's probably the way you would expect.
I always, on the back of my mind, thought I could be a good manager. And what I realized was I wasn't anywhere near as good at communication as I thought I was. I would be either asking people to do certain tasks, I thought I was exquisitely clear what I asked them to do, they wouldn't deliver what I wanted, or I was sharing what happened at the staff meeting as part of pass downs. They wouldn't quite understand what I was talking about. So I thought I was a good communicator, and it turns out that when managing any team, you know, technical teams, non-technical teams, communication is absolutely critical.
And so it didn't go well initially, but over time I had people that were very vocal, which were kind of a pain in my side at the time, but they made me better over time. I got better and better at communicating, and it was a good but painful lesson initially. - At this point, you're recognized as a very good leader across Intel. And so I think that it's interesting to hear that it wasn't, maybe it didn't come out of the gate right away. - Oh no. - It's something that could be built.
- For sure. And actually that's one of the reasons why I've been a vocal proponent of leadership training because I am absolutely convinced. And by the way, the research says this, that leadership can be trained, and that it's not actually even that important on how good you are as a leader, but more importantly, how often you demonstrate leadership traits. And the more and more you do it, the better you naturally get at it. But what employees need, and demand, and desire is to see those leadership traits over and over and over again on a regular basis.
- Okay, so I wanna ask you what they are, but before I do that, you had told me once that you took an amazing class that was sort of transformative in terms of leadership, and it was improv. - Yeah, that's true. Oh boy, you remember that. You know, it's kinda crazy because the story about this improv class, I was studying electrical engineering at Portland State University, but I had this gap in my schedule. So I looked in this catalog, and they offered this class called improvisational acting.
So I signed up for the class as a total throwaway. And what it turned out for me was one of the most practical classes I ever took in engineering. And it was because it taught active listening and to be able to always be in the moment on what's happening and trying to, you know, in the improvisational acting case, it was, you know, what's going on and how do you respond, and move forward, and keep the scene going. But in the real life, it's about listening and responding to what you're seeing and what's happening around you.
And that's not to say that acting like in the sense of you're just faking it. That's not what I'm talking about. It's acting in the context of being really present with whomever it is that you are talking with and being able to listen to what they're trying to say or maybe not saying, but then being able to respond appropriately. - I'd like to ask you, what are those traits that you say people would like to see over and over again? And then how do, you know, if this isn't something you think that comes naturally to you, how do you kind of remind yourself to exhibit those traits or create the scenarios for yourself to do it? - Well, the interesting thing, there's courses and lots of PhD dissertations and whatnot that have been done on leadership.
So I don't have nearly enough time to go through the details, but there are four distinct traits when you ask people about admired leaders. So people that they themself look up to, whether it's technical leaders, whether it's political leaders, there are four distinct traits that are far and away more valuable than any other trait. The first one is honesty. That's kind of, I think, pretty self-explanatory. Competent, So they know what they're talking about, forward-looking, so there's a vision, they have an idea of where they're trying to go. And the fourth is inspiring.
We can all try to build the skills and our capabilities in these areas. And as I said before, and without going into too much detail, the point here is that you're trying, the point is that you try to demonstrate these behaviors and behaviors that demonstrate these traits over and over and over again. And the more you do it, not the quality, but the frequency that you demonstrate those traits, you will naturally get better at it, but you'll also be recognized for it. - So I can see where communications comes in into play because obviously you have to be communicating in order to be communicating honestly or communicating in order to be giving forward-looking projections or things like that. So how do you create the scenarios to communicate these ideas? - You can think about it in the context of just day-to-day work, and you have the opportunity to share what you think is important, or you can put your perspective on things that are happening on certain projects.
"Is that good? Is it bad? Why is it good or bad? Where is this gonna lead us?" I actually started teaching a graduate level course for technical engineers to describe the different audiences that we talk to and how to tailor communication for a technical audience, or a business audience, or a customer audience. And then what form of communication because there are different forms of communication. What we think about as like a PowerPoint presentation, you know, doing a very formal type presentation. But there's also communication in the context of like an informal verbal presentation, like an update at a staff meeting or a scrum meeting. But there's also informal writing like emails. How do you tailor the communication to the audience and get to the most important points fast and clearly in a way that the audience can understand and value? And that's, I think, a whole set of skills that are critical and really, really underserved within the technical community 'cause we always think in the engineering schools and whatnot that it's all about, you know, learning how circuits work, learning physics, and calculus, and whatever.
And that's all important, not saying that's not important, but it is not at all sufficient to be successful in industry. In order to be successful in industry, you can be brilliant, but if you can't get your thoughts out, and understood, and appreciated, then you're not nearly as valuable. - So let's jump back and talk about building technical teams.
How do we even start to look at that? If you're given an assignment or have an opportunity, you may be starting your own company or you may be building a team within a company, how do you even structure your focus for hiring, and then how do you go about it? - There's not a one size fits all approach as you would expect, but there are a few things to think about, and I like to use two different analogies here. The first one is a sports analogy. So sports analogy, I am a big basketball fan, and I played basketball, you know, going through high school and whatnot. And if you look at a basketball team, the five players that are on the floor for any given team at a time, you have players that play different roles, you've got the center, you've got some forwards, you've got some guards, and you've got some people that are very good at dribbling the ball, very good at passing the ball, other people that are great at rebounding, and defense, and whatnot.
And the best teams are ones where you have a diversity of these skills. If you put five people that are all great at one particular set of skills or maybe just a few skills, those teams almost always lose because the other team can exploit the deficiencies. Maybe they can't rebound, or maybe they can't play defense, or whatever. They're great shooters, but the other team scores every time because they can't play defense. The point there is that diversity matters. And I think when you're building a team, it's very easy to have the sort of bias around, well, people that are like you.
Again, I think is more generally understood now, but that said, it's uncomfortable to try to look for people that have skills, vastly different skills than you do, and maybe even very obvious deficiencies in certain areas. But the idea here is that when you put all of these folks together, you need to be able to not only leverage their strengths, but also leverage other people's strengths to account for individuals' deficiencies. So that's one way to think about it. The other analogy that I like here is chess.
The way that I talk about, you know, personal development is that when we all start out, we start out as pawns. We don't really know much, maybe we're right out of school, we know the basics, we can do a few things relatively well, and that's basically it, we're a pawn. And as we develop ourself over time, we grow our skills and we sort of get promoted from being a pawn to being a rook, and then to a knight, and then to a bishop, and then eventually we're all striving for our skills to make it to be a queen 'cause they're the most powerful position on the chess board.
But what happens along the way is that we realize that that's only one aspect of development, trying to get from a pawn to a queen. The other part of our own development is learning how to play chess. You have to be able to take the skills that are inherent to the people around you, whether they work directly for you or they're just matrix team type folks, and how do you play chess with their skills and their attributes, and deficiencies, and whatnot, and build them up and be able to execute. And I think that is so energizing for many people, not for everyone, but for many people.
And those are the folks that you want to really focus on the leadership and driving that forward. - Do you literally like have a whiteboard vision of this in your head and you kinda see where all these pieces are going, or would you recommend somebody write it down, or is it more of a background kind of a scenario where you're constantly thinking about it when you encounter people or listen to people? - It depends on where you are in the team formation. If you're early on in the formation, you're really starting from a blank slate, then writing it down really does matter because you wanna know roles and responsibilities.
You wanna understand what is this person or this team of people, what are they going to be accountable for? What are their deliverables? What are the kind of skills and traits we wanna make sure we have represented in either that individual or that team? It's not that often that we have the ability to form a brand new team with a blank slate. Usually you're given a whole team, you know, that already exists, or you're given a part of a team, and you're sort of merging two parts of the team together. You have a vision for where it is that you're trying to get to.
And then as you select and deselect people as they come in and out of the team and organization, you're always trying to augment, okay, where are we particularly overweighted in certain skills and characteristics, and where are we underweighted? And so when you're overweighted, you know, as a person leaves like that, then you bring in somebody that's quite different. These are all things that are important to at least be thinking about on a regular basis, not like once a year. This is like on a multiple times a year, probably at least once a quarter, you should be thinking about organizationally, are we doing the right thing? Because the deliverables from your team inherently change.
Am I still well aligned with what the expectations are, or do I need to be looking at augmenting new skills and whatnot? So I think that's all critical, and that sort of personal development, again, you have to have the belief that people can be developed. And then there is an art though, it's not a science, there is an art of sometimes, it's too far to go for a person that's in a particular role with a particular set of skills to move them as far and as fast as they need to go in order to be successful moving forward. And those are the folks that you need to deselect, and you need to, not necessarily fire them, but you need to find a different role for them so that they can develop in a way where they can be successful, and then you have the opportunity to bring in the right person at the right time. - How do you prevent, again, especially in a technical field, how do you prevent pigeonholing people? I think a lot of people who are trying to move up get concerned that they end up in like one particular role, and they're always viewed that way, and they may be a star. So how do you address that? Do you worry about it or not? - No, you definitely worry about it.
If you're not developing them, then their value over time is going to erode. Takes effort, I'll say it that way. It takes effort on both parts, the individual's part as well as the leader's part. What I will say though is it all starts with open communication, open communication between the leader and the individual. What is it that they like doing? What is it that they want to do? Oftentimes, when I talk to people, I do a lot of coaching and a lot of times, when I have the conversation with leaders, they don't actually even know, they're speculating what the people on their team actually wanna do and to move toward.
And I say, "Why are you speculating? Why don't you just ask them?" And you know, as part of these development kind of one-on-ones or things that you should be doing regularly to folks, you should be having that very, very open conversation and ask them also, do they feel like they're being challenged adequately enough? I like to think about people being in the flow, and in the flow is a good balance between the level of challenge you give a person and their skills and capabilities. And if there's a good balance between the two, then the employee is what I call in the flow. When an employee believed themself to be or they actually are very, very highly skilled, but the challenge to them is very low because they've been doing the same job forever and ever, you know, that becomes an area where they become bored, work for them becomes mundane, or where the challenge is very high, but they don't believe that they're adequately skilled to do it, now they're super stressed out. This is where you need to check with employees over and over again regularly because things change so dynamically in these environments.
Technical environments, business environments. Where are folks? And it starts with that clear communication. And then from there, it really boils down to okay, what is it you need to be achieved, and then with a clear understanding of where their skills are and what whatnot, then you can start mapping a plan forward.
- So active listening, very important, open communication, honesty, constantly communicating, all very important things in leadership. Putting together a team with a variety of players, with a variety of skills. Are there any other big things people should be constantly asking themselves? - Yes, there is at least one, there's probably more, but at least one, and that's what I call the internal dialogue that's happening in all of our heads.
And sometimes that internal dialogue is a cheerleader. It's, you know, telling you how great you are, and what a good person you are and whatnot, how skilled you are. And oftentimes that voice in your head is telling you negative things like you're a fraud, in the case of imposter syndrome, all kinds of negative things. I could list out a hundred of them, but I think we all sort of understand that. The important part of that inner dialogue is to realize first and foremost that it's happening. When you're nervous or stressed in some way, shape or form, that voice inside your head gets louder, and louder, and louder.
And it's hard to set that aside. First of all, I don't even know if that voice in my head is telling me the truth. You know, maybe it's telling me that I'm a nice person, but when I'm driving in the parking lot and somebody walks in front of me, and I lay on the horn, well, you know what? Maybe I'm not being a nice person. My voice says I am, and that person deserved it, whatever it is.
But in the end, it's all about your actions. And sometimes, you are that good, and the confidence is grounded and other times, it's misplaced. And likewise, there's a lot of times where people think they're terrible leaders or terrible communicators or whatever it happens to be. And it turns out no, people think they actually are. And so they're just torturing themself with a self dialogue that isn't grounded. So what do you do about it? The only way to address this is to have a network of people that have your best interest in mind, not your friends, not people that are just like you, but people at all levels of the organization, both in your teams, outside your teams that know you and care enough about you that they will tell you the truth.
And for you to spend time not only building that network, but also maintaining it over time and having those conversations to say, okay, well I just gave a presentation when you were in the room, can you gimme some feedback? What did you think I did well, not well? You know, and have the person, just in some cases, if you deserve it, to lay into you, and say you weren't prepared. You should have known the answer to those questions and you didn't. Those are the things that matter. The inner voice, whatever it happens to be, can rationalize good or bad behavior, can rationalize away bad results, and just say, oh well, it wasn't my fault or whatever it is. But that network of people, that is really the only, the only source of what I call like a mirror, to hold up a mirror to you and say, this is who you really are.
Not what you intended to be or what you tried to be or whatever, but really who is the person that you actually are. And that network can tell you that. - So we've talked a lot about leadership, but I'm actually interested in the difference, if there is one, between being a leader and being a coach. Because you're a trained and certified coach, in addition to having been a leader in a number of divisions across Intel. What makes coaching different? - What I thought was coaching in the past really wasn't because what people were coming to me and asking about was, "Hey, I have a certain problem. What would you do if you were in my shoes?" And so they were asking for advice.
And while advice giving is a small aspect of coaching, what I learned through the whole coaching certification process is that coaching is more about the individual themself, and trying to uncover and unblock ways of thinking, ways of approaching problems. So that my value as a coach is not trying to solve a problem 'cause first of all, I'm not an expert usually in whatever it is they're dealing with. I certainly don't have all the background knowledge that has led them to the point they are right now. What I approach these folks with is diving into how are they approaching problem and maybe unblocking some of their thought processes, maybe shining a different lens on the situation that maybe a different perspective that may open up new opportunities. And that, for me, is so exciting.
It's so rewarding when you have those aha moments with folks in coaching. I have found over time that there's more and more of these opportunities, is people, they don't need the answer. It's sort of like the old analogy. You fish for them, you feed them once, you teach them how to fish, you do it for a lifetime, you feed them for a lifetime. Well, that's the same with coaching is that even if I was able to give quote, unquote, advice, I'm only helping them that one setting, whereas if I can help them with how to approach the challenge that they have and their thought processes and whatnot, now I'm arming them for a career. - I know coaching goes all the way up through senior executives.
I can't imagine there's people in sort of the highest level executive staffs who don't have a coach, really. How are they coached? I mean, how does a coach coach somebody who's like above them in a- - No, that's exactly the point that I was just raising before because a coach isn't expected to have all the background. In fact, in many ways, a coach is taught not to get involved, or engaged, or try to even understand what the problem is the individual is dealing with. The coach is trying to understand how is the person approaching the problem. In that regard, level of the organization is irrelevant, as long as you have somebody who's very, very good at being able to dive into the approach of a problem, that person can be at any level of the organization, and they can be talking to a CEO, or a board of directors person, or anybody else. The level doesn't matter.
But it is an art, it is a skill and an art, and it's something that I didn't appreciate at first, but as I got more into the training and understood really how it was different than advice giving, I realized that oh my gosh, there's so much more power, there's so much more good that can come out of a good coaching engagement than there is out of old-school like advice giving session. - Do people tend to frame things similarly like as they move through different, I guess, decision points? - The way I would say it is that people tend to continue to do the things that got them to where they're at. They've been successful. And so they tend to sort of rinse and repeat similar approaches. You know, the problems that the senior leaders and executives, what they deal with are things like team dynamics.
They're frustrated, their team isn't operating the way they need them to or want them to. Maybe there's political strife. Everybody is still individually trying to develop themself.
So what are some of the challenges they're facing there? Engaging with customers or industry players in certain ways that aren't going well, and they need to do that. The one thing that I will say though is that the old-school frame of thinking was that when somebody got a coach, it was to fix a problem. Fortunately, what has come now to be more broadly accepted is that there are so many benefits of coaching that people of all skill levels, the high performers, the, you know, high potential employees, they should have a coach. Why? So they can get even more out of those people, and they can develop even faster. And yes, the people that have challenges in certain regards, they can also benefit from coaching. So coaching is not just for people that have challenges or problems, it's really for the gamut that all people will benefit.
And again, you tailor the coaching engagement to meet the needs of the individual where they're at and where they're trying to go. And that's the art and the joy for me in coaching. - So Tom, you are Vice President of Strategy in the Client Computing Group at Intel, and also a trained and certified coach, and also an instructor at a graduate school in the Portland area on communications, technical communications. Thank you very much for sharing your wisdom today. - Thanks for having me, Camille.
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