Lessons in innovation for leaders and entrepreneurs
Our latest Vision Keynote event welcomed Ann Hiatt, former Executive Business Partner to Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), Eric Schmidt (CEO and Executive Chairman at Google/Alphabet) and Marissa Mayer (an important figure at Google who went on to become CEO at Yahoo!).
Having spent 15 years by the side of these visionary leaders, Ann came to share her stories, tips, adventures and wisdom learned from her time in Silicon Valley.
The five qualities of a good leader
The talk centred around the five qualities of a good leader – being fearless, humble, influential, curious and balanced.
Speaking to a packed room, Ann presented her unique perspective on what it takes to succeed in technology today. Through a series of anecdotes and stories, she took us into the minds of Silicon Valley’s most notable leaders and talked about how to apply their thinking to our own organisations.
In Silicon Valley you have an open license to try new things and not be afraid of failure in the name of innovation. “Failure is like a badge of honour – if you haven’t got at least three major failures under your belt you’ll be laughed out of a room,” says Ann.
She tells us about her first review with her manager Marissa Mayer. She felt proud that she had achieved most of her personal goals, only to be told by Mayer that she hadn’t aimed high enough and should have failed at a lot more of her targets.
“If you haven’t failed it shows that you’re not aiming high enough – the expectation is to aim really high and only achieve at most 50%.”
“Even as an experienced CEO it’s important to realise that not all your jokes are funny and not all your ideas are good. You have to be prepared to learn from others,” says Ann.
She believes a lack of humility is a major sign of a bad leader. “The worst CEOs are the ones who hire their friends – you don’t hire people just to tell you you’re great!” Obama is a great example of this – he had a ‘no new friends’ policy during his presidency, and actor George Clooney follows a similar theory, believing that his older friends will be honest with him.
She says this was played out at Google with its flat management structure, which meant the senior executives were accountable at all times. A weekly global conference was open to anyone in the company and gave staff the opportunity to grill the leaders on any subject.
Be an influencer
When working with Marissa Mayer, Ann learnt how to manage chaos, invent the future and do things that haven’t been done before. “Marissa is an influencer – she drives conversations and sees things from a new perspective.”
Ann explains by telling a story about a book launch with Hilary Clinton, when Mayer swiftly avoided a crisis. A colleague was approaching Clinton with a problem, but Mayer diverted them, insisting “we haven’t got a problem – we just need to find the right solution”.
This attitude is crucial if you want to lead and innovate, says Hiatt. “You don’t have to have the answer, but you do need a proposed solution – offer a question or a thoughtful response to disrupt a problem. Don’t think of what you can’t do, but how you can get to a solution.”
All the leaders Ann cites share the trait of being insatiably curious. “They put themselves in situations where they feel uncomfortable and where they don’t feel like the expert.”
When Ann started working at Google she says she felt in over her head, so decided to volunteer for a thankless task. It meant lots of weekends working, but allowed her to understand the business inside out and get direct contact with senior staff. It worked by opening doors and new opportunities.
“When you start something you’re not an expert by default,” says Ann. “So, you need to be curious, ask questions and say yes.”
This kind of leadership takes time and energy, so Ann finishes by stressing the importance of having things in your life that are enriching for you and allow you to keep going at a fast pace.
She calls this ‘resting while you run’ - whether it’s a dance class, a run or cooking food you love, this is a crucial way to stay rejuvenated in a high-paced world.
Did you attend this Vision Keynote event with Ann Hiatt? We’re keen to hear what you took away from the talk – tweet us @Bristol_Media to let us know.
Next up in our autumn series of Vision Keynotes is ‘Leadersmithing’ with Dr Eve Poole on Thursday 8th November. Eve is one of the UK's foremost leadership experts; whether you're an experienced leader, an emerging leader, an aspiring leader or an executive coach, Eve's engaging and entertaining session will arm you with clear directions to navigate your leadership journey with confidence. Full details including booking link here.