What’s Your Leadership Style?

The other day I had a conversation where someone asked me what my ‘leadership style’ was. For some reason I was taken a bit by surprise that I couldn’t answer the question with one crisp term: ‘I am a micromanager’ or ‘I lead by example’ or something like that. Nothing came to mind that would have answered the question with a simple word or a quick simple description. Rather, my leadership values started popping into my head. So I started explaining my five values (well, the ones I could easily remember anyways). The conversation went really well, but after coming home, it bugged me that I didn’t have this one sentence answer and I started looking around for how other people answer this question.

So here is what I learned and what I’d recommend you do with this question:

  1. Keep in mind that the question is a very personal one and the purpose is not to get a one word answer, but get you to outline a bit of who you are and how you show up as a leader. If you ever get asked this question in an interview, the interviewer will be able to tell whether you have some sort of a system and you have thought about leadership to start with. So, have a system you can talk about. Follow my ‘leadership value’ example from above if you want.
  2. Another way to explain and even explore your leadership style is to look back at examples and scenarios in your leadership career that showed your leadership style. To give you a personal example, say a project gets into some sort of trouble; maybe we are behind schedule or we loose a resource for a critical project. In those situations, I’ll try to jump in where appropriate. Highlight a situation where you were a really good manager and you made a difference. Explain how you were able to jump in and actually make a difference and rescue a project, for example.
  3. Some good answers, if they fit you, are some of the following terms. In an interview, don’t just throw these out, but elaborate, preferably with some good examples:
    • “I lead by example”
    • “I micromanage” – this is not always a bad thing – explain why you do and in what situations
    • “hands-off” – this could be perceived as bad trait, but again, explain and you can turn this into something positive.
    • “keeping an open dialog among everyone – no hierarchy”
    • “delegating” – for me this is actually one of my leadership values: empowerment and responsibility
  4. Another way to talk about leadership styles is to look at autocratic versus democratic styles. In the autocratic setup, ‘the boss is bossy’. Often embodying micromanagement. In a democratic style, the boss includes the team in the decision making process. Generally, leaders don’t fall hard into one or the other camp, but are somewhere in the middle. It can still be a good way to explain how you approach your leadership.
  5. You can also think about your leadership style in the realm of the following personalities:
    • Visionary – Follow me
    • Operator – Sorry, our plan doesn’t specify that
    • Compromiser – Let’s take a vote
    • Drill Sergent – When I say jump …
    • Cheer Leader – You guys rock
    • Parrot – The person I talked to last …
    • Windbag – blah blah blah
    • Coach – I want you to imagine …

    Again, you are most likely a combination of some of the above. And all of them have their pros and cons.

  6. If you are interviewing for a job, check if they have a special leadership style. GE, for example, has a leadership program which can help you orient yourself on how the company thinks about leadership. Knowing at least that they have a leadership program will earn you brownie points for the interview.

I hope these hints help you think about your own leadership style and the next time someone asks you, you have an exciting and meaningful conversation exploring your leadership journey and hopefully even expanding or refining your approaches.

Startup Marketing – More PR Activities

The last couple of blogs compiled some ideas around marketing strategies for your enterprise (security) startup. After discussing some of the basics, we then dove a bit into PR. The initial PR post got a bit too long, so in this post I am going deeper on the topic of PR and I’ll provide some tips that I gathered from my marketing maven friends on how you can cost efficiently implement a PR strategy.


You might say that all of the content creation PR ideas from the last blog post are great, but what good is a blog without traffic. Well, that’s where you will need to spend a bit of time on syndication. It starts as simple as building up your twitter account and starting to talk about your blog (and some other things to get people to follow you). Exploring Twitter is a whole broad topic on its own: How to tweet, retweet, hashtags, and all that jazz. Let’s focus on syndication for now. Twitter is a good way to announce your posts. So is linkedin (might be even better!), linkedin groups, and don’t forget Facebook for announcing your content.

Here is a pro tip: Tie into Quora and Peerlyst. Answer questions on those properties and link back to you. Or even seed questions on those platforms.

Obviously, the top of the content chain are outlets like Huffington Post, Forbes, Darkreading, TechTarget, Wallstreet Journal, New York Times, etc. Some of them take a bit more to get syndicated or featured in. But start small and expand. Who knows, with a thought leadership approach you might soon get called by CNN to comment on breaking news. You have no idea how much traffic 30 seconds on TV will generate.

On the topic of getting featured in publications. You want to be in Forbes or some other business journal. Start pitching journalists. Find the good ones and start building a relationship. But make sure you have something to add to the journalist’s work. Have a point of view. A differentiated one if possible. A valid one. A provoking one? As an example of how that could look, one of the companies I am working with, they don’t call their technology ‘artificial intelligence’ (AI). They call it an expert system. They can enter the conversation on AI, but can differentiate themselves and make the point that it’s not about algorithms, but about encoding export knowledge in their system. That gets journalist’s attention and helps them formulate a story around your company. But I digress.


When talking to marketing friends, Laura was very passionate about creating communities for her companies as a core pillar of marketing. Identify the biggest community that your company addresses. Do they have a Web portal? Is there an organization that is behind that community? Start contributing to the community, sponsor activities, have them feature you, work with them. Here are some pro tips from Laura on how she does this for the companies she works with:

  • Be hip. Be cool. Nobody wants to interact with a boring company.
  • Think about how to separate yourself from the pack. How do you associate a certain topic with your company? (Side note: Splunk has done a fantastic job with their T-Shirts. They are everywhere and create an incredible amount of mind share! What’s your unique approach?)
  • Make sure there are lead capture areas on the Web site and make sure you get the leads.
  • What goes hand in hand with finding and contributing to a community goes identifying journalists that cover your space. Work with them, have them talk about your community.
  • Collaborate with a smaller but very focussed conference around your company’s topics; rather than spending a lot of money on a big conference where you might collect a lot, but not very qualified, leads. Focus on quality. More on the topic in the next section.
  • Engage with people that are using or are potentially using your product. Rear them in, have them be your extended outreach department.

Trade Shows

Rather than spending a lot of money on one of the big conferences like BlackHat or RSA, use the money to hit a user conference for products that you integrate with. They’re not usually too expensive and they’re better quality attendees because they’re already running a complimentary technology!

I am summarizing some of the other tips here:

  • Don’t attend trade shows too early in your company’s life. They have a place, but they are expensive!
  • When you are attending smaller shows, be the ‘big dog’ there. Much easier than getting attention at a large conference.
  • Always focus on gathering leads at these conferences. Get creative. And please, don’t be annoying.
  • Leverage the fact that people are attending the larger trade shows. How can you make use of the fact that a lot of people will be at BlackHat or RSA? Maybe organize a meetup? Organize a smaller dinner for some prospects (add some customers that will talk favorably about your product). Setup one on one meetings with prospects.
  • Rather than attending the big conferences, organize smaller dinners. Get a good crew together. People like a free meal with interesting people! Maybe get a good speaker to initiate some conversations. But keep that part short.

Should You Hire a PR Firm?

As Ariella nicely summarizes: If you have a little extra money, hire a great PR firm. They require some attention from your marketing people and your spokes person, but they can potentially add some great value.

To start with, they can help you put together an overall PR strategy with all the components we talked about here. In addition, a good PR agency can help you get bylines and guest blogs with outlets like HuffPo, Dark Reading, NYT, WSJ, etc. They can also help you figure out your messages that resonate with journalists and finally they should have some good contacts to journalists (use that as one of your criteria for selecting a PR firm). If you are going to launch your product, have them help you get the launch featured in the NYT or WSJ!

Be selective when working with a PR firm. Do you want a large firm? Can they guarantee you the attention that you want / need? Or are they just fishing for new clients? Smaller outlets can be better suited there, but they are often a bit more expensive as well. Shop around and find the right fit for you!

What’s Next?

What do you think? Was this useful? Did I miss any big topic on marketing? What else would you want to read here? I got someone asking about product management. Is that of interest?

Startup Marketing – Get Good At PR

In my last blog post I compiled some ideas around marketing strategies for your enterprise (security) startup. In this post I am going deeper on the topic of PR and I’ll provide some tips that I gathered from my marketing maven friends on how you can cost efficiently implement a PR strategy.

Why should you care about PR?

PR can be cheap. It ties in well with some of your other efforts like having a corporate (or product) presentation. It helps you shape your message and makes you think about how you want to communicate your value proposition. It can also help you get everyone aligned around a single voice i.e., a common way of talking about your company and products.

It’s also about credibility. It can help you look bigger than you actually are and start establishing your thought leadership in the market. Did I just write that?

How do you get started?

First, follow some of the advice from the previous blog post, especially about “Defining your positioning and value proposition”. Then go create content: Blogs, white papers, videos, info graphics, interviews, etc. After that, syndicate your content to other properties. This can get a bit more involved, but more about that in the next blog post.

But first, you need some good content. Here are some ideas on what you should focus on:

  • Blogs are cheap. Blog about product and industry related topics. Inga notes that a lot of startups make the mistake to only talk about themselves and their features, rather than talking about customer problems and how they are solving them.
  • Guest blogging on other properties is not that easy to do. You’ll need to be a recognized thought leader in the space to get those opportunities, but give it a shot. Work on your market position.
  • Webinars you can do through different outlets. You can organize your own if you have a good list of prospects to invite. Or you can work with a content organization like BrightTalk, SC Mag, Dark Reading, Infosecurity, etc.
  • Email campaigns can be good outlets, but you have to capture leads on your website and as Matt rightfully points out, they are an art. Getting into an inbox and being read is already hard. Getting a meeting out of that truly requires a master piece of an email.
  • Targeted emails as opposed to broader email campaigns can be challenging. How do you get someone to read your email? I am sure you get tons of these in your own inbox. I often get upset at the way these emails are written. As already mentioned, writing good emails takes time. Once your company is past the first couple of customer, it might make sense to invest in a couple of good SDRs (sales development reps) to help you manage your sales pipeline and manage these higher touch interactions with prospects; not just email, but also picking up the phone and just calling them. Obviously in the beginning of your company journey, you share that workload among the team. Often this is something the CEO would do.
  • Presentations and demos are a necessity in any case. Just get them done. Invest time into a great sales deck.
    These things need time. Ask friends and advisors for examples of good sales decks! And please, adjust your pitch to your audience. If you are talking to an end customer, gauge their knowledge. Make it interactive. When you are pitching an OEM deal or even an M&A opportunity, the interested party probably knows your space pretty well already. You probably have all kinds of technology people on the call. So please, get to the gist quickly. Don’t spend 30 minutes on talking about the market opportunity and the market problems. We got it, that’s why we are talking to you. Talk about what you do, how you are different, and what you have learned from your clients. A quick tip from Ariella: When it comes to presentation material, arm your SDRs with solid value-based messaging that is technical enough to resonate with the audience and bypass the hyperactive BS meter that security folks have.
  • Targeted events – Selecting events will depend on which segment of the security space you occupy and which job titles are important to you. If you target security analysts, the best shows are SANS, Black Hat, FIRST and smaller Threat Intel or Digital Forensics events. We’ll cover trade shows in our next blog post. Overall, don’t bother spending too much money on them in the early stages.
  • Speaking at conferences is great, as long as you don’t have to pay for it. Ideally you speak at events where your decision makers show up. And if you have a speaker at an event where you also exhibit, even better. Market around it!
  • Sponsor meetups. These are super cheap. Sponsor pizza and beer. Your name gets out there. The organizers also generally let you give a quick 2 minute spiel. Don’t forget to announce your job openings here. These events can be great to get in touch with your prospects in a more casual setting and they can help you with market research. All around a great investment.

A quick thought on speakers (or even writers, authors) for your outbound facing activities: If you don’t have a founder or employee that has street creds already and/or is a great speaker, you can hire someone. You could hire an independent industry expert or even someone who does the job that your target users are doing. Use that person for blogging, press quotes, and maybe also social media. Just a thought.

This is it for now. In the next post, we will explore the PR topic a bit more and discuss things like syndication, communities, marketing tools, PR agencies, and trade shows.

Startup Marketing

You are an enterprise software startup. You are in the security space. Your company is still early, trying to sign its first 10, maybe 40 customers. What should you be doing for marketing? What works? What doesn’t? What approaches yield the biggest return for your investment? These are some questions that I have been pondering lately with startups that I am working with. I decided to do some research among my marketing and startup friends to explore what marketing approaches work for them.

A huge thanks goes out to my amazing marketing maven friends who provided input for this post: Ariella Robison, Inga Weizman, Matt Trifiro, Katherine Nellums, Laura Pauli, and Mike Armistead.

Following is an attempt to summarize what I learned. To start with, there are two starting points for your marketing program:

  1. Define your positioning and value proposition: Some call this the mission statement. It’s simply one or a couple of statements about what your company does, who the product is for (buyer), and what sets it apart from the competition (“why does your company exist?”).
  2. Identify your top 200 prospects: Work every angle to get to the buyer within your top prospects. Take into account the full sphere of influence when it comes to the sales cycle (approver, influencer, etc.) Where do those people hang out? Where do they get their news from? Do you have personal contacts that can introduce you? Investor contacts? Are those people on twitter? Follow them, answer questions, and start interacting with them. Get creative to rise above the noise (more about that later). Jonathan makes a good point here: If your company is still in the customer discovery or product validation phase, you don’t really have a prospect list yet. At that point you still need to test your market.

From here there are a few different ways you can go. But as with any project, what you don’t measure you can’t manage. Set some specific short to mid-term marketing goals. The more specific the goals, the better. These goals then help inform further marketing activities. Kathrine gives some great examples for these goals:

  • Secure x number of early adopters for the beta program.
  • Generate brand visibility while in stealth / to recruit new employees / to influence my next fundraising round.
  • Activate / engage existing database of prospects.
  • Understand customers’ buying journey to better target them / shorten the sales cycle.
  • Warm up / nurture relationships with our top three prospects.

Before engaging in any marketing efforts, you probably need a Web site. Not just for prospects to see who you are, but also to have a platform to capture leads. You can get leads through other outlets as well, but eventually, you’ll need a decent Web site anyways.

Now you are ready to engage with specific marketing efforts. Following are a few tricks I learned from my marketing investigations:

  • Get reference customers and use them for case studies: Even if you can’t mention them publicly, you might be able to mention them in sales calls.
  • Keep your marketing clever and fun as Laura put it: “Rise above the noise.” She told me stories of many examples that she has implemented in the past. What exactly you do here also depends on your culture. Do things appropriate for your company. Above all, get creative!
  • Get good at PR: Mike is an expert in that. Build up your brand recognition. It’s possible to do this really cheap: blog, tweet, speak at conferences, etc. More details on this we’ll discuss in the next blog post.
  • Be data driven! For anything you do on the PR side, measure what does well. What content converts?
  • Ariella points out that if you can offer some kind of a free demo or trial, that can be a great lead generation tool.
  • Analyst relations (AR): Get connected to the analysts. Figure out who covers your product category at the different analyst firms and go introduce yourself. Often analysts will take a meeting with you to get an understanding of your product without you having to be a customer. Becoming a client of the analyst firms is something you want to do when you are a bit bigger. When talking to the analysts, make sure to ask them for feedback on your product, the roadmap, and the market. Some great tips you can find on my friend Anton’s blog.

While there are all kinds of marketing things you should do, there are also a bunch of things you shouldn’t spend too much money on in the early stages of your company (there are always exceptions):

  • Don’t spend time on SEO
  • Don’t spend money on ad words
  • Don’t spend money on analysts
  • Don’t spend money on speaking engagements
  • Don’t spend crazy money on trade shows

What are your experiences? Other things that work for you? In my next blog post, we’ll have a look at the topic of public relations (PR). Stay tuned.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping – It’s Not An Academic Exercise

The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Image credit: http://www.velvetparkmedia.com/blogs/hakuin-ekaku-sound-one-clear-mind

I have written about koans before. The most famous koan simply goes:

“What’s the sound of one hand clapping?”

How would you answer this koan? I have seen people answer by tapping their leg with one hand. Or closing their hand so it makes a sound. Most people, when trying to come up with an answer, will engage with it from a rational perspective. They are getting almost academic or scientific about it. But the purpose of koans; the purpose of Zen is never about academic exercises. Koans are not parables. None of them is. Koans ask you to engage with them on a very personal level. This koan is asking you to become the hand.

In the Zen tradition, if you work with a teacher on “solving” a koan, there is an actual “answer”. Interestingly enough, pretty much any beginner will convey the answer through words. Explaining what it is. But the teacher will be quick to ask the student not to use words, but “show” the answer without using words. Words lie. We are really good at explaining things with words that we haven’t actually understood. But acting out the answer requires you to get intimate with the koan. You have to find yourself in the koan.

You might wonder what all of this has to do with leadership. Well, leadership, just like koans, is not about an academic exercise. It’s about you. It’s about your employees. In order to be a good leader, you have to put yourself into the situation and react to it authentically. Make it personal. Experience it.

I challenge you to think about that the next time you are in a tough situation. Connect with it. Embrace it. Don’t push it away and don’t try to solve the situation through some “academic” approach.

My Leadership Values

In my last post I introduced the concept of leadership values. Today I am going to reveal my own five core leadership values. In no particular order they are:

  • accountability / responsibility
  • objectivity / rationality
  • clarity
  • efficiency / achievement
  • independence

Since I got clear on what my values were, it’s been helpful to pay attention to situations where I get frustrated or lose interest – either with people or with the situation itself. In 90% of cases, one of my values got violated. Where people trigger the frustration, they don’t know that. They don’t even know what my values are. Understanding where the frustration comes from allows me to address it and make sure I can leave the interaction on a positive note and make sure I get what I need from it. Rather than blaming the other person and nurturing a frustration.

Values are not something you choose. They are inherent to who you are. Putting some work into it, you can change them. But also know that you shouldn’t assign any judgment to your values. This is part of who you are. Part of who I am. Values help explain how I show up when you work with me. For example, my value of clarity means that I like things to be rational; clear. Give me 5 bullet points on a topic. Don’t give me a slide filled with 200 words. In the next blog post, we will explore a bit more what we can do with the values and how we can use them.

If you manage to ‘hit’ someone’s values; when you do things that are in line with someones values, you create trust with them. If you make an irrational point in an argument with me, I won’t trust you. In fact, I will probably start questioning you on everything you do. Even if you start being rational, you lost that trust with me and it will take time to rebuild it. This is not something I (or you for that matter) do on purpose or very consciously. It’s how we work as humans.

Have you figured out your values yet? If not, go back to the last blog post and take one of the value discovery tests. Once you have your list of values, sit with it. Can you identify situations in your past  that now suddenly make sense? Maybe a situation where you got frustrated with a co-worker or with your boss; what value did they violate? How could you have handled the situation differently, knowing that they didn’t mean to upset you, but one of your values was violated?

Leadership Values – Assess Yourself

For the past few months, I have been working with an executive coach. In one of our sessions we touched on the topic of leadership values and my coach asked me to explore my own values. At first I felt some resistance within myself. I didn’t know where to start and I couldn’t have articulated example leadership values. Let alone coming up with the 5 values that characterize my leadership style and encompass my values.

I ended up pushing myself past my resistance and spent a couple of hours digging through some online resources and filling out various questionnaires that I found. Here are some resources that I played with:

These exercises  all work approximately the same: You go through a list of words / values. You pick the ones that speak to you and you think characterize you best. Then you go through the values and either summarize or group them. In the end you have a set of “words” that should characterize your leadership values. You can obviously go back and forth to massage your list and that’s totally okay.

After going through a few of these exercises, I combined the results and I was able to distill my values down to a list of five elements.  I was very pleasantly surprised about the final result. The list really characterizes me and my leadership style.

After identifying my five values, I spent a little bit of time thinking about what they really mean to me. How would I explain them to someone else?

For example, one of my values is Responsibility. There are two ways that I characterize the value: a) People that work with me need to take responsibility. And b) I am responsible for my team’s mission and objectives. How does that show up in my daily (work) life? If I assign someone a task, be that in person or via email, I expect the person to take ownership of it. That doesn’t mean they can’t push back or discuss the task with me, maybe even get out of it, but responsibility for me means that if I don’t hear from you, you got the ball. The same applies to myself. If you send me a calendar invite, I will either accept or deny it. If I accept it, I’ll be there. I subscribe to my goals and missions and execute accordingly. If you don’t hear from me, that probably means that I am working on it. Of course, there are exceptions. Things happen. But if I say I do it, I’ll do my very best to get it done.

I encourage you to give it a try. Explore  your own values with one of the online value finders.

In the next post I will reveal the rest of my five values and then in a follow-on post explore a bit more what to do with them. How did and do they change what I do on a daily basis?

Zen Koans (ˈkōän/)

One of the ways that this blog about leadership is different from most others that you might be following, is that every now and then I am trying to sprinkle a little bit of Zen wisdom into my posts. Rather than trying to preach anything, I’ll introduce an old tool that Zen practitioner of the Rinzai lineage have found useful on their journey to enlightenment. Not that we are trying to get to enlightenment, but if Zen monks find grounding and insight in koans, why shouldn’t we use them on our path of becoming better leaders?
As I mentioned, in the Rinzai school of Zen, it was found that the process of meditation can be greatly enhanced through the use of this device called a koan.
ko·an /ˈkōän/
“a paradoxical anecdote or riddle, used in Zen Buddhism to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment.”
Let me give you an example of a koan to confuse you a bit more:
What’s the sound of one hand clapping?
This is probably the most famous koan and you might have heard it mentioned somewhere before. How I first approached solving this koan is from a rational perspective. Well, I can slap my hand on my legs. Or maybe by quickly closing my hand it makes a sound too. You might have other ideas. Well: “wrong”. None of these are the solution to the koan. Sorry.
What you learn when you start working with koans is that you don’t need to approach them with your rational mind. A friend of mine likes to say that it’s like art: You don’t approach looking at art with your rational mind; you’d miss out. So, it’s really only when you strip away your stories, your believes. Everything. Only then will the koan open up to you and reveal it’s answer.
This openness, this state of letting all your stories go is where I will try to hook into leadership. What if you were given the gift of letting go of your stories before you reacted in a tough leadership situation? Sit (meditate) with that for a bit …

Hello world!

I’ve been blogging on and off for many years. Mostly exploring topics at the intersection of cyber security, data analytics, and visualization. As of recrecent, I find myself exploring aspects of leadership much more than diving into technical problems. Be that in my day job, when advising startups, or when trying to figure out what my next conference presentation will be about 🙂 That’s how this blog came about.

I am trying to highlight the topic of leadership from a tech and Zen perspective. I have been practicing Zen mediation for many years and have really enjoyed working with Koans. They are a very interesting (maybe even addicting) tool to bring meditation and Zen philosophy into our daily lives. You intrigued yet? In the next couple of posts I will explain a bit more what these Koans are and how they tie into meditation and leadership.

Stay tuned.