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?

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.