Leadership Forum 2021: Lessons for Emerging Leaders

On September 10th, 61 rising leaders across the High Alpha portfolio gathered virtually to attend High Alpha’s fourth annual Leadership Forum. This event focuses on leadership development within High Alpha Studio and High Alpha Capital’s high-growth companies.  Attendees across all functions are nominated by C-Suite for high performance and for demonstrating leadership potential within their companies. The day included keynotes from LeadX CEO Kevin Kruse and Lambda School COO Molly Graham, breakout sessions hosted by various leaders, and a closing fireside chat with Lessonly CEO and Co-Founder Max Yoder. While our speakers had a ton of valuable knowledge to share, below are a few highlights from each session.

Legacy Leadership Habits: Behaviors that Drive Engagement  with Kevin Kruse, Leadx CEO

The day began with Kevin Kruse, serial entrepreneur, NY Times Bestselling Author, and  Founder of LeadX. Kevin described himself as being a bad leader at the beginning of his career. After a few bumps in the road early on, he realized that he had been ignoring the most crucial aspect of business, the people of business.  Kevin has since devoted his career to researching leadership and employee engagement and building cohesive teams. 

Kevin began his session by defining employee engagement as the emotional commitment to the organization and its goals. He noted that managers directly account for 70% of the variance in an employee’s engagement. Managers directly impact an employee’s level of engagement. Kevin emphasized three essential habits successful managers and leaders practice: vision, feedback, and recognition:

  1. Vision. If employees feel connected to an organization’s great vision and journey, they will be more engaged. A leader should infuse the greater vision with recognition, feedback, and team meetings. 
  2. Feedback. The opposite of love is indifference. Negative or positive feedback is much better than no feedback at all. Leaders should act like a coach providing feedback constantly and timely. They also should model this with their team asking for feedback themselves. 
  3. Recognition. Build recognition into your habits. Send personal thank you’s and handwritten cards — infuse this into team meetings.

Fireside Chat with Molly Graham, Lamba School COO

Following Kevin’s insightful presentation, we heard from Molly Graham, COO of Lambda School. Molly shared her learnings from her career in high-growth companies such as Google and Facebook. Here are some of the key takeaways that bubbled up to the top for our team:

  1. Not everyone should be a manager. Management isn’t for everyone, and that’s okay. Leaders can exist in multiple functions and without requiring direct people-managing. Molly explained to the group, “A manager is someone who gets their joy and energy from making people better.” Your company must ensure that compensation and organizational structures incentivize people to develop leadership paths outside of people management. 
  2. Give away your legos.  You will know that you have been successful in a high-growth company if you’ve made yourself irrelevant. This is especially true as you experience high growth as a leader or a manager. So much of good leadership comes down to your ability to recognize and channel your emotions, especially as it relates to change. For example, Molly shared that many new managers are scared of their new hires and worried they will take away their important work. These emotions are normal. Awareness is key to mitigating their impact on your team’s ability to do great work. Get comfortable making yourself irrelevant. 

“So much of being good at growing and scaling companies is getting good at change.” – Molly Graham

  1. Create balance for yourself. If you’re constantly performing at high speed and high growth, you will quickly burn out. Molly explained startups are less of a sprint and more of an ultra-endurance sport. While it’s easy to view the next product or feature release as the finish line, in most cases, it’s just the starting line of another race entirely. Molly encouraged each attendee to define balance and to hold themselves accountable to that standard. Sending a 10 PM email may seem important, but it is most important to sustain momentum over time. Battles are fought over months and years, not days. It’s important for you and your team to manage energy actively.
  1. Articulate your culture. Culture is articulated. You should be able to describe it without feeling like it could be any other company. Culture comes from what you do, not from what you say. Molly challenged companies to articulate their own culture in specific detail. Avoid “black hole” words everyone uses to describe culture because each person has a different meaning  (e.g., impact, fun, fast-paced). 

Personalized Break Out Sessions

As attendees registered for the event, we asked them to share leadership topics on their minds. Needless to say, high-growth technology leaders are in the throes of many macro-environmental challenges and everyday business situations, and the overwhelming majority of answers centered around hybrid and remote leadership, inclusive culture building, and navigating mental health and burnout. 

So, as a part of the event, we hosted intimate, interactive breakout sessions on these topics requested by attendees. Our rising leaders selected from three breakout options led by RemoteWorks Co-Founder Tamara Sanderson, EDGE Mentoring Director of Groups Kristen Campbell, and Performance 3 Chief Performance Officer Thresette Briggs.

The Key to Unlocking the Magic of Remote Work

During her breakout session, Tamara Briggs unpacked advice on hybrid and remote leadership from her upcoming book grounded in her experience leading distributed teams. Tamara is the co-founder of Remote Works, an organizational design and consulting firm. She cut her teeth in design at IDEO, tech at Google and Automattic, and finance and operations at Oliver Wyman and Audax Group. With over 12 years of distributed work experience, largely while traveling the world with 70 countries and seven continents under her belt, Tamara learned the secrets to making remote work work. 

Tamara’s advice for the group included but was not limited to grounding your organization in self-awareness when it comes to remote works. In addition to her self-awareness principle, she walked our rising leaders through different synchronous and asynchronous communication types and had the group evaluate each one. 

These guiding principles served as the foundation for her individual energy audit and other resources she provided to the group, including team playbooks to work better with one another and a meeting audit tool. 

Mental Health for Leaders

Our second breakout option was led by EDGE Mentoring Director of Groups Kristen Campbell.  Kristen’s tips for managing stress, burnout, and anxiety include: 

  • Recognize when stress is present in your life and take active steps to monitor and diffuse it. 
  • High Achievers are most susceptible to burnout and tend to see their worth tied to their work. Note that burnout is different as it’s chronic workplace stress. 
  • Try avoiding social media, news, and emails first and last 30 minutes of the day. Instead, fill it with exercise, meditation, family, and being present. 
  • Control aspects of your life you can.  Have a clean home, practice gratitude, ensure movement regularly in your day or how much light is in your space.
  • Have a distinct beginning and end of the day. Set your rituals and habits. 

Finally, Kristen shared some tips and tricks on how to support those with common mental health concerns—asking simple questions like “What’s on your mind?” and open-ended questions like “Anything else?” while listening with calm and open body language. 

Behaviors to Attract, Retain and Drive Inclusive Company Culture

The final breakout option covered behaviors to attract and retain a diverse team and drive inclusive company culture. This session was led by Thresette Briggs, Chief Performance Officer of Performance 3. 

Thresette shared that diversity and inclusivity should be woven into and considered at every business stage. Leaders who want to promote inclusivity need to model this behavior. 

She shared that empathy is the critical habit to driving inclusivity.  This differs from sympathy, where you may have related experience or feelings. She shared four main aspects of empathy: 

  • See someone else’s word when it differs from your own.
  • Appreciate others as human beings without judgment. 
  • Understand other’s feelings even if you disagree with them. 
  • Communicate understanding and support for others. 

Fireside Chat with Max Yoder

We ended the day with Co-Founder and CEO of Lessonly Max Yoder. Max has had a busy year with Seismic’s recent acquisition of Lessonly, becoming a parent, and writing his second book,  To See It, Be It. Here are a few key takeaways from Scott Dorsey’s conversation with Max that bubbled up to the top for our team:

Lead Through Healthy Relationships

Max roots his leadership philosophy of healthy relationships. Max shared the importance of having difficult conversations, creating agreements between one another, and ensuring you do this while still highlighting what you appreciate about the other person. After all, those things are beyond your control. In using this philosophy,  he believes leaders can become less self-conscious and liberated from the judgment and feelings of others. 

Be Empathetic, Not a Mirror

“I wouldn’t want my doctor if I’m struggling, saying ‘Oh my gosh- so am I.’” – Max Yoder

As a leader, you should be empathetic but not a mirror of those you lead. Allow them to see you as a stable force that brings clarity and camaraderie to every situation. 

You Don’t Have To Know Everything 

Vulnerability and authenticity are also core aspects of Max’s leadership philosophy.  According to Max, being vulnerable in leadership is being honest about your uncertainty about how to solve a problem while simultaneously sharing your confidence that you can figure it out.  

We’re so thankful to everyone who took the day to learn and grow and hope to see these and other learnings brought back to their respective companies.