“The Role of a great leader is not to give greatness to human beings, but to help them extract the greatness they already have inside them.”
A Leader’s quote
As we rise into leadership roles, it’s not always easy to walk the talk. Of course, we want to be wise sages, counseling our charges and inspiring them to greatness. But that’s easier said than done. The challenge was particularly acute for Karl Allen, co-founder and CEO of Planet Jockey, a company that creates management courses in the form of online games. He knew it would be a sad irony if the head of a company selling leadership games wasn’t much of a leader, himself. So he vowed to step up – and here are the lessons he learned through playing his company’s games and vowing to become the right kind of CEO.
Planet Jockey’s game teaches the principles of “buoyant leadership” – what Allen describes as “a concept whereby, as a leader, you float [on top] because the people you lead believe you deserve it.” (The concept is discussed in depth in a book called The Case of the Missing Cutlery by Kevin Allen, Karl’s partner in business and life.) But Karl recognizes that while buoyancy is the goal, he won’t always be perfect. “I can do it at times,” he says. “But sometimes [negative] instinct takes over, and it takes over really fast.” These days, he can recognize when he feels his temper rising at work, and can guide himself back into a more inspirational mode of leadership.
In evaluating his leadership style, Karl Allen recognized that sometimes in the past, he’s prioritized being ‘nice’ – which has driven him to avoid saying what he really means. That doesn’t serve anyone, he’s concluded. He recalls one incident where he felt one of Planet Jockey’s Udemy classes wasn’t gaining traction fast enough. The best possible reaction, he says, would have been to tell his staffer, “You’re doing an amazing job, and I’ve got a great idea for all the ways” we can grow further. He also could have directly discussed the critiques he had of the marketing. Instead, he recalls, “I phoned her up and said, ‘I think we’re really dropping the ball.’ It’s passive-aggressive, because when I say ‘we,’ I mean ‘you.’ And that’s terrible and destructive.” Planet Jockey’s games have helped him to realize where he went wrong.
Meetings are critical. One of the areas where Allen knows he fell short initially was in running staff meetings. “Before, I’d just get everyone into a meeting and start chatting and people would shout at me and I’d shout back at them,” he recalls. “What I learned after playing the game is that you need some rules. It’s not just about inspiring people; meetings need to be structured. For instance, you need smaller meetings, so you should try to limit it to 6-8 people. That way you know you can get to hear everybody’s point of view and everyone gets a chance to talk.” Overall, he says, “You need to know what needs to come out of the meeting, and have a clear sense of who’s there and why they’re there.”
Early on, says Allen, he would sometimes take too narrow a view of what others could contribute. “The game taught me that people within your team have a lot more to offer than sometimes you realize,” he says. As a result, he started a team practice in which staffers sit down and share what they’re doing outside of work. That’s how he learned about one employee’s side calligraphy business, which she was pursuing with a friend who worked at a company Allen was targeting. Allen had always thought of his staffer as being expert in “digital marketing, not face-to-face sales.” But with a little coaching, she was able to persuade her friend to make an introduction at her company. “I realized she has an amazing sales persona,” says Allen. “She built that skill and we got a huge piece of business.”
The conversation is what matters. When it comes to a topic like leadership, there will never be 100% agreement about the best approach to a given situation. That’s how Allen came to realize that the real value of the game is in the conversation it sparks. “The learning from the game wasn’t even so much from the game itself,” he says. “The learning is from the reflection on the game – how well you did, or thought you did…You learn because you have to fight it out and discuss it [with colleagues]. The answers are ambiguous and part of a learning process.”
“It is no secret that networking is the best path to a fruitful career.”
MindMovies is one Skylab’s Client. Through the Channels section, you can access to great content about leadership and entrepreneurship directly on the app. Each Skylab app provides great training and learning section related to the appropriate business sector.
“Women who walks with purpose doesn’t have to chase people or opportunities. Her light causes people and opportunities to pursue her.”
Dr. Farrah Gray
Despite these disappointing numbers and the gender issues, there is good news too. Women who are in tech are doing well and getting noticed. Recent data has shown that women-led technology companies are more capital-efficient, achieving 35 percent higher return on investment. Companies founded by women also represented a record 13 percent of venture capital deals through the first half of 2013, up from only 4 percent in 2004. In other words, investors are starting to notice that it pays to have a woman in charge.
As a women entrepreneur and sole founder and CEO of a venture-backed digital healthcare startup, I’ve experienced a positive shift in how I’m treated as a woman in tech compared to the horror stories of women who came before me. This leads me to believe that now is the perfect time to make the leap into entrepreneurship as a women.
Heavy-hitting women such as Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg and Ginni Rometty are in C-suite roles, running major Fortune 500 companies. Their leadership, and the headlines they garner, have popularized the image of women in high-level roles and opened the door for a conversation about the need for more female leadership in tech and beyond.
Fortunately, women outside of the spotlight are also excelling and being recognized for their outstanding leadership skills. A 2011 study in the Harvard Business Review evaluating men and women in the workplace found that:
“At every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows. Specifically, at all levels, women are rated higher in fully 12 of the 16 competencies that go into outstanding leadership. And two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.”
Considering it wasn’t very long ago that women were relegated to the home and shunned from the boardroom, that is a pretty amazing and inspiring update. And for enterprising female entrepreneurs, the timing of this shift couldn’t be better.
At Skylab, Dean Grey has perfectly understood that it is clearly essential to have women with high status : our CPO (Chief Product Officer), one of our Design Developer, our Client Engagement/Creative Producer and our Operations Officer are Women and they are awesome at what they do.
With strong women entrepreneur at the helm, something interesting (but unsurprising) is happening to their businesses: They are growing at a higher rate than their traditional, male-led counterparts. Over the past 10 years, the growth in the number of women-owned firms with $10 million or more in revenues has increased by 56.6 percent, a rate 47 percent faster than the rate of growth of all $10 million-plus firms.
Women in leadership roles also seem to be key in driving the success of an enterprise. The failure rate of startups with two or fewer female executives is 50.3 percent, but with five or more women in high-level positions, the success rate jumps to 61 percent.
In particular, women are emerging as key players in healthcare, both on the ground and in the C-suite. Women entrepreneur account for 73 percent of medical and health services managers, making them the face of healthcare to the general population. And over the last decade, not only has the number of high-revenue, women-owned healthcare and social assistance firms nearly tripled, but those companies are growing at an impressive rate – 54.9 percent across all healthcare and social assistance firms, and nearly 183 percent for firms with over $10 million in revenue.
With healthcare in the national spotlight, women are emerging as successful leaders capable of shepherding America into a new era of health and wellness. Skylab Apps recognizes this trend and has partnered with healthcare professionals creating “Skylab Medical” a Skylab Apps incubator partner company. See more about this here.
Women entrepreneur firms are succeeding and in turn, attracting more venture capital investment, leading to even higher growth. During the height of the dot-com bubble, venture capital investments in women-led businesses lagged pathetically, receiving less than 6 percent of total funds invested in the U.S. between 1997 and 2000. But between 2000 and 2011, that number shot up to 41 percent.
Combine that with the fact that when venture-backed, women-led technology companies bring in 12 percent higher revenue than male-owned tech companies and you have a Pandora’s box of potential.
As VC firms continue to be positively rewarded for investing in women-led companies, they will be more open to future investments. I’d be hard-pressed – and reluctant – to stop this snowball from reaching warp speed.
There are more women entrepreneurs supporting younger and less-experienced female entrepreneurs today than ever before. For example, I had a mentor who had a huge impact on my growth and success, so I’m paying it forward.
Over the past year, I’ve been mentoring a young female entrepreneur who recently raised $1 million for her own startup and was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 List. The great thing is, 80 percent of female tech entrepreneurs reported having mentors and, in my experience, that bodes well for their future success.
There are more women investors looking for women-led companies, or great companies to invest in and add women to their leadership teams or advisory boards because the numbers don’t lie — the odds of success with women calling the shots.
“It is important to take an active role in shaping our personal and professional networks in order to live the most fulfilling lives possible.”
The Gravity’s Team is composed of 4 women and one man. Gravity’s Founder is also a woman and she has done a wonderful job so far !