Success could manifest in different ways, but at the heart of it, you can find some commonalities that catapult people to new heights. Our guest for this episode has moved around in her career, reaching higher from one transition to another. Karen Mangia, the Vice President of Customer & Market Insights with Salesforce, sits down for an insightful interview with Lance Tyson. She takes us across her journey, offering a blueprint for success. Beginning with her role at AT&T, Karen shares what she learned about building relationships to sales and why blending is not belonging. She takes us next to her role at Cisco, giving insights on the concept of balance, rest, and trusting your team. On to her current role at Salesforce, she then talks about the lessons in leadership and the importance of values that catapult her into the position she is in. What is more, Karen gives us a peek into her latest book, Success from Anywhere, and her insights on the stress-free experiment.
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The Blueprint For Success With Karen Mangia
I’m so excited about this episode as my audience constantly tells, “I want the blueprint for success. If I’m moving my way to define my success, how do I get there? Am I doing a good job?” In this episode, our guest is Karen Mangia. She’s the Vice President of Customer Market Insights with Salesforce. Secondly, she is even better than that, a four-time bestselling author of her last book, Success From Anywhere. It got ranked in the Wall Street Journal bestseller list. Congratulations. I’m excited to have you.
Thanks so much. It’s great to be here. I laughed because I was traveling the other day and had the moment of seeing my book at the airport. I paused to take a selfie, which I’m not so great at. I looked at my next-door neighbor on the bookshelf, and it was your Wall Street Journal and the USA Today bestselling book if I’m not mistaken. I felt like I was keeping good company. This conversation is perfectly timed.
It was. I’m so glad you sent that picture. I don’t know what it is about an airport that you get to see your book there. I don’t think I get as geeked if I saw it in a Barnes & Nobles, but when you’re at the airport, I don’t know if it feeds the ego, is humbling, or is a combination of all those things for me. I don’t know how you feel about that, but I travel much.
What I was thinking about is I marvel at the thought that it wasn’t intentional. I didn’t start my sales career thinking, “Maybe one day I’ll write a book. When I’m at the airport going to see a customer, I might see my own book there.” I marvel at the journey because it has unfolded so organically, and it reminds me that we have infinite possibilities available to us. In the day-to-day execution of our work in our life, we can lose sight that these big goals and opportunities are possible. For everyone reading, where you are now may not necessarily be, for better or worse, where you thought you would be now.
I agree. I was going back into my time log pictures. I can remember several years ago taking a picture at an airport of some books of, “These companies are competitors. They’d be so interested in getting my book there,” and then I’m like, “It’s there.” It takes a lot of thought and hard work to get it there. I was saying to you earlier that we sent your book out to some of our newest staff members.
Your newest book, Success From Anywhere, I want to dive into that. Let’s first talk about your journey. First of all, give the audience an idea of the scope of your job. You’re the Vice President of Customer Market Insights for Salesforce.com, which has probably one of the largest Salesforces in the world that understands who their customers are or listen to them. Where are you now? Let’s talk about how you got there first.
You could say I’m somewhat opportunistic. I got into high tech the old-fashioned way as a runaway bride. If you call off a wedding and cancel a full-ride scholarship to a Master’s program, it turns out that a lot of careers look appealing to you all of a sudden. In my case, I got this Master’s in Information and Communication Sciences. I was interviewed by different companies and went to AT&T. My thought process at that time was a first career job in the technical world. I would never have to explain who the company was and what it did. I thought I could probably try a variety of roles there without having to change companies, and both proved to be true.
In my next lucky break, besides calling off the wedding and falling into a different full ride to a Master’s program, I went to AT&T, and I was in project management a few months before the CEO at the time made the announcement of an early retirement offering. It didn’t mean much to me at that point until I got a phone call from my boss to meet him in his office at 5:00 on a Friday. I’m thinking to myself, “I’m getting fired.” I sit down in his office, and I can still see him wandering nonchalantly.
He sits down in his swiveled chair and looks at me. He’s holding a cup of tea in his glasses. He says, “Dan’s retiring.” I’m thinking the same thing you are now, which is, “Who is Dan? Why do I care?” He says, “Here’s the thing. He’s the salesperson. He’s taking this early retirement package. We’d like for you to watch over the customers in this module until we can hire a backfill. It’s called the star module.” I am telling you what I retained from that conversation is I’m going to be a star. You understand because you have a long-time sales leadership career.
You do not give an inexperienced college hire a module that is glamorous in your best customers. I came to understand this over time. I think star probably should have stood for small, troubled, and risky. These were 100 clients that if they all left us, the company would’ve moved on fine, but I took it very seriously. Out of 100 customers, I phoned them all. How many of them agreed to meet with me out of 100?
I’ll probably say maybe less than 2% if that. Am I wrong?
I was halfway there.
You were halfway there. Imagine me preparing to go on this sales call with the proposal. I put on my best suit. By that, I mean interview suit. I drive to what looks to be the scene of a horror film, like an abandoned-looking office park where they could still smoke in the office. I go inside with my proposals that I’ve printed out from the template where you fill in the blank. I sit down around the conference table. This is the rickety chair they have spared every expense on office decor. I handed out these printed proposals and proceeded to read the proposal to the customer, and then I got the business. How is that possible? I didn’t have a pitch and barely had a suit, but here was the deal.
I had one customer, and I did everything we all coach our sales teams to do. I researched them. I asked great questions. I listened to their feedback. I knew what objectives they were trying to achieve. I read their customer service records and survey feedback. At the end of the day, what I had was the greatest asset. That was a beginner’s mind. I had to go on to lose many other deals after that. You don’t just print out a proposal and read it. I was so fascinated by that discovery process and what was possible that the true North Star of my whole career has been customer connection. I held a number of sales roles at AT&T and then went on to Cisco in sales leadership there.
The greatest asset is a beginner’s mind.
When you were with AT&T, how long were you in sales? What was your mantra? What was your theory on sales when you were selling? Were you a relationship person? Di you pay attention to detail in the research that you did? Who were you then?
I was the personal touch. Here’s why I say that. I was a sponge. I was trying to study what looked like successful salespeople around do and, to some degree, replicate what I saw them do, how they ask questions, and how they prepared for a pitch. Also, when my sales leader would say things like, “We should all do a newsletter for our customers,” I would actually do that because I didn’t know that everything a leader says to you means you have to do all of it. I thought, “Okay.” I would do a personalized newsletter each month to customers. When I hit some difficult customers, we would have implementation challenges. I would figure out their favorite breakfast food and maybe bake a coffee cake or a favorite drink and take it in.
I started understanding personalization and getting to know people’s preferences. This probably happens to you, too, where a customer will say, “I’d love to talk with someone else who’s in my spot, but I don’t compete with them.” That could be another executive they’d like to learn from. It could be someone who’s hit a growth challenge like the one they’re facing. They’re looking for ideas. I started realizing that personalization, even understanding people’s favorite sports teams, became the basis for helping build great connections across my network.
What people valued more than responsiveness was using that personalization in a way that helped them gain some value, not just a product or a professional service, but a bigger network. When I think about it, that’s what great sales leaders and salespeople do. You build a network of networks and put those resources to use collectively for your customers. It was probably my first understanding of the power of personalization. It didn’t scale. It wasn’t automated. It wasn’t sophisticated. People were grateful when you remembered something they preferred or could connect them with someone who could help them on their journey.
As a salesperson, you were so focused on creating this network or tying a network of people. I’ve heard it said before. It’s not who you know. It’s who wants to know you. That’s a big part of what I hear you say. It sounds like also, and it probably ties into your role now a lot, that you were very much taking anything that buyer was saying and using that to tailor to them individually. That’s how people buy. I’ve heard it said before that the selling process was the buying process inverted at some level. Using the buyer’s language is way more important than using the seller’s language. You can see that Salesforce.com does that so well. They talk like a buyer talks. They don’t talk like a technology or a software company.
It’s so easy sometimes to default, and we all do this. We’re carrying a quota, so we jump to talking about the solution that we offer to attain that quota. It’s a natural instinct. What I discovered along the way, and a lesson I’ve had to relearn many times, was when I was more focused on asking great questions than offering immediate answers, I was a much more effective salesperson in sales media.
One of my board members said to me the other day, “Lance, if you prescribe before diagnosing, it’s malpractice.”
The way I think about it is knowing is the enemy of discovering. I think I just know what a customer’s going to say. They’re starting down a path that sounds familiar, and I think, “I know what they’re going to say, so I know the solution.”
It’s so valuable to get them to say it. That’s what a lot of people in business don’t understand. You might know the answer, but there’s almost zero value in you giving it. Letting them listen to themselves about what they say is a higher value. I had one of my trainers say to me the other day. They said, “Lance, there are two ways to ask questions. You can ask questions like a nurse. A nurse asks a layer of questioning that would almost make you a drug addict. You need the nurse’s questions, but you need the doctor’s questions because it’s more 360. That’s that bedside manner that a good doc will understand you from a 360-degree standpoint. It sounds like that’s what your approach was a little bit at some level. It’s about asking the right question, but it’s also framing the question all in.”
You and I were chatting a little in the pre-game about thinking about questions that open up the dialogue. When looking at any of these challenges our customers are trying to solve or perhaps opportunities they see on a growth or innovation journey is simply speaking into the room, asking the simple question, getting quiet, “Why does this matter so much?”
There’s something you said which is so genius that people miss, “Is it a problem or an opportunity?” You look at any great planner, and you notice it is framing. FYI, the company pitching a solution may have a tendency to look at that more as a problem to solve. I heard it said one time, “The right solution for the wrong problem is worse than the wrong solution for the right problem.” That’s in the eyes of the beholder. Framing is so important to what you said there. It’s dead on.
I see philosophically that you and I have some alignment, which is interesting because I don’t always have that guest. Sometimes it goes the other way. You spent time at AT&T. You described your personal philosophy. I love the fact that you can give me some cliché like, “Sales is all about just relationships. What’s more than that?” What you said has so much more meaning. Is that when you get your first shot at leadership after years of selling? Is that where it goes from there?
What happened is I started with that star module, the glamorous module. It increasingly moved to bigger clients and also to different products. I moved from the voice world into the data networking world. I then took on the ultimate challenge when I thought about it in the context of our conversation. AT&T was creating, at the time, a new way to think about approaching clients. I volunteered to take an entire list of customers that did $0 of business with us, a number of which stated they would never do business with us. I said, “Sign me up. I’ll take those customers.”
When I think about that now, that is a little bit bold, and yet I thought, “I like the challenge of this.” Maybe salespeople are all wired with that thought like, “I can do this.” I learned how to draw on every aspect of my ability to research a client, where executives spent their time, and tap on that network. My theory was I have to know someone that knows someone there. A hundred percent of the people working in X, Y, and Z companies couldn’t possibly have had such a bad experience that they won’t speak with me.
Out of that came the opportunity to rally a team together to get inside these customers. Through this model, we were able to sell the biggest deal at the time that had ever been sold in that branch’s history. It was a client that swore they would never do business with us. It ended up even being written up in the newspaper. It happened to be a large healthcare organization. It was a big deal. I think about that in a sense as being the summation of that experience of being willing to step into the unknown, leverage curiosity, and bring people together with a variety of skills who were a little hungry.
I want to interrupt you because it crossed my mind. We did not do this in the pre-game, but I would get kicked pretty hard. I have a small to mid-sized business. Most of my executives are female. I get asked all the time like, “How does that skew to that?” I typically hire the best people. With that said, it’s taking on that role where somebody’s never done that. You’ve made a couple of comments at this point in the pre-game and Success From Anywhere. If you read Ariana Huffington’s quote on the front cover quote of your book, it’s, “It’s the blueprint for hope. Karen shows how to move toward the abundance you deserve.”
Did you take that job on purpose? Before you answer the question, it’s three-dimensional for me. I interview a lot of female leaders like, “Did you take it because there was a risk there, and you say, ‘This could be a proving ground for me?'” I can imagine inside AT&T at the time that it was hypercompetitive with its career. The politics that probably go on at a large organization are unfathomable at some point.
Did you look at it that way and say, “I’m going to roll the dice from a risk standpoint?” Secondly, if you did, what is your tolerance for risk as a leader? As an entrepreneur, you’ve written four books and exist inside a Fortune 500 company. Talk about that. I’m curious. No doubt, Karen, you’ve had to sell yourself, your career, where you’re going, and things like that.
What I’ve learned over time is that my strategy around selling myself and my motivation behind it has changed. Because you reference how many women you have on your staff, let’s pause on that for a moment. My mindset at that point in my career, and candidly that I carried forward into a big portion of my career at Cisco, was to essentially look around at the people around me who looked successful, try to replicate what they did, and make adjustments, perhaps. I’m trying to replicate what I saw.
It’s like, “That could be a blueprint for me.”
That’s the blueprint for success. I was a young female in high tech in what was and still tends to be a largely male-dominated industry. I didn’t want anyone to think I couldn’t do something because I was a young female. It took on the added connotation that I would dress and speak a certain way. It came into focus when I started building big teams and seeing how inclusion plays out, which is that I discovered during that period of time somewhat accidentally how to become masterfully adaptable. The reality is blending is not belonging.
Say that one more time because that’s probably one of the most powerful things I’ve heard.
Blending is not belonging. When I was discovering how to be masterfully adaptable and trying to blend in, there wasn’t one person I worked with or one customer I called on who thought that I was anything other than a young female working in high tech. The reality is because I internalized that label and tried to blend and be a masterful adapter, I stopped short of belonging. The reality is, whether at that conference room table, at a customer’s office, or with colleagues, the only person who thought I didn’t belong at that table because of those labels was me.
I still want to go in the direction you and I have talked about because you talk a lot in your book about blueprinting. I went back and looked again at my notes. You spent a lot of time talking about your values. You probably had a lot of threshold moments in your career. Let’s say that was a threshold moment because you spent some time there saying, “I threw the dice. I risked.” One, do you have a high tolerance for risk? Do you have a low tolerance for risk?
I’ve worked in three Fortune 250 companies, so we could say no. What I would tell you is I would say I do not have a high tolerance for risk, and yet if you look at my career and some of my life choices, most people would say I have a high tolerance for risk because I’ve done some pretty bold things.
That’s fair. Anytime I talk to a C-Suite, any successful entrepreneur, or a very successful salesperson, would you say that you consider your odds? Let’s take the word risk off the table. Not a gambler, but do you play odds?
Thank you. Whoever’s reading this now, you should be taking notes right there. There’s one more question. I know I’m putting you on the spot here. You’re probably like, “Where’s the guy going?” Here’s what I think is interesting. You talk a lot in chapter three about The Stress-Free Experiment. You talk at the very beginning of that about journaling. Where you hit me right in the heart is I also journal. I have three months’ worth of journaling right here. I have 35, and I’ve always done it. I write notes to myself and talk to myself.
What I do in my journal, which is so interesting because you talk about it, is I’ll go through my journal after I’m done three months and look for words that keep coming up. One of the things that have come up is prudence, which is being prudent in your decision-making and temperance. What things to have temperance with? What not? What don’t? I look at those things. At that point in your career, you roll the dice, take on the job nobody wants to, and talk about belonging. What value did you realize you were missing or needed more at that point or the threshold moment?
At that threshold moment, what I realized that I needed more of was the belief that anything could happen, and that was okay. There was unlikely to be a moment with a customer so unrecoverable that I would never work again. I think about it because that was the last role I held at AT&T. I think about the irony of the bookends. I started with 100 customers that nobody wanted. I was terrified I was going to lose them only to at the end of my career there say, “I’ll take the customers that were already lost that nobody wants because the worst has already happened. There’s only one way here, and it’s up.”
Opportunistically, looking in that direction of, “Why not?” became a guiding North Star question for me. “You could go to a bigger company. It’s a different sales model.” “Why not?” I say that about this Working From Home book, which I wrote in 30 days during a global pandemic. It was because my editor asked if I could do it, and I said, “Why not?” That became a questioning tool for me to see how to do what others might say is impossible.
Is it safe to say that you started to get clarity on that concept of abundance? Let’s go back and talk about risk or odds. Let’s take that word odds as a successful executive. You’re weighing out your odds. You’re sitting there going in both those scenarios. I could have a scarcity mentality here. I could have an abundance mentality. Abundance mentality usually comes because somebody has a strong belief in themselves that they can create. There is creation. Stephen Covey says, “Begin with the end in mind.” You’re the creator, and being proactive is the first creation. Does it lean to that a little bit for you?
It’s funny you used that word. When you said the word create, I had all of these little snapshots throughout the course of my life of writing plays, directing my cousins on them as children, and being the editor of my high school newspaper. All these things are looking in the direction of creation. Something I found along the way is regardless of what is happening to you, you can always create choices. We’re never without choices. Sometimes we don’t always prefer all the choices, or we get stuck because we’re fixated that there’s one perfect choice, and we must find that one. That’s not true. There are infinite possibilities, and we can always create choices. Of all the setbacks and twists and turns of my work and life, I’ve never felt that I was completely without choices. That’s a gift.
Regardless of what is happening to you, you can always create choices.
It’s interesting too, and I’m no clinical psychologist by any stretch. I listen to enough leaders and people who struggle and are successful. You do, also. Usually, people struggle with their head space when they feel the walls have closed in or there’s limited choice. If you reel it back a little bit with my son, he wanted to listen to this guy Jordan Peterson speak. I went to Detroit and listened to him. He’s a clinical psychologist.
One of the things he said is, “As things narrow in, you usually don’t have the vision to something.” You look at both of them, and they tie together, and then abundance becomes a philosophy off that and then weighing things out. Being prudent means you probably, at some level, will weigh the odds out. You went away from that word risk. You didn’t like that, but you were fine with the odds. I love your candor. I appreciate you.
When you’re saying this, too, it takes me to two questions I like to ask when I feel stuck. I use these with customers, colleagues, and people I mentor. There are two questions I find help create choices. One is, “What’s good about this?” The second one, “What else could this be?”
That’s a creation question, “What else could this be?” Think about that. That’s such a big part of planning. It’s like, “Here’s your current situation, which is what’s good about this and what you desire could this be.” That’s where the gap comes from. Once you can see the gap, then you can get the vision. I love it. It’s so good.
I interviewed about 350 101 interviews with people who are reworking work now. I mean, doing some breakthrough change things. Imagine all of the wisdom I have the opportunity to glean from these 350 brilliant people. One I was reviewing about a woman who was trying to create some choices to get unstuck with her company and get back to growth said the inspiring quote that she keeps on a piece of paper at her desk at all times says, “Someday is not a day of the week.” It’s like, “Someday, I’ll make time to do a fill-in-the-blank thing.”
That’s so good. I love that quote. Let’s finish the trajectory of your career. That’s AT&T to Cisco.
Yes. When I got to Cisco, that was a very different sales model from the one I had learned. It’s so interesting because we had a successful playbook at a point in time that universally translates to all circumstances. That’s not necessarily true. When I think about the contrast and what I learned in that inflection point from AT&T to Cisco is, at AT&T, we were dealing with our end-user customers.
I was in the B2B space, but we were interfacing with the people who were using the products and services that we were selling. When I went to Cisco, over 85% of the business went through a resale partner of some kind. Now there’s someone between you and the end customer. We also have the dynamic of inside salespeople. Managing and building relationships with people who sit between you and your customers who are part of that value chain is very different.
We almost have two customers because the reseller is a customer at some level, too, because you don’t want to add a serial relationship with them.
Your growth and the ability to be successful is dependent upon that network and them having enough salespeople, engineers, and technical capacity and capability. I learned a different style of relationship selling. I also learned that partners and customers have some different success criteria. If we weren’t conscious of how we were selling or operationalizing our sales model, it was very easy to put work on our resale partners that would diminish their profitability.
Your ability to be successful is literally dependent upon that network and them having enough salespeople, engineers, and technical capacity and capability.
You’re almost playing a twofold loyalty game. It’s customer loyalty and partner loyalty as well. That threw me for a loop a little bit. I wasn’t accustomed to that. Because of that, I learned a lot more about how business works and about cash flow. Just because we showed up with a wonderful new product we wanted to sell didn’t mean that that resale partner had the staff or the cashflow.
It may not have even been a priority for them. Now you’re starting to talk about how you operate business as a professional. How did that start to affect how you led? I would assume at some level you’re talking about two different layers of things. You have your end user and the gap filler in between who’s also a customer at some level, and you need them to operate. What happened to your leadership there? How did it change or evolve? You talked about adaptability earlier. You said if that’s not one of your superpowers, it’s something that’s on your mind.
The biggest turning point in my entire life came in that sales leadership role at Cisco. I made every mistake you could possibly make in that role. Most of all, the mistake I made was trying to be on everyone’s agenda, make the partner happy, make the customer happy, have a substantial team to coach and lead as well, make the number, and hit the stuff. It’s all the things that you associate with a sales environment.
What that led to was a scope creep of working more and more and bumping up against the less I knew about particular aspects of how the business worked, the more inclined I was to try to find that knowledge on my own or be somewhat self-sufficient, which was one of the worst mistakes I could make. Nobody likes scope creep. What ended up happening in my case was I was having a life scope creep. I started saying yes to more meetings and commitments, trying to be omnipresent in all those scenarios, and saying yes to more boards and opportunities.
I will never forget the life-changing moment when I went to pick up my mobile phone to call my brother. I could not remember his name even though I have one brother, and we talk every week. I had to use the process of elimination to deduce what his name was. Here’s the reality. There are a lot of other symptoms I have been ignoring along the way. You know how this goes. You see customers, eat a few appetizers at dinner, have a drink you don’t normally have, and start to gain a little weight. You then had dinner and didn’t have time to do work, so you skipped the workout.
I started explaining it away. We all have this inside voice that talks to us. It tells us sometimes inconvenient things. I covered my inside voice with activity. What happened was that experience set me on a three-and-a-half-year journey of major medical misdiagnosis where it might surprise you looking at me now to discover that my hair fell out, my skin turned gray, and my eyes changed color. When we use this phrase, it’s like, “I don’t recognize the person looking back in the mirror at me,” I literally did not recognize that person, and I never missed a day of work.
It’s so interesting you said that. We do a lot of assessing of salespeople leaders. We were on now with a big NFL football brand. They were frustrated that one of their salespeople had shown a low capacity to do a big part of their job. He kept saying, “What will change this? How can this change?” I go, “First of all, this isn’t going to dictate their success, but the only thing that’s going to change this person is something where you go through a life-changing event, health, death, or something.” That’s what it came to for you. It scope crept all the way into everything.
When I got the correct diagnosis, fortunately, after going through teams of doctors, you can imagine how hopeless and exhausted I was feeling by that point. I will never forget this. I call him the hippie doctor. He looked at me and said, “You have DDT pesticide poisoning.” I thought, “Isn’t that interesting that I have this poison flowing through my body that is causing this disruption.”
The reason that I got here to this level of being this ill was because of some toxic beliefs that I was holding about success, what it was, what successful people do, and what I was willing to do to be successful. That became a turning point in leading very differently. Not just leading my own life differently but leading teams differently. I wish I had access to the level of athletes and coaches you know. What I didn’t understand at that point is what every athlete and strength conditioning coach knows, which is periods of maximum performance require periods of maximum rest.
Right periods of maximum performance require periods of maximum rest.
We would never expect a quarterback to take the field and continuously keep throwing passes for four years, which is what I was doing. I had to change the playbook about success. I’m grateful that I had that turning point earlier in my career rather than later. It brought into focus what the pandemic has done for so many people, which is being crystal clear about the answer to the question of what matters.
Let’s go there for a second. We talked in pre-game a little bit about the concept of balance and focusing energy, and for you, at that point, more or less of what. Describe or orientate us to that a little bit.
More team and less self would be one example. Trusting my team more and bringing them on the inside meant that my ramp-up would’ve been probably quicker and more of a community experience. The other piece, too, is more of being conscious of when you put your energy into something, how are you feeling about it? We all have times when we are all in all peak performance, working a lot of hours, and aren’t exhausted.
We all have other examples where we’ve done something for an hour and thought, “That is exhausting.” It’s not a function of time. Burnout is a function of how you feel about how you’re spending time. It was a turning point for me. If I’m pushing back against and find some activity exhausting, is there somebody else in my team who finds it energizing that would take this on, and for them, this would be amazing?
Let’s unpack that real quick because you’ve got such a good perspective. It seems fairly obvious that trusting your team would be something at this point you would do. It’s easier said than done like, “I can do it. I got this. It’s easier for me to do it.” Was it that type of thing? Did you feel that you were losing property or value? What was that for you there?
Sometimes it was because I didn’t want them to know I didn’t know something. They probably realized it. Other times it was, “You’re busy with this other set of responsibilities. I’ll handle it to keep something off your plate.” We talked about this. I thought I was doing that. That leadership lesson we’re talking about there about trusting your team came into laser focus when I had gotten a correct diagnosis, gone through some treatments, and had a great executive coach. I decided to take two weeks off vacation. No secret checking emails, which I had never done in my entire career. I went away.
Naturally, I came back feeling refreshed and had a lovely time. What shocked me was sitting down with my team at the first team meeting when I got back, and people were asking, “How was your time off?” One of my employees said in passing, not as a, “Let us give you some feedback. This is a live 360 review.” I’ll never forget it. She said, “We are so glad you finally trusted us enough to take a break and leave us in charge.” All that time, I thought I was shielding them. I was actually preventing them from showing me what they were capable of doing. It was a wonderful leadership lesson.
It is. I had a leader not long ago say to me, “They’re so young.” I’m like, “You’d be surprised when people are capable if they deal with so many issues in their family. They have figured out how to get through college and get here. Let them go. They’ll figure it out.” We have a mantra at Tyson Group in my company, which is one of our values. We have them written out. One of our values in quotes is, “You’ll figure it out.” As a leader, when somebody comes knocking, not that we don’t want to be a listener. Some people need help, but you’ll figure it out. People will figure it out. Don’t limit them. It’s so good.
Managing people creates an unhealthy dependence. Coaching people inspires creativity. When I think about this, it’s not intentional when someone comes to you from your team and says, “I have a challenge,” and you go, “Here are three ways we can solve it.” You think you’re being helpful. The reality is, by that style of managing, you’re teaching people, “Anytime you encounter something, you come to me, and I’ll solve it.” Coaches move people into independence.
Managing people creates an unhealthy dependence. Coaching people inspires creativity.
They do, not dependent. It’s that whole buyback thing too. A lot of leaders even miss. They even have the intent to do it, but it’s always, “Check back with me with this.” It’s more like, “You got this. I trust you. You’ll get the whole report out.” If you interview most people and say to them, “How do you want me to lead and manage you?” within three questions, they would say, “I certainly don’t want you to micromanage me.” They would certainly say that every single time without fail within three questions. Our intention sometimes is not to do it as leaders, but we do.
Let’s go to that life-changing experience because we have two more big pieces to tackle here. One is how did that prepare you for your current role at Salesforce.com? Secondly, what is that one chapter in your book? When we read a book, we have that one chapter that speaks to us. Mine is my book, The Great Mirror. That speaks to me for some reason because I like pictures more than anything. Yours is The Stress Free Experiment. I had gone one place that said, “I think she might want to talk about this,” but you’re like, “No.” How did the job at Cisco prepare you for the leadership and strategy you’re in now that catapulted you into this thought leadership position you’re in, even outside your position in Salesforce?
The first role I took outside what I would consider a traditional sales leadership role was at Cisco leading the partner experience program and the voice of the customer program for the company globally. What that allowed me to do is use my customer interface experience and sales leadership experience in a new way and also learn some new skills. Now, the role of my global team was to do deep listening with customers and understand the things they cared about, how we were maybe making life challenging for them, and what they most wanted our executives to know, but keeping a finger on a bigger pulse of customers.
As we started thinking about the way that our customers and business were changing, it ultimately led us to substantially transform that program and change the measurement of success. A lot of people cared about that measurement because every single employee at the company at the time was paid an annual bonus based on those results. Imagine suddenly, people who never knew what a customer’s SAT score was had a vested interest when they thought, “The pay might change. Something might change.”
Thinking about how our customers and business were changing ultimately led us to substantially transform the program and change the measurement of success.
Along that transformation journey, I started writing a blog about customer connection. Interestingly enough, there were people at Salesforce reading the blog. It’s about leading the organization through that transformation and sharing the playbook for success. I find this so fascinating. My tendency earlier in my career was you need to figure something out and hold onto that. Further in my career, it was to build a playbook and give it to everyone. Let as many people be successful as possible, and give people the opportunity to challenge your thoughts and make them better.
That created this opportunity to come to Salesforce and do that work to think about great questions, understand what’s trending, be inside of C-Suites and organizations, do keynotes and workshops to help people think deeply about what the future looks like and to do perhaps what’s most challenging of all. Look at that nostalgia and the way we’ve always done things and say, “What else could this be? How are we getting in our own way here?”
You’re putting your thought leadership out there and what you were dealing with instead of solving something, which propelled you into that role in Salesforce. As you look at your several years at Salesforce, how have your leadership and values been? What’s transformed? Let’s get a few minutes into The Stress Free Experiment. Let’s tie those two together.
Leadership is listening. That’s what I would say. At many points along the way, I thought being a great leader or salesperson was about having all the answers. Now I understand it’s about asking great questions, posing those same questions to a variety of people to get a range of perspectives, and wrestling with what your point of view is. What’s your perspective? How can you make this your own? The other guiding principle for me is also about being of service.
Leadership is listening. Being a great leader or salesperson is not about having all the answers; it’s about asking great questions.
How can I think now about the network I’ve built or this marketplace of ideas that comes from interviewing people, spending time with customers, and giving people the tools to redefine and access their success? The magic isn’t me. I don’t have some brilliant, perfect thing to solve all the world’s problems, but I have a great network of people and some great questions to ask. When we bring people together, great things are possible.
The title of your book is Success from Anywhere: Create Your Own Future of Work From the Inside Out. I was thinking of that bridge to get to the chapter on The Stress Free Experiment. You said, “I can weigh odds out. I can be adaptable.” You’ve talked about asking great questions and being a good listener. There’s a huge difference between listening to understand and listening to respond. Being a deep listener also requires a level of EQ that you’re reading folks and asking the right question or not offending. There’s a lot to unpack there. Go into the great chapter three of The Stress Free Experiment. Talk about that because that has a lot to do with values. This whole conversation has been about values.
Success begins with your values. I spend time with leaders and organizations of every size all over the world. People are trying to be thoughtful about how to create a future of work that works for everyone. I watch a lot of organizations try to roll out these centralized programs to solve burnout or combat the Great Resignation. Whatever form this pandemic shift is taking in terms of the effect on your business. It occurred to me that true transformation comes from the inside out. I think about burnout at its core as living outside of your values for an extended period of time. I came across this Stress Free Experiment that was created at Stanford.
What fascinated me was they started with a group of university students who said they were burnt out. Over a holiday break, they gave the students an assignment. They said, “You need to write in a journal physically with pen and paper,” because there is some brain magic to that. For ten minutes each day, write in your journal. Grammar and spelling don’t matter. Write whatever comes to mind. They took a small group of students and said, “For you, we have a special assignment. For you, we want you to spend ten minutes writing about your top value and how that value shows up in your everyday life.” They collect the journal assignments when the students come back, and then they study the students over time.
The ones who wrote about their top value were able to access more resilience, come up with new ideas, and report a lower level of stress. Like any good scientist, they repeat the experiment with executives, entrepreneurs, and people all over the world, and the results always prove the same, which is when you are clear about your top value or values and spend even one time for ten minutes writing that down, you will be able to access greater resilience, adaptability, and create new ideas. The magic is your circumstances may not change. The way you see your circumstances is what changes.
You can access greater resilience when you are clear about your top values and spend time writing them down. Your circumstances may not change, but the way you see your circumstances does.
What I think about is when we don’t make time to assess what our values are, we leave that up to other people to decide, “That’s your sales quota. That’s the award. That’s pleasing somebody.” When we look for that value externally, what it does is it truly diminishes the value that we have. I know I’ve had so many times in my life where when I’m clear on my values, I don’t need someone else to decide arbitrarily by a raise, promotion, or a job whether I have value or not, because I’m clear that I do and what matters back to our earlier conversation.
One of the great questions to ask customers to open up in a conversation is, “Why does this matter so much to you?”
There are multiple ways to figure out what your values are. We do a value exercise with these value cards. Sometimes we’ll have leaders pick whatever. They have to narrow 36 down to 10. You got to eliminate. I remember somebody doing it with me once, so I learned to do it. I’m a lifelong learner. If I’m not learning something, I’m dying. I value history. There are a lot of words you can put. You said something inside out because it’s true. When you’re putting a message together, “Why are you doing it?” there’s a very fine line between motivation and manipulation. What are the values as a businesswoman that come to the top of your mind, like the things you wrestle with or go to? What are those 1 or 2 words for each of those values?
Authenticity is at the top of the list. I want to show up as authentically myself, and I want to spend time with people who are showing up that way as well. That would be at the top of the list for me. We were talking about Salesforce is a wonderful company. We talk about our five core values. Working here, I can tell you that it is not just a marketing thing that somebody came up with. I feel an experience that every day working here it’s authentic. What you read when you read Mark Benioff’s Trailblazer is authentically what it’s like to work here. To me, I think about it as the say-and-do ratio matches. The stated experience and the lived experience match. That’s very top for me.
On that last comment, and I’ll go to my last three questions with you, being authentic, people tend to fall into two buckets, artificial harmony or constructive tension. When you get an authentic person, you might be constructive tension a little bit. It might not be as harmonious. That’s why sometimes it’s not about agreement. It’s about alignment, which is two different concepts. I love that authenticity. It’s so important. If you had a niece or nephew, not your own child, and they said, “Aunt Karen, how would you define success?” Let’s say they were anywhere from 7, 8, or 9, so you got to think of your audience. You had to tell them in their words what you think success is. What would you say?
May you have what you want and want what you have.
I love it. This is my Tim Ferris question. What book have you gifted the most through your life, besides your own or mine?
Two books are in a tie. One is Lifescale by Brian Solis. It’s about quieting the noise of distraction to tap into your creativity. The other one is Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s a great book. It’s about thinking about your value skill and how much of your time you are spending on true value creation versus noise or, as he talks about it if you hired a university student to do that task, how long would it take them to become proficient?
The last question, you could put this in two buckets. It’s like your leadership song or sales song. What is the song that somebody might play at your funeral? If you had to go there, what is that one song that defines it for you?
I always thought it would be fantastic to be a baseball player because I love the walk-up song idea. For me, it would be Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen. It gets me pumped up and energized. It’s like, “Nothing is impossible.”
I love it. Karen, bestselling author of Success From Anywhere. Be authentic and agile and know the odds. The bottom line is understanding what your values are from the inside out. It’s so good. Thank you so much for your time.
About Karen Mangia
As an internationally-recognized thought leader whose TEDx appearance, keynotes, blogs, and books reach hundreds of thousands of business leaders each year, Karen Mangia is a catalyst who uses curiosity and diversified creativity to empower individuals, teams, and organizations to sustain success. With over 20 years of experience in communications, customer relationship management, and everything to do with “the business of people,” she is a champion of integration with a wealth of knowledge that empowers individuals, teams, and organizations to find freedom and create choices that move them from limited to limitless. Whether it’s personal or professional, individual or collective, Karen provides a framework for immense growth to people who are feeling stuck in their current chapter. Achieving the impossible begins by doing the doable.