Things I learned from Carol Bartz

I had a chance to work with Carol Bartz, CEO and now Chairman of Autodesk. She’s a dynamo and one of the best mentors I’ve ever had. I thank Augie for reminding me today on what I learned from Carol.
1. The bad word that starts with an “F” is perfectly acceptable word in business. I remember being in my office at 6:50 and Carol’s name popping up on the caller ID. And I started that morning by hearing “What the *Shit* (replacing “F” word) happened with General Motors yesterday? And while I had nothing to do with that up till then, I led the recovery effort to get an account back– mobilizing product, sales, channel folks all pulled together to save a situation. And Carol never stopped using swear words. She peppered her communications with language. And what I learned from that is that passion is often expressed in that way. I can see that some people can express that passion without swearing, but ya know, sometimes that’s just a shortcut. The broader perception is that CEOs should be “appropriate” but I’m going to suggest each of us is more importantly genuine and to hide a part of ourselves.
2. Call a spade a spade. Carol never minced words. You never had to guess what she thought of your idea, program, budget, product line or business division. She would say her comments so clearly, so directly that people sometimes characterized it as “brutal”. But the reality is that you never wondered if she said one thing to you and another thing to others. If you got an audience, you got a read. Love that.
3. Fire people you need to fire. At Autodesk, I once inherited a group as I was asked to revamp their charter and related strategies. This group already had a leader who I was asked to fire. I didn’t. Because I wanted to give the guy a chance, because I thought it was too mean, whatever. It burned me so badly and burned the business. If you need to let someone go, do it sooner and sooner. Carol, I should have listened to you.
4. Optics matter but not so much. Many people get hung up in how things will be “perceived” rather than the right thing for the business. I’m not naive in that it’s never important to worry about organizational politics. But the point is to not get to obsessed about the spin, rather than the core idea. Core ideas can be judged on their own merit. Trust that.
5. Surround yourself with good people & offset your talent. One of the reasons I had the job I had at Autodesk was because Carol created the role. The executive that ran the Americas had a great “outside presence” to talk to customers, but lacked an understanding of the business side of running channels, marketing, sales operations, comp plans, and program choices. So Carol created a sidekick role and then let us create a role that offset the skills and capabilities that the executive didn’t have. Some people would think that’s crazy, but the reality is that none of us has 100% of what we need. We need to surround ourselves with those that offset the skills.
6. Get out there. Go to the field, and talk with customers and channel partners and business leaders in your industry. You cannot lead without talking to many others about what’s going on, to learn, to discuss to create the future. Don’t stay in the “ivory tower”. BUT and this is a BIG but. You are not going to the field as a queen, as you are not seeking a coronation service. Your job is to be a participant. If the stories about Carly Fiorina are true, she walked into any meeting in the field with up to 20 entourage people. Uggh. How could anyone have a genuine conversation with Carly and how could she be learning and engaging with that large a group? You can’t. They were 1-way communications. So when you go out to talk with people, remember to listen.
7. Make your life work for you. Be real about who you are, and what you need. Most of us are not superheros, and we need to get enough sleep, stay fit, invest in our personal relationships and have a perspective. We need that to lead. It’s not a nice to have. So why is it that so many executives then work “to the bone”. Carol hired a service car to regularly take her to and from the office. By doing that, she freed up about 2 hours of time to work a day. 2 hours that benefitted the firm, no doubt. Some people raised their eyebrows or thought this was queen-like behavior. Remember that Autodesk is based in San Rafael, the land of more laid back people. And Carol was one of the Valley types in this behavior. But without it, she could have fried out, or not led the expansion strategies because she wouldn’t have been able to get above the fray. The cost of doing that was perhaps 10K in the year. Maybe 20K. But 20K is not much in the scheme of the value Carol created. and if 10 hours was part of her 60 hour weeks, she immediately increased her performance time by 20%.
8. Peacocks Shine. So do you. There’s a conference room I’m sitting in right now and most if not all the women are wearing blcack suits, and white shirts and are simply hiding their beauty. The perception in the room appears to be that we are not allowed to shine too bright. But we are bright. Just like Peacocks can strut their stuff, so can we. It is a part of who we are. Carol was never afraid to wear color or be beautiful. Why not? She is! To hide that is disingenuous.
9. Check On It. No matter what, make sure you have some way to check in. If you don’t check in, you are signaling to people that it doesn’t matter to you. It would be “easy” to assume that some things can go on back-burner, but people respond to what you ask them to respond to. If you delegate something but don’t check back in, it’s quite possible people will think you don’t care… Carol always made sure that as the meetings were wrapping up, she would say something to the effect of “we’ll talk about this again at the xx meeting or in our next 1:1”. And, the best part was that she logged it in her binder. You knew she had it documented. Therefore, you paid attention. I often wondered what she was writing down, as it could have notes to her kids but I never wanted to find out.
10. Leave them with Hope. The most impressive thing about Carol is her ability to beat the shit out of you in a meeting and close the meeting on a positive note and leave you feeling positive. Some people thought this was “mean” but the reality is she expected a lot from people. She knew they had it in them, and so her desire to demand a lot is entirely tied to their capabilities. By recapping the meeting with possibilities, and sharing with people what she liked and what was worth building on, you knew she believed and wanted you to be successful. Leave them with hope and people will improve that which needs to be tuned, and then success will follow.

0 Responses:

  1. Lena L. West. February 9, 2007 at 6:13 pm  

    This was an excellent (!) read.
    I’m a tell-it-like-it-is kind of a person and throughout my career, I have been told that I should “tone it down”. On Wednesday some guy commented on my blog that I appear to be “an angry woman” — and he even had the audacity to put a smiley face emoticon after his passive aggressive statement.
    I can tell you this…I really appreciate women like Carol Bartz. Well-behaved women never make history, as it is said.
    Do I curse? Sure, if the situation warrants it.
    I always tell people, “If you don’t want the truth, don’t ask me.” Repeating this AND following through on it, has given me a repuation for telling the truth and being above-board about everything — not a bad repuation to have when you’re leading a company.
    I’ll take that anyday.


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