Listen up, leaders! Flockjay had the honor of sitting down with John Thompson, Microsoft Chairman of the Board, to discuss the importance of leadership stepping up to take action and build diverse and digitally fluent teams. John started his career at IBM where he built their software sales business over 28 years, before becoming the CEO of Symantec and Virtana. 

Today, John is the Chairman of the Board of Microsoft following Bill Gates’ departure, and is an active startup investor and advisor. Our CEO, Shaan Hatharamani, and Senior Sales Trainer, Teila Evans, hosted this fireside chat, joining John for an incredibly relevant discussion. 

Many leaders are navigating uncharted territory in these times of economic and social unrest, but they’re not alone in facing these new experiences. As John put it, “This is the most unusual business environment I’ve seen in all the years I’ve been on the planet, much less been in business.”

We encourage you to listen to the full fireside chat, but here’s a quick recap.

1. Diversity and inclusion is a problem we need to solve together

John shared several stories drawing back on his early experiences at IBM in the 70s, and he made a great point:

We made progress in the 60s and 70s… and we fell asleep. Here we are now with the largest wakeup call we’ve gotten in a very very long time. I think we all need to just sit back, be a little calm, and recognize that we collectively have to solve this problem together. This is not about a government issue or a business issue, this is all of us working together to solve a diversity and inclusion problem that has existed for a very very long time in this country.” 

It all starts with setting real, actionable goals and becoming more sincere on our follow through.

“This is not just about tech,” John adds. “This is about other elements of our economy where we need to make sure that there’s enough openness that someone who shows up with a diverse or gender different experience or background does not get put into Bucket 2 as opposed to Bucket 1. And unfortunately, there are instances when people of color do get put into the wrong bucket before they’re able to say who they are.”

Leaders, take a hard look at your beliefs and recruiting process. John says, “If the leadership team of a company does not believe in diversity and inclusion, it’s certainly not going to trickle down and it’s not going to create the right pipeline for candidates to come into the company.” 

2. Everybody has a leadership role, but the tone is set at the top

If you think you aren’t a leader, think again. We all have power, in every role. John reminds us that, “Everybody in the company has a leadership role,” but, “what happens in a company is driven in large part by the tone set at the top. What does the leader and the leadership team of the company believe in and how do they execute?” John adds, “Tone at the top is the difference between a company that has a more diverse workforce and one that doesn’t.” 

Today’s modern workforce looks at every subtle thing a leader does or doesn’t do. So John says, “We all have to be cognizant of what we say, what we believe in, and how we communicate that to our employees because they’re going to be watching every step of the way, and if they see something that is a little off, they’re not at all bashful in speaking up.” 

3. The best leaders speak up with open, candid dialogue

Leaders must communicate well and ask questions. When Teila spoke to the topic of silence being violence, she asked John, “What do you think about leaders whose tone is not saying anything?” His answer reportedly gave most of us attendees chills. Put simply, John stated: 

“I don’t know how you could refer to someone who doesn’t say anything as a leader.”

He followed with, “How is that possible? If you don’t have a point of view and you’re not willing to share your point of view, you shouldn’t be in a job ‘leading’ because that’s what leaders are supposed to do. They’re supposed to review the environment, make interpretations, and share their point of view with the team. And if you’re not prepared to do that, what’s that about?”

Now is not the time for complacency or silence in leadership. John believes, “It’s important for leaders in today’s world, today’s economy, to be very clear about what they believe in, both philosophically and emotionally, and communicate that to their employees in a way that makes the connection. And make sure the connection stays strong for as long as you possibly can.” 

John went on to share that, “Leadership is about open, candid dialogue and communications between the team and the leader. If there are differences of opinion between the leader and the team, those need to get sorted out, because success in a fast moving industry, like the one we’re in, requires well coordinated teams in order to execute with the speed and precision needed.” 

4. Leaders must prioritize self reflection to redefine progress

Leaders should hold themselves accountable for the strategy they set and the execution of that strategy, day in and day out. So, where do we go from here? According to John, “It’s important for every leader to do a little self reflection, and that reflection in this world should be, ‘How much progress have I made?’”

Note, you might need to reevaluate your definition of progress. John says, “All too often we define progress as revenue, expense, cash flow. Candidly, we need to redefine progress in today’s world, because if we don’t open up the aperture around diversity and inclusion, this is not going to be healthy for our country or our industry. We’ve got more to do and it starts with leaders being open and candid all the time.”

In the exciting closing words of our CEO Shaan, “Let’s get to work.

Leadership in Action: Watch Flockjay’s On-Demand Fireside Chat

Believe it or believe it, we’ve barely scratched the surface in recapping this wisdom packed 60-minute webinar. We’ll leave you with these parting words of wisdom from John:

“There’s no better time to make change than when you’re going through the kind of crisis we’re going through right now. Leaders have to look for moments in times like this to say, ‘Gee, what can I do that could change the trajectory of the company post-this crisis? What do I do on headcount, resources, and strategy?’ If you do that the right way you come out the back end of this crisis with a team and an organization that is aligned with what you’re trying to accomplish.”

Watch Flockjay’s full fireside chat “Leadership in Action: The Best Companies Must Build Diverse Teams” to hear our panelists speak candidly about their personal and professional experiences as people of color, the importance of listening, their trajectories to success with visions for the future, the core task startups should be focusing on right now, and more.

Flockjay connects startups with elite, pre-trained sales talent. If you’re interested in learning more, reach out to partners@flockjay.com to chat.