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Want to Be a Great Leader? This Smart Executive Nails It by Doing 3 Rare Things Daily

18 Nov 2018

By Marcel Schwantes


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The “Chief Coffee Maker” at ThoughtSpot has crafted a unique company culture that employees love.

In my interviews with prominent executives and thought-leaders around the globe, I’m always tuning in to fresh perspectives that fall outside the lines of traditional management thinking and practices.

In this Q&A, I gleaned leadership insights from Ajeet Singh, co-founder and Executive Chairman of ThoughtSpot, a leading search and AI-driven analytics company that is tackling huge challenges in the multi-billion-dollar business analytics market.

Singh spent nearly seven years in product management roles at Honeywell, Oracle, and Aster Data. He then dove into the startup world, co-founded Nutanix, a cloud computing software company and in May, 2012, he founded ThoughtSpot.

Ajeet, who calls himself “Chief Coffee Maker” (more on that below), comes from the “servant leadership” school of thought. But his thinking has elevated to applying the principles to craft a company culture with a high employee rating on Glassdoor.

Q&A: 3 key takeaways

I drilled down to find out what makes ThoughtSpot’s culture so unique and whether it truly does reflect the values espoused by Robert K. Greenleaf, Jim Collins, Ken Blanchard, and the like. What we already know is that servant leadership’s human-centered approach of putting people first brings extreme value to businesses — increasing employee loyalty and commitment and financial performance.

Here’s what I learned from Sing, which I’ve condensed into three key areas for business impact.

1. The advantage of the inverted organizational pyramid

Singh employs a bottom-up leadership approach by inverting the organizational pyramid, which results in greater trust among his employees. He first got the idea of the inverted pyramid while working for servant leaders early in his career, who enabled him to produce higher quality and meaningful work, as opposed to “managing” the nuts and bolts of his job.

He adapted the principles for the first time at Nutanix and now at ThoughtSpot which, he told me, has been incredibly successful.

I asked how this philosophy has worked in day-to-day management practices. “In my one on ones with my direct reports, I focus the conversation on areas they need help, not on what I need them to do, and then figure out how I can actively contribute to solving the issues facing them,” he told me.

“If that means helping a salesperson close a deal by leveraging my network, doing personal outreach to candidates for a role someone is having trouble filing, or even subbing in on a team to help them meet a critical deadline while a teammate is out of the office, I’ll do it,” said Singh.

To quiet the skeptics that think this idea of the inverted pyramid isn’t sustainable long-term beyond startup mode, Singh addressed this common assumption:

“The inverted pyramid is not only sustainable beyond startup mode, its critical to getting beyond startup mode. If you have a company where each leader looks out for themselves and their best interests instead of serving the hundreds or thousands of employees they lead, good luck. You need to put both your team and your customers ahead of individual wins, or you’re not going to get very far. By focusing on the alternative, where every rung of the ladder supports those below it, means the entire company is firing on full cylinders and reaching maximal efficiency.”

I also found refreshing that Singh hires and promotes leaders based on the philosophy of the inverted pyramid, making sure to look for leaders he can promote who view themselves as problem solvers who share leadership, make others better, and put the needs of their team before their own.

2. The advantage of fostering an environment of “selfless excellence.”

Singh finds that a culture of “selfless excellence” has a competitive advantage. Here’s how he describes it:

“We strive for excellence in everything we do, not for personal gain or glory, but because we want to win as a team. It’s a culture we live every single day in the company, from the way I run my executive meetings down to how we address technical product issues. That said, I am not and should not be the only enabler of selfless excellence at ThoughtSpot. Everyone is expected to do what they can to fix problems, capitalize on new opportunities, and drive the business forward because they want ThoughtSpot to succeed, and not because they want individual recognition.

On any given day, Singh told me, you’ll see engineers jumping in on a project that isn’t theirs in order to meet a deadline; and customer success managers will work together to implement a new product or feature for a customer.

ThoughtSpot’s dedication to selfless excellence not only drives a sense of teamwork and partnership throughout the company, “It also prevents barriers from arising between departments, teams, or individuals that can throttle innovation and kill a fast growing company like ThoughtSpot.”

3. The advantage of modeling transparency across the enterprise.

I’ve written extensively about the increasing number of companies that practice open principles of management based on transparency, participation, and community — even documenting one prominent CEO’s approach of encouraging employees to bring out their passion by crying and cussing.

For ThoughtSpot, transparency may not mean weeping in front of co-workers, but it does mean making sure that everyone knows exactly how the business is performing. “Every employee, regardless of role, has access to sales and marketing data, our revenue numbers, customer satisfaction and NPS scores – basically, everything we as an executive team look at to judge the health of the business, “Singh explained.

But it goes beyond sharing KPIs with the team and giving them access to information. ThoughtSpot is known for running board meetings as “all hands.” The rationale is letting everyone in on everything — nothing is held back. “We can’t expect people to do their best work if they’re don’t understand why decisions are being made, or show them the impact of our successes (or failures), explained Singh. “When different versions of the truth are presented to different groups of people, no one wins.

Parting thoughts on “Chief Coffee Maker”

As far as how he got the Chief Coffee Maker tag, Singh shared with Medium that the title mirrors his servant leader style. In ThoughtSpot’s early days, the story goes, Singh had about 150 coffee meetings at the Starbucks near Google. “Besides helping with recruitment, it made me realize that being CEO is a lot like being the Chief Coffee Maker,” said Singh.

He elaborates further: “As Chief Coffee Maker, it’s my job to identify a big market with a big problem, recruit the right people to solve that problem, and then remove barriers for them to solve the problem — whether that’s securing new funding, helping close a major deal, or getting them a cup of coffee.”

Update: ?Singh recently assumed the role of Executive Chairman to focus full-time on product and technology. He held the CEO position at ThoughtSpot for six years. They named Sudheesh Nair, who previously led Nutanix to $1B in 7 years, as their new CEO.


Read the full article here.
This content was originally published by Inc Magazine. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Inc Magazine

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