Equitable Leadership

DURING the pandemic, one of us became a bit of a Star Trek fan. Minal was never really into science fiction, but she ran out of shows to watch and found herself intrigued when Stacey Abrams, who is famously a Trekkie, said that Voyager was her favorite Star Trek show, even though Deep Space Nine is considered the political allegory. Still, Abrams cited Voyager, and we can’t help thinking it was because of Captain Janeway. In Voyager, women finally had a realistic representation of female leadership aboard a Star Trek vessel, one that was determined and decisive but also empathic and willing to listen.

Still, Janeway doesn’t seem like such a big deal until Minal had finished watching all the Voyager episodes and decided to dip into Star Trek: The Next Generation (referred to as TNG among Trekkies, we’re told). The first season is almost shocking in how Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard carries himself. He’s brash and bossy and vents his frustration by shouting at children, particularly poor Wesley. In Picard, the recent revival of the Star Trek franchise, it’s clear the character evolves since season one of TNG. But we don’t think Captain Janeway would need to evolve as much if they revived her character. In fact, she’s almost a prescient paragon of what good leadership looks like in the 21st century.

For decades, outdated models of Western leadership have prevailed, primarily centering White culture and male energy: someone who’s certain of himself, who has all the answers, who takes up space, shows no weakness, and knows how to win. But in a world turned upside down — by a pandemic, by climate change, by a reckoning with systemic injustice — what does winning even look like now?

Leaders have been getting an inkling that things are changing, that the old tools aren’t working. They have tried to lead their staff through these changes by emphasizing we are more alike than different, that anyone who works hard can succeed here, and have been befuddled when staff respond with outrage or anger.

So what exactly is going on?

The definition and expectations of leadership have changed. Talented staff no longer want a general leading them into battle; they want a coach nurturing the best out of each of them. They want someone with the courage to be vulnerable and say, “I don’t know, but I’m committed to figuring it out with you.”

They want an equitable leader. Someone who sees the system. Someone who is not tolerant of difference but rather so comfortable with it that they are willing to embrace it and make it a feature, not a bug of the workplace. They want someone who understands that great organizations encourage everyone to play to their strengths instead of insecurely asking everyone to fit into a mold of the “ideal” employee.

However, our brains are wired to feel threatened by difference. In The Power Manual, Cyndi Suarez writes:

The concept of difference is central to interactions in relationships of inequality. Humans have used differences to value, divide, and structure society—as with race, gender, class, age, and sexuality. One’s relationship to difference impacts one’s interactions, either reinforcing these structures of value or interrupting them. The supremacist approach to power offers two options for dealing with difference: ignore it or view it as cause for separation. A liberatory approach views differences as strengths and entertains interdependence as an option.

How does one begin to nurture a liberatory approach to power?

By examining your relationship to difference. Not surface-level differences—like a disagreement in approach or process to employ, the kind of difference that challenges your worldviews, your beliefs, and values. Leaders must navigate and embrace the latter to create inclusive and equitable environments where everyone thrives. And as Jessica has discovered through her work coaching leaders, this requires a higher degree of emotional intelligence, specifically, emotional self-awareness and the ability to self-regulate in the moment. The good news is you can build these muscles with intentional and consistent practice.

Normalizing discomfort for yourself and your organization is critical. Why? Because experiencing deep differences often equates to deep discomfort, which triggers your brain’s fight or flight mechanism. In this mode, critical reasoning goes offline. You react out of habit verse skillfully responding from a place of choice. The work of the equable leader is to thoughtfully respond in the face of discomfort and to demonstrate openness for deep difference.

Equitable leaders are also skilled at seeing systems and understanding interdependence. While valuing difference is the first step in the process of developing “system sight,” leaders can hone their vision by understanding their own relationship to the systems they are in. The tool Minal uses to facilitate this understanding with leaders is the Group Identity Wheel, developed by DEI practitioners and executive coaches Sukari Pinnock-Fitts and Amber Mayes. The wheel helps individuals understand themselves in all their complexity and positions their identity in relation to systems and power. It also allows them to understand both their marginalization and their privilege. This is vital to being an engaged and equitable leader. If a leader is interested in being an ally to people without the same level of privilege, then they must ask themselves, “How can I lift up the voices that may be struggling to be heard over mine in this organization?”

This can be uncomfortable, which is why emotional intelligence is critical, particularly the stamina to do difficult things. It can be tempting to duck one’s head in the sand and simply believe that the outside world will not intrude upon your company. But ignoring reality makes you a poor role model for the courageous conversations we need to have if we really want to design a more equitable world where everyone thrives.

* * *Leading ForumMinal Bopaiah is the author of Equity: How to Design Organizations Where Everyone Thrives. She is the founder of Brevity & Wit, a strategy + design firm that combines human-centered design, behavior change science and the principles of inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility to help organizations transform themselves and the world. Bopaiah has written for the Stanford Social Innovation Review and The Hill and has been a featured guest on numerous podcasts and shows, including the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU. She has also been a keynote speaker for many conferences, inspiring thousands with her credible, authentic, and engaging talks.
Jessica Zucal is a Senior Principal with Evans Consulting. As a change and transformation expert she works with leaders at the individual, team, and organization levels to build capacity for change and establish enabling conditions for success. Jessica is a NeuroLeadership trained coach and certified EQ-I 2.0 practitioner.

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People are Job 1 What It Takes to Lead

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Geoff Tuff and Steven Goldbach on the need for flexible thinking:

“We must dispel the notion that strong leaders don’t change their positions … or, dare we say, learn. Flipflopping when you have new information – flexing your thinking in an explicable way – is absolutely a hallmark of effective leadership in the face of accelerating change.
“Good leaders have an intuitive sense of things that must be true for their organizations to be successful and consistently check whether these conditions remain true in the external environment. They are on the lookout for things that could destroy the business model they have created. And if something changes that gives them pause, they aren’t afraid to make adjustments. When your business model may be at risk of implosion, it’s a very good thing that leaders changed their tune.”

Source: Provoke: How Leaders Shape the Future by Overcoming Fatal Human Flaws

II.

Historian Adrian Goldsworthy on concerns over the growth of organizations:

“It is only human nature to lose sight of the wider issues and focus on immediate concerns and personal issues.… All human institutions, from countries to businesses, risk creating a similarly short-sighted and selfish culture.
“Success produces growth and, in time, creates institutions so large that they are cushioned from mistakes and inefficiency.
“In most cases it takes a long time for serious problems or errors to be exposed. It is usually even harder to judge accurately the real competence of individuals and, in particular, their contributions to the overall purpose.
“For the vast majority of people, their work is less open to the public gaze but is similar in that the real consequences of what they do are not obvious.”

Source: How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower

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Leading Thoughts Whats New in Leadership Books

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Never Say Never

LANGUAGE matters.

As I conduct observation coaching with leaders, I watch for how their words resonate with their audience. Does what they say induce fear? Excitement? Do attendees in the meeting cringe at certain words, or do their metaphors generate inspiration?

Effective leaders use communication as a critical competency to build trusting relationships, align team members around a vision, lead necessary change, and drive action. Communication involves verbal, non-verbal, and intuitive delivery and receiving of messages. It also requires listening and speaking with intention. In support of that, the communication process typically involves five critical steps.

Source: the sender of the message who is communicating
Encoding: the way a sender frames a message into an easily understood format that can be sent and received. This step requires the sender to know their audience and convey their message clearly and concisely to support understanding.
Channel: how you deliver your message (i.e., verbally through a meeting, phone calls, video conferencing, written, emails, memo,s text, and social media).
Decoding: occurs when the receiver actively listens to a message to ensure accurate transmission and interpretation.
Receiver: Receives the message and brings their own perspectives, experience, feelings, and histories that impact how a message is received.

Any missteps, gaps, or errors in these stages can lead to a serious breakdown in the communication cycle. It can destroy relationships, damage trust, and contribute to adverse impacts on business outcomes. In medicine, law enforcement, education, and almost every profession, communication failures lead to lasting negative impacts.

The best leaders maneuver these five steps in a way that leaves their teams feeling heard, understood, and valued. To accomplish this, leaders have a responsibility to ensure they are appropriately using every step of the communication cycle to deliver an accurate message.

Effective communication is difficult for a variety of reasons. Our lack of knowledge around cultural differences, as well as human factors such as stress, fatigue, and communication skills, all play a role in the potential breakdown of communication. Today, there is an emphasis on rapid decision making, and fast-paced problem solving that often involve many parties and differing perspectives.

Given these variables, there are several things to keep in mind to avoid communication breakdown.

1. Avoid Certain Words

There are words that create a negative emotional reaction regardless of the intent behind the word. We certainly do not need to eliminate all these words, but carefully considering your purpose, tone, and the desired reaction can ensure these words do not leave others frustrated or disengaged.

Why
“Why did you do that?” “Why didn’t you just do this?” “Why wouldn’t you just . . .?”
When we start a sentence with why, we are often seeking clarity. However, “why” can cause people to become immediately defensive, guarded and feel they need to justify their actions. In an effort to protect themselves, fight or flight kicks in and you do not get the best response or discussion. While there are times when this is the most appropriate word to bring forth, be cautious about when and how you use it and pay attention to the reaction in others.
Just
This word becomes problematic when we use it in the context of people. For example, “Pat is just our assistant,” “You need to just figure it out,” or “Just wondering if you’ve looked at the proposal.”
When we use the term in these contexts, it can be demeaning and diminishes the role, effort, and value of others. Leaders who inadvertently use this language risk diminishing confidence and value amongst their team members, even when the statement is not sent directly to one of them. Using just risks making others feel insignificant.
But
The dreaded but. “You did a great job, but” “Sorry I’m late, but” or “I wanted to help, but.” When we use this term, often, it negates the phrase before it. When we issue a compliment, followed by but, the listener only hears the criticism that follows, and the previous statement is lost. It can feel critical and take on a tone that lacks accountability.
Often, we can replace the word in our language with “and” instead. This simple switch will elevate how people feel about your comments and feedback. Try it.

2. Be Cautious When Using Idioms

I have made this mistake too many times to count. Recently, I met with a partner from France. I used the idiom, “let me put a bug in your ear,” to share an idea I wanted her to consider. That phrase was unfamiliar to her, and my intention was lost on her.

While idioms seem helpful to make a point, there is also a significant risk that they originated and have a history that is different than your intention in today’s world. Ethic, cultural, racial, or religious idioms that were accepted and used in the past may no longer be appropriate today.

3. Avoid Absolutes

“Nobody does it better,” or “I have the best employee/team.” Again, while this is often used to elevate those close to us, it generally has the effect of alienating others and diminishing their skills and abilities. Additionally, terms like all, none, must, never, only, always can be hooks. They have no exceptions and do not leave room for error or discussion. They can be taken as condensing and make others feel inferior.

The words we use matter, especially in a leadership role where our teams regularly react and listen closely to what we share. Start paying attention to the reactions you receive when speaking and cut out the words and phrases that are spurring a negative response.

* * *Leading ForumLaurie Cure is the President and CEO of Innovative Connections. Her focus is consulting in strategic planning, organizational development, talent management, and leadership, including change management and culture evolution. With more than 25 years of leadership experience, she has dedicated her career to delivering strategic visions, working with executives/senior leaders to drive organizational outcomes, and researching and publishing on important industry issues and topics. She is the author of Leading without Fear, about overcoming fear in the workplace. You can connect with her on her website and on LinkedIn

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5 Gears Meeting People Where They Are

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Entrepreneur and investor Sam Altman on the importance of value:

“All companies that grow really big do so in only one way: people recommend the product or service to other people.
What this means is that if you want to be a great company some day, you have to eventually build something so good that people will recommend it to their friends—in fact, so good that they want to be the first one to recommend it to their friends for the implied good taste. No growth hack, brilliant marketing idea, or sales team can save you long term if you don’t have a sufficiently good product.”

Source: The Only Way to Grow Huge

II.

East Rock Capital co-founder Graham Duncan on taking responsibility for your life:

“One great portfolio manager I know told the story of being driven somewhere by an analyst on a rainy night when a truck swerved and almost ran them off the road. ‘Why is stuff like this always happening to me?’ the analyst instinctively responded. But to the portfolio manager, that response reflected a terrible mindset, whether on the road or in the market: a sense that the world is acting on you as opposed to your acting on the world. It is a mindset that is hard to change. But from what I’ve seen, great investors don’t have it. Instead, they’ve come to understand which factors in the market they can control and which factors they cannot.”

Source: The Playing Field

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Leading Thoughts Whats New in Leadership Books

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Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:

I.

Steve Farber on doing what you love in the service of people:

“It doesn’t matter whether the leaders are in the front or the rear. What matters is the way they are leading the pack. In either case, the leaders are serving other members. The leaders in the front are forging the path, providing direction, and making it easier for others to go where the pack needs to travel. The leaders in the rear are providing support. They are watching over the pack and ensuring that no one is left behind. There might even be some leaders in the middle of the pack because here’s the thing about leaders: they serve others no matter where they find themselves.”

Source: Love is Just Damn Good Business

II.

Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness on how our passion can eventually lead us astray:

“Those who are most focused on reaching some external barometer of success are often the same people who struggle most to enjoy it. That’s because they’ll always crave more. More money. More fame. More medals. More followers.
Researchers have found that regardless of the field, individuals who display obsessive passion are more likely to engage in unethical behavior and are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, and burnout. Their relationship with their passion is likely to erode, and their overall life satisfaction is poor.
They become so obsessed, so focused on and tied to external results, that nothing else matters. It’s not that they are no longer passionate. It’s just that they are no longer passionate about baseball, or energy, or leading a company, or scientific discovery. They become passionate about results, fortune, fame, and winning.”

Source: The Passion Paradox

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Leading Thoughts Whats New in Leadership Books

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Soul of An Entrepreneur

WHEN WE THINK about entrepreneurship, we tend to fixate on people like Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, and Phil Knight. And why not? There are very few budding entrepreneurs that would not want to duplicate their success.

So, we study what these people did to try and find the perfect checklist or formula that brings us the same kind of success. The only problem is this doesn’t reflect the real world of entrepreneurship.

David Sax, author of The Soul of an Entrepreneur, says that a startup myth has developed that has “increasingly defined what an entrepreneur was supposed to look like, how they behaved, and what they did. That myth “established that entrepreneurs were brilliant and young, mostly male and white, highly educated lone geniuses who frequently dropped out of college because they were so singularly focused on a brilliant innovation that would transform industry, and maybe even in the world, through economic disruption driven by blitzkrieg growth and fueled by venture capital.”

The problem is we have come to define entrepreneurship in terms of this startup model when, in fact, it represents a tiny fraction of what entrepreneurship really is. Many more are lifestyle businesses and self-funded. Furthermore, the highest success rates among entrepreneurs come from founders in middle age and beyond with the average age entrepreneur “behind the fastest-growing new companies (especially in the technology sector) was forty-five years old.”

We need to turn our attention to what an entrepreneur really is and why they do it. David Sax began a search for the soul of an entrepreneur. He asks, “Why do entrepreneurs do it? Why do they keep at it, even in the face of tremendous odds, and the daily personal sacrifices, and the imminent threat of financial failure? Why does the entrepreneur matter, why do different types of entrepreneurs matter, and what’s at stake if we lose sight of their value?”

These questions lead him around the world to seek out entrepreneurs from all kinds of backgrounds, cultures, and motivations to find the deeper meaning of entrepreneurship. We journey with Sax to a bakery in Toronto run by an immigrant family looking to get a fresh start.

For many immigrants, the need to secure some form of financial survival is the prime motivator of their move into entrepreneurship and is referred to as a push factor. Unlike the pull of an entrepreneur pursuing an attractive idea they simply cannot pass up (a romanticized core of the startup myth), a push to entrepreneurship is driven by necessity, often by a lack of better options, a problem that plagues immigrants.

We visit Tracy Obolsky in Rockaway Beach, New York, who begins her day with the rising sun surfing before she heads out to open her lifestyle business—a business designed to cover the expenses and lifestyle ambitions of the owner.

The lifestyle business captures the soul of the entrepreneur’s essential hope: To be your own boss. To use your talents as you see fit. To wake up each day and do what you decided to do. To reap what you sow, and build your life around that dream, however big or small it is.

We also meet Jesseca Dupart in New Orleans. She leveraged her African American beauty products brand Kaleidoscope, to strengthen her community and to help bring more women like her into entrepreneurship. She says, “You are responsible as a successful person to pay it forward … period! As an entrepreneur, I have to tell everybody you can do whatever you want.”

Then there are the social entrepreneurs where the donation is a marketing expense that drives growth.

This brand of socially conscious capitalism has become romanticized over the past twenty years or so, as a generation of individuals with strong values began to see entrepreneurship as the vehicle for achieving a desired change, in a way that married the dynamism of business with the broad developmental goals that had previously been the realm of governments and multinational organizations.

Sax writes, “what separates empty rhetoric from genuine values-led entrepreneurship is sacrifice.”

We journey to Argentina to see Iduna Weinert, the thirty-seven-year-old daughter of the founder of the Bodega y Cavas de Weinert winery. The family-owned business does not fit the startup myth where the immediate goal is an exit from the business. The family is often seen as an impediment to entrepreneurship. But in reality, families have always been a part of entrepreneurship. About two-thirds of the businesses owned around the world are owned and operated by families, and in America, “family firms constitute over half of the businesses in the country and half of those listed on stock markets.”

Sax notes that “entering a family business does not make a relation an entrepreneur” and few actually succeed into the second generation. But it does become something of a lifestyle. “Knowledge is cumulative and serves as the base for the next generation’s entrepreneurial ideas and the confidence to pursue them.”

Sax expands our view of not only what an entrepreneur is, but more importantly, what it means to be an entrepreneur. Sax talks to entrepreneurs that share their ups and downs, successes and failures. And failure is a very real part of owning a business. Uncertainty is a daily part of business. Only two-thirds of businesses survive their first year. The “essential ingredient that links all entrepreneurs together, wherever they are,” says Sax, is hope.

The hope that your idea has worth. The hope that it will sell. The hope that you have the ability to change your fortune … for yourself, your family, the community around you, and maybe even the world. That hope is the persistent faith we gather up in ourselves every single day, as we go out and try to make our ideas work. It underpins the personal risk that all entrepreneurs must accept and allows them to manage it, even when that risk threatens to overwhelm them.

Quote The Soul of an Entrepreneur is an engaging look at entrepreneurship. He enriches it by peeling away the Silicon Valley Startup Myth and gives us an appreciation for the men and women that takes their ideas out into the world and try to make them work. Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but if you are considering it, this book will give you insight into the very human side of striking out on your own.

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Pitching Remotely

NOW that almost everyone is working from home, startup founders looking to raise money from investors will need to do so remotely. In fact, in-person pitches may now be a thing of the past.

As both an individual investor and venture capitalist, I’ve taken a lot of remote pitches since the shelter-in-place order started. My impression is that most entrepreneurs aren’t always putting their best foot forward.

Here are five seemingly contradictory tips to keep in mind while pitching remotely.

Tip #1: The Slides Aren’t the Pitch

The first tip will be relevant for both in-person and remote pitches but is doubly important when you are pitching remotely: the slide deck isn’t the pitch. The pitch is the story that you are telling.

So, what do I mean by the story? This is a sequential narrative that captures the main reasons why an investor might want to invest in you. It doesn’t matter how good your slides look; it matters how compelling your story is.

Just like story beats in a movie script, which is meant to evoke responses from the audience, a story in the context of pitching to investors should consist of certain beats that are meant to elicit their reaction.

Paradoxically, the better the story, the worse the slides can be. When I was an entrepreneur raising money, one of the most effective pitches was for the Tap Fish video game.

I only had simple black and white slides with text and no images. If that seems like it violates everything you’ve read and heard about putting together pitches—you are right! Our story was great, so the slides didn’t have to be.

Here is an outline of the basic story, along with the ER (expected reaction):

Mobile gaming is new and taking off
  (ER: Nodding/agreement)
We have a million daily active users
  (ER: Surprise and/or impressed)
Our users love our games
  (ER: Nodding)
We’re making quite a bit of profit
  (ER: Surprise, because most startups aren’t profitable so soon)
Look how much money we’re going to make if we follow our plan
  (ER: Greed and excitement)

A few years later, I was raising a subsequent round for my next video game startup, Midverse Studios. By then, we had a more experienced team thanks to the success of Tap Fish. We had flashier games that were based on the TV shows Penny Dreadful and Grimm. We also had marquis investors, who put money into our seed round, and we had a more impressive set of slides.

Despite the flashy slides, we found it difficult to raise money. The fact of the matter was that the slides were better, but the underlying story wasn’t nearly as good. This was because the market for mobile games had become more competitive, making it difficult to acquire users cheaply. We also didn’t have nearly as many users, and we certainly weren’t even close to profitability. We needed a new story that would captivate users and investors.

The real takeaway from my experience is that before you assemble your slides, make sure to articulate your skeleton of a story that will evoke the desired response from investors.

Tip #2: Use Your Slides in the Remote Pitch

Now, this might sound contradictory to Tip #1, but going through some slides is even more important these days when pitching remotely than before the current health crisis.

In recent times, it seems the trend is that entrepreneurs will email me their slides before the call. But then, during the call, they completely ignore the slides. It’s as if they expected me to have memorized the slides for the call.

Instead of being able to focus on their message with the guidance of slides, I found myself rifling through the collection of slides to find the right one.

Out of my last five entrepreneurial pitches, all five had sent me the deck beforehand. Yet only one actually brought up the slides on the Zoom call and went through them with me. The rest just wanted me to look at them sitting on their desks at home, not wanting to “bore me” with the slides. This was a mistake.

Now I’m not saying you need to go through every single slide on a remote pitch. You can certainly economize and jump around. But the visuals are actually important when you are trying to make a point to an investor who is attempting to understand your story and has been listening to a multitude of pitches. For one thing, it’s harder for an investor to figure out what the heck your product actually does on a remote pitch.

I’m more likely to remember you if there is a catchy visual that illustrates an important point, as opposed to just telling me that point.

So, if you have a deck, bring up the slides while talking to investors on Zoom. Otherwise, they’ll just remember you as another face on a screen.

Tip #3: Don’t Spend Too Much Time on the Product

Traditionally, entrepreneurs love to talk about their product, but investors need to know about more than just the product – the market, the team, competitors, business model, etc.

Recently, I saw an entrepreneur’s deck that was 30 slides long, with 10 slides about the product (features, roadmaps, videos, and screenshots). This was too much. Try to keep your deck to 10-15 slides (with extras you can draw upon if necessary).

Some pitches have too little about the product, and some have way too much. The best pitches have “just enough” so that an investor can understand what their product offers and why it might be special.

One or two slides about your product are enough if you do it right. Then it’s time to move on to why it’s better than other solutions, followed by the business model and how you are going to make money.

Tip #4: Explain What Your Product Does

Some entrepreneurs go too far in the other direction and make it really hard for the investor to figure out what their product does clearly.

This has led to pitches that are “market heavy,” such as many slides of data about the market. To be honest, if I took your pitch, I am probably already interested in the market. So the market slides are somewhat important, but you don’t need more than 2 slides on the market, so don’t dwell on them.

For example, if your startup is in esports, you’ll have the obligatory slides talking about how many hundreds of millions of viewers of esports there are. However, as an investor, I probably already know this, or I wouldn’t have taken the pitch.

What I really need to know is your segment of the market, what your product is, and why it’s better or different than others.

If I had to pick the one thing that takes the most time in remote pitches, it is figuring out what the heck an entrepreneur’s product actually does! Many entrepreneurs get to 2/3 of the way through the slides and start talking about the business model and financial projections while I’m still won-dering exactly what their product does and what makes it unique. Having a screenshot or two displayed while you explain your product helps tremendously.

So remember Goldilocks—having too little or too much on the product can both be big problems—you have to get it “just right.”

Seems obvious, right? You would think so.

Tip #5: Identify a Killer Slide Investors Will Remember and Repeat

I always tell entrepreneurs that whether they are conscious of it or not, an investor leaves with a positioning in their mind about you and your company. This is how the investor will position your company to their partners (if they are a VC) or to other investors, or even to their spouse (if they are angel investors).

If you aren’t clear on what they positioning will be, it’s likely you aren’t clear on your story, which brings us right back to Tip #1.

The best positioning is usually the single strongest point that you have in your presentation. Typically, it is about your team, market opportunity, technology/product, or market results/ traction.

You can go through 15 slides, but in the end, there is one slide that will get an investor. I call it the killer slide.

If you are in a new market and don’t have anything to show yet, but have a team that has had real success before (by selling a company), or you are a team that worked together at Google, then the killer slide is the team slide.

These days it’s become fashionable for entrepreneurs to put the team slide at the very end of the presentation, which is great for Demo days. But if the team aspect is your biggest strength, then you need to be sure that you establish your credibility up front, so put that first. Because up until that slide, the investor is thinking: “Who are these yahoos, and why should I care about what they say?”

If your biggest strength is your technology or IP differentiation, you better have a simple visual, which makes it easy to understand while also hammering home your IP is so important. It’s important is that the investor remembers the “gist” of why your IP is so special after your conversation. Spend more time on this “killer slide” and hammer in the point.

Sometimes, the “big strength” is a product demo, which isn’t in the slides at all. I recently invested in a VR company whose founder told me that the way he sells investors is to get them to put on VR glasses and meet him “in world.” In this case, it is necessary to get people over the hurdle because the VR market is not as “hot” as it used to be when it was seen as the “next big thing.”

All investors have to justify their actions to someone else (partners, LPs, spouses, etc.). This is why it’s extremely important to not just convince an investor, but to arm them with a positioning they can take to others to justify their investment.

Conclusion

There is, of course, no one way to do a good pitch remotely during these trying times. But for many startups, it’s even more critical that you raise money quickly, at a time when investors are growing more and more cautious.

Almost all good pitches have a good, solid story behind the slides. Moreover, guiding the investor to the right slides is even more important when you are pitching remotely rather than relying on the investor to “get it.” You aren’t there to just chat—you are there to pitch.

Remember to keep a “just right” approach to all the sections of your pitch: market, product, competitors, business model, and team. Ensure that you don’t have too much or too little on any one section.

Most importantly, think about what the investor will say about your company after the pitch. If it’s not what you want them to say, then your pitch needs work!

* * *Leading ForumRizwan Virk is the founder of Play Labs @ MIT and author of Startup Myths & Models: What You Won’t Learn in Business School, Zen Entrepreneurship, and The Simulation Hypothesis. He is also a venture partner at several VC firms. For more information, please visit ZenEntrepreneur.com and follow him on Twitter.

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How to Get Venture Capital Dear Founder

*Atmos is a text based, mentor management, and retention platform, that accurately connects university students to mentors in a more personalized and efficient way than ever before. From BlueSkyAI.

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Weekend Supplement

Madam C.J. Walker

NETFLIX brings to life the entrepreneurial success story of African American entrepreneur and philanthropist Madam C.J. Walker. The four-hour mini-series Self-Made starring Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer is based on Walker’s great-great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles book, On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker.

Madam C.J. Walker was born Sarah Breedlove on December 23, 1867, on a plantation in Delta, Louisiana, to former slaves-turned sharecroppers after the Civil War. Her rags-to-riches story is inspiring and a testimony to hard work, persistence, and resourcefulness. Seeking a way out of her poverty, she became a washerwoman and cook. Eventually moving to Denver, Colorado, she married ad-man Charles Joseph Walker and renamed herself “Madam C.J. Walker.” With $1.25, she created a line of hair products and straighteners for African American women and became one of America’s first self-made female millionaires.

As her business grew, she applied her success to philanthropy giving to organizations focused on the social well-being of Black Americans. She also gave six scholarships to the Tuskegee Institute.

Walker died of kidney failure and complications due to hypertension on May 25, 1919. Her estate was valued at about ten million dollars.

While Self-Made successfully brings awareness to Walker’s life and accomplishments, it is a dramatized story—facts are compromised, but the essence is there. It is a good look into the entrepreneurial mindset. If you want to know more about her life, you might start with Oprah Magazine’s What Self Made Got Right—and Wrong—About Madam C.J. Walker.

Madam C.J. Walker on the business of life:

I got my start by giving myself a start.

If I have accomplished anything in life, it is because I have been willing to work hard.

Perseverance is my motto.

There is no royal flower-strewn path to success. And if there is, I have not found it.

Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.

I want others to look at us and see that we care not just about ourselves but about others.

Keep in mind that you have something that the person standing before you really needs, imagine yourself a missionary and convert him.

Girls and women of our race must not be afraid to take hold of business endeavor and, by patient industry, close economy, determined effort, and close application to business, wring success out of a number of business opportunities that lie at their doors.

People are ugly not in their face but in their thoughts. So never get impressed by someone’s appearance, rather dig deep down into their thoughts to reveal the real person inside out.

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Restoring the Soul of Business

DATA without soul is harmful. Science, math, and data do not excuse us from thinking. Instead, they make it imperative that we learn to think more critically and combine it with our humanness to come to more measured conclusions. The story we create with the data makes all the difference.

Rishad Tobaccowala is the chief growth officer at Publicis Group, a global advertising and communications firm. Flush with data, we risk losing something more valuable: what’s human.

Rishad writes in Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data, that we can have too much math and too little meaning. “Successful individuals and firms can never forget the importance of people, their emotions, the culture of the organization, and what cannot be measured. Successful people and companies combine the story and the spreadsheet, and by doing so, restore the soul of business.” It’s a balance.

The 6-I Approach

Extracting meaning and accurate insights from data is made better by implementing what Rishad calls the 6-I Approach.

Interpret the Data

Not all data is alike. “Develop hypotheses, search for patterns, look for outliers, create alternative scenarios to explain the information you’re receiving. Through interpretation you can enrich the data with meaning; you can identify the story it’s telling.”

Involve Diverse People

“Expand the group that examines the data. When you involve people with various skills and perspectives, you’re likely to receive a richer interpretation.”

Interconnect to Larger Trends and Events

How does the data relate to what you’re doing or to an emerging trend or a competitor’s product launch? “Making these types of connections helps you take the data one step further, determining if it’s going to have a short-term or long-term impact, if it’s suggesting the end of a trend or the beginning of a new one.” Give it context.

Imagine and Inspire Solutions

What possibilities does the data ignite? “Rather than allowing the data to limit options and actions, explore the solutions it might inspire. If the numbers show that your product category isn’t doing as well as it once did in Market Z, is there an emerging opportunity because the market still has potential and competition will be reduced because of this data?”

Iterate

“Data can spawn new and better data. Is there a test you might run based on the information you’ve gathered that can produce more insightful facts and figures?” Ask new questions of the data.

Investigate People’s Experiences

“In a given organization, you have hundreds or thousands of people with data-relevant insights because in the past—whether while part of your organization or with a previous employer—they experienced something applicable to the current information.” Sometimes new data is just an old story on a new context.

Seven Keys to Staying Human

Each of these sections is full of practices to help integrate them into our organizations—to make them more human.

Talk About the Inconvenient (Tough) Truths

Three of the most valuable assets in communicating are the following four-, five-, and six-letter words: data, trust, and intent. “Do you have good data that supports your point of view? Can you be or are you trusted? What is your intent? – i.e., why are you saying what you’re saying? Organizations must encourage trusted, well-intentioned, well-informed people to display this type of candor, no matter what their titles are?

Address the Reality That Change Sucks

People see change differently and are affected by change differently. “People won’t support and further change unless they perceive how they and their skills fit in. Employees need to see how the change strategy helps them grow, not just the organization.” When we are data-driven we see things in absolutes. Humans are more nuanced than that.

Unleash Creativity by Inserting Poetry into the PowerPoint

The spreadsheet “is not a clear window to view either the present or the future. Inherently, it’s backward-looking device that jails thinking within its cells. Within many organizations, highly innovative, potentially game-changing ideas are born regularly. Unfortunately, the left-brain environment of these organizations often starves these ideas of oxygen and they don’t survive.”

Introduce art into your organization. “Creativity is how we manage our own change.”

Recognize That Talent Does Not Work for Companies but Rather Companies Work for Talent

Data tends to favor the organization rather than the employee. “Working for talent translates into three developmental actions: helping people create their niche, voice, and story.”

Niche: In a connected world, a premium on expertise exists. Experts tend to be more productive, and hey tend to develop better solutions.

Voice: Niche focuses on the product while voice focuses on the process. If niche is a fact, voce is a feeling, and both are critical to building a personal brand.

Story: While niche is what someone is good at and voice is what makes someone special, story provides someone’s reason to behave.

Diversify and Deepen Time Usage

It is a mistake to allocate and measure time only in economic terms or numeric ways. The quality of how people spend their time is as important as the quantity of what they produce during that time. To get the most out of time, organizations need to sanction doing less and open spaces to do nothing.

Schedule More Meetings

Too often meetings are about the spreadsheet side of the business. “The received wisdom of minimizing meetings and only going to ones that create value for you is wrong. More meetings create more opportunities for productive relationships.” Rishad five types of meeting we should be having that are meaningful and relationship-focused.

Upgrade Your Mental Operating System

Organizations need to put a priority on mental self-improvement. “Provide them with the means and the encouragement to learn continuously—or rather, to learn and unlearn.”

Rishad make this important point about balance. When there is balance between the spreadsheet and the story, people are more likely to form their own opinions and be creative.

First, there is a need to balance ends and means. If the goal is to achieve a numerical goal at all costs, balance is missing; people will ignore rules and even laws to achieve goals. A second form of balance is recognizing that people have different skills and the company should not force consistency and conformity.

Restoring the Soul of Business is a much-needed book. In a world awash in readily available data, we must never forget the story. The story is what makes the data so valuable. That will be the challenge of the future. Data is the commodity. The story differentiates. Rishad writes:

My point isn’t to beat up on algorithms—they obviously are crucial in a digital age—but to suggest that if we leave organizational employees to their own devices (pun intended), they will be reactive and biased in their thinking. They won’t consider options beyond their own narrow beliefs; they will see the trends they’re exposed to rather than explore ones on the periphery; and they will fail to consider that their ideas might be wrong or outdated since their screens are confirming their biases.

If we put too much trust in algorithms, we are faced with three big risks: “The first is when you forget that a human programmed an algorithm and so it has a built-in bias. Leaving it to itself means you are giving up agency. Second, no algorithm, which is about zeros and ones, can truly capture humans who are variable. Third, if you can add no value to an algorithm, you have no job.”

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Why You Should Sponsor Others

The Sponsor Effect

MUCH HAS been written about mentoring. Mentoring is a gift you give to others. And while mentoring can be of tremendous value to the person being guided, it is one-way.

Sponsoring is “all-in.” You have skin in the game. Sponsorship is a two-way, reciprocal investment where both the sponsor and the protégé are working for each other’s success.

It goes without saying that having a sponsor is a huge career plus, but here’s the startling fact, being a sponsor is just as important as finding one. Sylvia Ann Hewlett reports in her book, The Sponsor Effect, “Senior-level managers are 53 percent more likely to have received a promotion in the last two years, if they have a protégé.” In addition, “Entry-level professionals who have a protégé are 167 percent more likely to have received a stretch assignment than those who don’t.” And for those who were actually doing sponsorship right, the results were even better. The point is, become a sponsor. It’s good for you too!

The sponsor must devote serious attention to identifying top junior talent, developing their skills, scrutinizing their progress, and advocating on their behalf (or more practically stated, believing in them and using up precious political capital for them, advocating for them, and providing them with air cover to take the risks that success often demands). Protégés must deliver for their sponsor with stellar performance, rock-solid trustworthiness, and a differentiated skillset that adds value to the team and the organization, as well as to the individual sponsor.

Sponsorship In Action

Take note: “The right protégé will complement your leadership skills and style, provide honest feedback, make you feel that you have extra hours in the day, and enable your influence to persist even after you’ve moved on to your next role or opportunity.”

Seven Steps to Effective Sponsorship

Hewlett offers a playbook to do this right. Taking a chapter for each, she explains how to get started, and answers questions like how do you contain risk? And What tools and tactics work best. After all, “If you’re going to sponsor someone—linking their career to yours—they’re going to be walking around with your brand on their forehead.”

Step 1: Identify Potential Protégés
Know what to look for in the talent you’re considering sponsoring, starting with performance and loyalty. Performance is table stakes. “What you should be concerned about when evaluating a potential protégés is loyalty to you and the organization. The ideal number of protégés is three.

Step 2: Include Diverse Perspectives
Find those who are different from you—in their mindset and viewpoints, or in their gender, age, ethnicity, experience or background. “The point is that protégés can add the most value if they can provide something you lack.”

Step 3: Inspire for Performance and Loyalty
Ensure that your protégés’ values align with yours and use their ambitions to spur them forward.

Step 4: Instruct to Fill skills Gaps
Work with your protégés to develop where they need to grow, whether that’s in knowledge or soft skills

Step 5: Inspect your Prospects
Keep an eye on your protégés to ensure that they’re continuing to deliver in performance and also, most importantly, on the trustworthiness front.

Step 6: Instigate a Deal
Having inspired, instructed, and inspected, now make the ask, specifying in some detail the two-way flow of value.

Step 7: Invest in Three Ways
You now need to be “all in.” Endorse in noisy ways. Advocate behind closed doors. Provide air cover. Commit your political capital and your clout, while providing air cover so that your protégés can take risks. “Rule of thumb: the more significant the investment, the bigger the payout.”

The following example Hewlett shares highlights the value of sponsorship to help leadership groups break out of their shared biases and points of view that so often hold them back.

“In this business today, if you want to grow, you’ve got to be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” Lou Aversano, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather in New York (a division of WPP), told me. “You have to be willing to burn your lifeboats before someone burns them for you.” Yet industry veterans such as himself face a challenge that he calls “altitude.”
“We see things from a certain height, and we have biases based on our years of experience and established ways of getting things done,” he explains. So when Aversano took the helm in 2014 and started a strategic transformation, he reached out to millennial talent that didn’t look at things from this same altitude.
For that, Aversano tapped one of Ogilvy’s employee resource groups, the Young Professionals Network. He tasked its one hundred members (average age twenty-seven) to offer ideas about how to reinvent the business model that underpinned the agency. But the process wasn’t a suggestion box. Aversano and other senior leaders worked with these young executives closely for nearly two months, instructing them on the business challenges and offering feedback so they could grow their strategic chops and offer evolved, informed ideas.
[One of the results] was that Aversano identified a standout potential protégé: a young man named Ben Levine.
After working closely with Levine through the Young Professionals Network, Aversano was so impressed he put him on Ogilvy’s leadership team as a “senior advisor for transformation.” There, Levine has delivered transformative advice. For example, given his refreshing lack of altitude, Levine has been able to map out novel ways Ogilvy can engage with clients. He has also identified patterns that show which of the approaches are most likely to produce revenue and profit. “He charted the path to grow for us,” Aversano says.

Sponsorship requires an investment of time, but it has immediate value. You can begin to see the benefits very quickly. So, find some protégés today. The Sponsor Effect offers a formula to get it right.

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