What I Learned From Geoff
2:45 pm, April 4th | by Beth Devin, Manilla.com
I learned last week that a former colleague and manager had passed away at the young age of 67. Geoff and I worked together at the Charles Schwab Corporation for more than six years. Over the last several years, we kept in touch through email and holiday cards.
Geoff was one of my most memorable and beneficial boss-employee relationships. I have fond memories of working with Geoff and still draw on his leadership advice and mentoring. At times, I find myself using his words and stories when coaching my employees.
In his honor, here are six leadership tips I learned from Geoff.
Know your business. Technology professionals play a critical role in enabling, supporting and, at times, driving a business. I have worked in companies where technology is the end product as well as where it is not the core service or product being offered. In either case, technology leaders must understand their business A-to-Z. We have a 360-degree vantage point that should be maximized. To be a true partner and to have a voice in the business vision and strategy, you must be able to hold your own when speaking with the CEO or your sales, marketing, operations and finance colleagues. Geoff was incredibly knowledgeable and articulate in regard to financial services and the financial markets. (Oh, and by the way, he was an excellent technologist, as well.)
Be opportunistic when hiring. Geoff took a risk when he hired me. Through the power of networking, I was fortunate to have an exploratory interview. There was no posted position and Geoff told me right off the bat that my resume did not pique his interest. However, within 24 hours of a long discussion and interview, I received an offer for a VP position in his technology team. Geoff was decisive when it came to hiring good people. He was bullish on the company and confident there would be future opportunities where I would be fully utilized. He was right. During my time at Schwab, I took on increasingly larger roles and responsibilities.
Listen more and talk less. I recently heard a nursery rhyme that reminded me of Geoff.
“The Wise Old Owl”
A wise old owl lived in an oak
The more he saw the less he spoke
The less he spoke the more he heard
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?
Early in my career, I believed it was important to speak up anytime I had an idea or a thought about a topic under discussion. I was demonstrating my engagement, analysis and smarts. Geoff taught me that less is more. Especially as a leader, it’s important to encourage others to speak up and to listen to diverse points of view. Speaking too soon and too frequently can shut down creative thinking and participation from others. An amazing variety of ideas can surface when you sit back and listen. This is something I continue to work on today.
It’s not always what it seems. I am an analytical animal. I regularly take in multiple data points, assess the situation, and make decisions based on my analysis. In a perfect world, the options and best path forward would be clear. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. I remember a time I was frustrated and took a problem to Geoff. He listened patiently and when I was done, he let me know that there was much more to the situation than I realized. While he could not share the details, he gave examples of other factors to consider. Geoff taught me an important lesson, which is that we don’t always know all of the facts. We need to trust that people are usually doing the best they can, even when it seems otherwise.
Strive for gravitas. In a prior article, I mentioned that when I first received feedback from Geoff regarding gravitas, I had to look up the definition in the dictionary. Gravitas is speaking and showing up with a sense of sobriety and seriousness. There are times for light-heartedness and collegiality. However, as a leader, you must demonstrate confidence and strength to earn the respect of your staff and colleagues. The work at hand is serious business and you’re often making game-changing decisions.
Find the best in everyone. Geoff built a strong technology team at Schwab. Many of my former colleagues have moved on to become senior executives and leaders at other companies. However, we were not all from the same mold. We were a diverse group with a wide range of experience, strengths and styles. Geoff had a talent for bringing out the best in each of us. He encouraged the group to work as a team and to leverage each other’s strengths.
I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with and learn from Geoff. I know I am a better leader and colleague because of it. He will be missed.
Beth Devin is the chief technology officer of Manilla.com, a free, award-winning and secure service that helps consumers manage all of their bills and accounts in one place online and via mobile apps. Get the chance to win $2,500 in cash when you take the Manilla Get It Together Challenge. Learn more here.