Tag: leadership

Leading Through Uncertainty Time

Leading Through Uncertainty Time

This came in my mailbox from Harvard Business Review. It resonated greatly with my current context: dealing with new scopes, zooming in on net new focuses, and tackling greater challenges.

Sharing it here as a way to remind my future self. You can read the whole article on HBR here.

Facing Uncertainty – It’s All About Mindset

Uncertainty is unavoidable. As a manager, you need to be prepared to lead your team through murky waters, but doing so requires getting in the right mindset yourself. Here are six tips to help you shift your perspective:

1. Embrace the discomfort of not knowing. Move from a know-it-all to a learn-it-all mindset. You don’t need to have all the answers.

2. Distinguish between “complicated” and “complex” issues. They require different solutions.

3. Let go of perfectionism. Instead, aim for progress, expect mistakes, and recognize that you have the ability to continually course correct as needed.

4. Resist the urge to oversimplify and come to quick conclusions. Take a disciplined approach to understand both the complexity of the situation and your own biases.

5. Don’t go it alone. Connect with your peers who have their own set of experiences and perspectives to draw from.

6. Zoom out. Taking a broad, systemic view of the issues at hand can reveal unexamined assumptions that would otherwise be invisible

Interviewing tips for interviewers

As a manager, one of the most important tasks is to hire the right talent for the team.

Well, it might be the most important one.

Yet almost everyone dreads interviewing.

How can we avoid asking the type of “tell me about yourself” question out of habit? Or how we can get to the real point instead of asking “tell me about a time you struggle”?

Well, after having two coaches, being mentored by 4 industry veterans, 15 years in this industry, conducting over 110 interviews, I had a few tips for effective interviewing to share.

Technical screening round

The goal of the screening interview round is to ensure we have the right candidate when it comes to onsite interview rounds. The screening interviewer should filter out unqualified candidates as soon as possible. Your time is valuable, and so is everyone on your team.

With that, here are things you should do:

  • Do the homework:
    • Research candidate before the interview: use your 360-degree lens, dig in LinkedIn, scan the CV to find patterns: is she a fast learner? Is she pushing her out of her comfort zone? Was she a team player or a solo? See if she can show her potential to grow in this position. Don’t ask superficial questions such as “tell me about yourself”.
  • Go hard on the technical side with a nice tone:
    • Don’t settle on easy questions. It won’t help. Remember: “A player attracts A player, B player attracts B, C, and even F player”.
    • Push the candidate until she said, “I don’t know”. Great people know their limits, they don’t try to show that they know everything. You need to push to see what her boundaries are to set her up for success if you hire her.
    • Don’t stop at the first solution:  A solid candidate always tries to improve, even if she found a solution. She would find a working solution, lean on that, improve for certain dimensions. Need to trade memory for speed? Or readability over coding speed? Ask the candidate if the algorithm can be further optimized in terms of time & memory usage? Will that work with +100 million items, or with just 1MB of RAM?
    • Provide assistance and support when the candidate is stuck. Give reasonable hints, coachable talents pick up hints very fast.
  • Be open-minded and look for room for improvements
    • A phone interview is not easy for both sides, if the candidate has trouble understanding, offer help. The goal of the screening interview is to measure candidate problem-solving and communication skills.
  • Make it an open conversation: 
    • The interview doesn’t have to be one-way, and ideally, it should be like an intellectual conversation so give open suggestions, listen and give feedback appropriately.  Don’t impose your opinions and knowledge on the answer: if the candidate chooses Python even though we code in .NET / JavaScript, that’s fine. As long as she demonstrates solid data structure and algorithm expertise, the choice of language and style differences can be ignored.
  • How to start a Problem Solving challenge:
    • Start by asking what’s the general algorithm? Does it “sound” like a solution, is it working?
    • Start to draft an optimal algorithm then proceed to implement

Onsite interview round

Firstly, the onsite round is to ensure the candidate will be a good culture fit, with solid communication skills. Secondly, it is to have a broader assessment of the technical skills. It is also about presenting our team, our culture, our people. It is to find a colleague that we’d love to work with on a daily basis.

Onsite interviewing is a chance to leave good impressions on the candidate so that even if she won’t get the job, she will be an ambassador for us. Remember interviewing works both ways: candidates evaluate interviewers at the same time so find your way to create an uplifting experience.

  • Sync up beforehand:
    • Discuss with the hiring committee the type of questions and topics which each interviewer will cover.
    • Try not to have multiple interviewers interviewing on the same topic – unless it is critical for the job. Your hiring committee should be representative so that each person can probe the candidate on a dimension.
  • Ask open-ended questions: 
    • Ask a problem that has multiple solutions so that we can see how the candidate handles ambiguity and unknowns.
    • Aim for the problem that the candidate never solved before but can be solved with additional data and help.
  • Separate well-practiced answers from real ones:
    • 5-whys: keep asking why. A great answer is one that can go deep through multiple layers of that onion.  Sometimes, great people will throw their hands in the air and say “I don’t know why”, but by then you would have enough data to consider.
  • Share feedback as soon as possible: 
    • Ideally, once the hiring committee finishes interviewing, everyone should meet and provide feedback when the memory is still fresh. Every hour passing by, the quality of the feedback degrades.
    • The trick to avoiding herd mentality is to have everyone put down their vote before they meet: it’s either Yes or No – do not accept Maybe! If one needs to switch the vote, there must be really strong reasons.
  • Be professional, move quick
    • In case the hiring committee cannot meet soon, keep the candidate posted about when she can expect the output. If the team can meet and agree this is the right talent, make a case with your decision-makers.

Well, thank you for reading this far.

This post is by no means a complete list, it rather serves as a starting point and hopes it spark your interest in interviewing. And the Aha! feeling when you find that great talent? It’s totally worth it!

Have other opinions? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

Stanford LEAD, an amazing journey

Stanford GSB, 2021

Over, but not done

Yes, it is here: this week I received my Stanford LEAD graduation certificate in my mailbox after a year-long journey.

After 1 year, 9 courses, 10 teams, 83 submissions, and hundreds of self-research hours, I can proudly wrap up another chapter in my life-long learning journey.

How it started

It was in August 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for over a year, I decided to turn this challenging time into a memorable time. At work, I was leading my teams with a net new initiative, a critical mission to help my company grow 5X over the next 3 years. At home, I was expecting a new baby and at the same time, my 2-year-old son was ready to go to preschool. We’re also moving to a new home.

One might say there was never a busier time.

But I did it. I chose to go to Stanford. One month after submitting my essays, references, and video presentation, I received the Stanford welcome letter.

Reflection on the course

Throughout the year, I had the opportunity to meet Stanford GSB’s world-class faculty. From renowned professors, inspiring course facilitators to amazing fellow LEADers – leaders of their own organizations, all have been very welcoming. It’s been an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to learn, share, and practice all aspects of leadership.

The contents were excellent, with each course being designed to be very interactive. The case studies were fantastic with relevant industry examples and many were from Harvard (yes, HBR articles are weekly must-read). I must say I loved the readings and case study, but not so much for written submissions 🙂

The course structure was pretty flexible with offline readings and 1-hour Zoom call every week with professors and course facilitators (CF). Our CFs were wonderful partners and many of them were in fact LEAD alumni. I was truly humbled to have my coaching sessions with many of them.

Fun fact: each Stanford LEAD cohort is given a unique name representing the GSB spirit. In the past, we have had names such as Vanguards, Explorers, Pathfinders – mine is Navigators. It meant so much when the whole world was navigating uncharted water with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Final thoughts

Being a life-long learner, I’d wholeheartedly recommend Stanford LEAD to anyone who aspires to be a leader in your organization and considering. To help with the course selection, I will share the courses I took, together with my experience in another blog post.

Here are some excerpts for a preview:

  • Principled and Purposeful Leadership
    Rank: A
    Leadership lessons through self-reflection, looking inward, looking outward, defining your own values, mission, then defining an execution plan for your mission within the organization. Executive coaching sessions available.
  • Critical Analytical Thinking
    Rank: A+

    Frameworks for thinking logically, realizing biases and deriving reasonable conclusions, plenty of practicing with team and debates, excellent reading materials & examples on how some legendary leaders in the industry made their decisions.
  • Financing Innovation: The Creation of Value
    Rank: A-
    Corporate finance, financial statements (P & L, cash flow, annual reports), method to calculate WACC (Weighted Average Cost of Capital), understanding startup funding series (pre-money, post-money value).
  • Strategic Leadership
    Rank: B+
    General leadership strategies, defining a firm’s core strengths and advantages.
  • Communicating with Impact
    Rank: A+
    Solid techniques and strategies, applicable frameworks for effective communication.
  • Decision Making
    Rank: A
    Frameworks and tools for well-rounded, sound decision making process with imperative and data-driven approaches.
  • Customer Experience Design – A Neuroscience Perspective
    Rank: A-
    Put customers first, see through their lens, leverage the X framework to convert customers from low → high-energy engagement.
  • Persuasion: Principles and Practice
    Rank: A+
    Superb psychological insights & comm strategies. Simple yet effective examples through leadership stories.
  • The Innovation Playbook
    Rank: A
    Imagine you’re a startup founder with a problem & an idea: these are the steps to take your product from concept to POC to launch.