In the Jewish culture we use a Yiddish term, mensch, which refers to a truly good person. It’s more than just being kind or nice however, a mensch is ethical and acts with integrity and honor. For too long it has seemed that the ideals that define a “mensch” are the antithesis to the ideals that define a successful business person. I believe strongly, however, that acting toward an ideal set of values inspires every part of your life and, in fact, that doing good is good for business. Doing good however, is not as easy as it seems. Not because it’s hard to be nice, it’s not. But kindness alone does not equate to business success. Doing good sometimes means enforcing unpopular rules, making the difficult decision, or disappointing someone else. It can mean making a choice that is right for the collective good, but feels very wrong to an individual. Sometimes being a mensch means you have to fire someone who is underperforming or is disruptive to the business because it’s the right thing to do for the organization at large, and ultimately for the affected individual as well. Having a clear moral compass and working to not deviate from that compass, while also being transparent in your decision making, is what breeds business trust and ultimately success. A good leader is one who enables his or her employees to do their best work and to succeed. When it is clear you have your team’s best interests at heart, it becomes easier for them to trust your leadership and have a sense of confidence in your decision-making. It is within this trust that you are then given tacit permission to hold your team to high standards and expect they can achieve and excel. I’d like to be at the forefront of the Mensch Movement, one that places value on building open, honest and ethical environments where leaders are committed to enabling their entire organization to thrive.
I had the pleasure to interview Paul Lipman. Paul is the CEO of BullGuard, a leader in Smart Home Cybersecurity. He has extensive experience building and leading security and consumer technology companies, most recently leading BullGuard’s acquisition of IoT security company, Dojo Labs. Before joining BullGuard, Paul was CEO at iSheriff, a recognized cloud security innovator. Prior to this, he held the CEO role for Total Defense, a high growth consumer security business, which was acquired by Untange in 2014. Paul has also worked in leadership positions at Webroot, Keynote Systems and Accenture. Paul holds an MBA from Stanford and a Bachelors in Physics from Manchester University. Outside of work, Paul is an avid snowboarder and amateur astronomer.
● Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
I was born and raised in the United Kingdom, however I have lived in Silicon Valley for the last 24 years. The bulk of my career has been spent in start ups and technology, and my leadership experience has been with companies that are geographically dispersed organizations across multiple continents. For the last decade, I’ve led cybersecurity companies.
I got into the cybersecurity industry in a very deliberate and interesting way. In 2006, I had a PC that became unusable due to infection. A colleague recommended a particular anti-malware product, which was very effective. Two weeks later, purely by happenstance, a recruiter called me about a senior role with that company. I’ve been in the industry ever since.
● Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
One typical business activity that ended up quite humorous was shortly after I started working with BullGuard. I wanted to bring together the executive team to have a strategic offsite, one where we could focus on planning and preparation for where we wanted to take the company.
It was a fairly last minute decision to host the offsite in the UK where most of the team was based. At short notice the only available hotel to accommodate us was the LEGOLAND Resort in Windsor. Here were a bunch of grown adults in meeting rooms with LEGO tables and building blocks everywhere, and at 3 pm every day they’d bring around a candy tray to the meeting rooms. My hotel room had a large dragon across the wall! It was such a comical juxtaposition — trying to make critical decisions for our global organization while being treated like a group of 8 year olds on holiday.
● How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
In my current company I lead an organization of 150 employees, distributed across eight countries and in 10 different time zones. This can be a challenge, especially considering our executive leadership team is also spread out across the world. For this reason we have been deliberate in cultivating a work culture that is open and communicative, where employees at all levels have the opportunity to communicate individually and collaboratively with their peers and leaders on a regular basis. Teams speak daily for short periods of time to quickly address problems and highlight successes, ensuring everyone is on the same page. We also seek to use physical space to our advantage. We have found when cross-functional teams can work next to each other, progress is greatly increased.
● What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
The biggest challenge in managing a company so geographically diverse, including its management team, is building a consistent and well-defined company culture. When people are spread out, the informal conversations that help breed familiarity and trust among colleagues are much harder to replicate. As wonderful as collaboration tools can be, it’s hard to convey humor or emotional context through a typed message.
One example of this is being sensitive and accepting of each other’s cultural holidays and events. Depending on where you live, certain times of the year or days on the calendar can have very special meaning. It can feel off-putting when colleagues don’t understand, or when they make side comments about taking time off. Equally, management can be inadvertently offensive by assuming that all departments and locations want to celebrate a milestone in the same way.
Diversity is one of the greatest traits you can build into your team, as it makes the whole company stronger and more effective. However, it’s a combined effort to appreciate and celebrate diversity in its many different forms and allow it to blend into your wider, global company culture.
● What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I’ve had the opportunity to lead a lot of different teams in my career and I’ve found a few principles that are true no matter the type of business or the individuals on your team.
First of all, put people into roles and situations where they can do their best work. This may seem obvious, but its actually much easier said than done. This requires you to understand an individual’s strengths, even when they themselves might not know, and sometimes place them outside of their comfort zone. To do this, you need a culture that supports risk-taking. I’ve often been asked to hire based on previous experience but I find hiring the right personality traits is far more effective, because so many of the skills necessary can be learned when an individual has the right passion, drive and intellect.
Next, treat your employees like you would want to be treated in their position. It’s easy as a CEO or manager to forget what it’s like to be lower on the org chart. We’ve all worked for people, myself included, who manage through fear, uncertainty and doubt. Don’t be that kind of leader — take the extra time necessary to see a different point of view and try and be transparent and empathetic to the people who work with you and for you. It doesn’t mean you bend over backwards or overlook bad habits or behaviors. It simply means you lead with transparency, provide clear and direct feedback, push when necessary and always treat employees with dignity and respect.
Finally, and perhaps one of the hardest, talk less and listen more. It’s easy to think you have the answers because of your position, insight or experience. And other members of the team might cultivate that idea by believing you’ll have better answers than they do. Ideally however, you’re talking 20% of the time while you’re listening the other 80%. This naturally cultivates trust and understanding, while also instilling confidence in the team’s ideas and considerations.
● Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
I absolutely agree with this sentiment, and as a long time CEO have given this concept a great deal of thought. I consider it from my own perspective and what has led me to leave a company or position in the past. In the end, it has boiled down to three things:
1) Do I enjoy spending time with the people I work with and for? The truth is we spend far more of our waking hours with our work colleagues than we do with family and friends. Life is far too short to be miserable with your team or your boss.
2) Do I feel the work I am doing is valuable, and am I making a contribution to the company’s overall goals or mission? It’s really vital to have insight into your piece of the puzzle and be able to make a direct connection to its broader value within the organization. This requires some thought from the company and making a concerted effort at giving visibility to the individual and encouraging ongoing conversations with leaders who can provide the bigger picture.
3) Am I learning? Developing skills? Moving forward? Learning new skills and growing in your career results in people feeling excited and empowered. Becoming stagnant is never the recipe for success — people often work best when stretched just a little outside of their own comfort zones. At BullGuard we’ve developed a very effective leadership training program based on direct feedback from our employees and what they thought would be most beneficial for them and their careers. The response was so strong we’ve built it out into a wider curriculum program, proving that individuals are happiest when they are progressing and they will seek out those opportunities whether in their current role or somewhere else.
● Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, ideally an example from your experience)
1) Set very clear priorities for the company. I’ve found the ideal number is no more than five, or they lose their efficacy. At BullGuard, we do this every quarter and the company goals are then cascaded down into department priorities and objectives, team goals and, ultimately, individual goals. This drives tremendous focus and co-ordination across the entire organization. Though it requires investment of time and rigorous discipline to get this right, the payoff is substantial.
2) Be willing to say no. This is a critical discipline but not always an easy one. By nature we want to be seen as helpful and encouraging, but saying yes to everything can quickly derail an organization. In any company I’ve ever run I’ve found we always have at least three times the number of worthwhile initiatives than we have the resources to execute them. It’s hard to choose between two good things, but being extremely focused enables us to maintain a fast development pace and ensure high quality products are delivered to our customers. To ensure we’re making the right decisions, progress against the company-level objectives is the first thing we review & discuss in my weekly executive team meeting, the first thing that we present in our monthly Board of Directors meetings, and the first thing that we present in our monthly company “all hands” meeting.
3) Daily huddle/stand-up meetings, or calls for distributed teams, are one of the most effective tools for synchronizing the group. We typically keep the call to no more than 10 minutes and hyper focus only on those issues that need resolving, and deltas to schedule/progress. This isn’t a status readout from every team member — no one would pay attention to that, and the details would get lost. It’s also not a problem-solving session, as there is no way to do that in 10 minutes! Rather, it’s a way to very quickly surface issues, immediately identify the parties who can fix the issue, and then shine a bright light on progress towards resolution.
4) Use physical space to drive synchronization. For time-sensitive, mission-critical projects, we have all team members literally sit together for the duration of the project. Nothing work betters to drive collaboration than physical proximity. For example, we take a conference room and make that the “war room” for a particular project. Team members decamp to the conference room, work side-by-side, and utilize whiteboard space (every wall in our office is a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard). We have found this drives tremendous pace of progress.
5) Continually talk with your teams on a “skip-level” basis. I hold two daily 1:1s with employees across the company — all functions, and all levels. This gives me unique insight into what’s really happening within the business, and it helps uncover unique opportunities, surface issues rapidly, and gives every employee a direct voice to the CEO. By having these meetings I have realized that what gets reinforced gets done — focus controls behavior, and questions control focus. For these reasons I frame these 1:1s around the same set of questions every time: 1) what are you working on right now and how is it going; 2) if there were one or two changes that you could make in your area to make our work more efficient, more effective, or better for our customers, what would those be?; 3) same question but from the lens of the business overall; 4) what can I help you with; 5) do you have any questions for me; 6) do you have any advice for me, or what would you do differently in my shoes?
● You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In the Jewish culture we use a Yiddish term, mensch, which refers to a truly good person. It’s more than just being kind or nice however, a mensch is ethical and acts with integrity and honor. For too long it has seemed that the ideals that define a “mensch” are the antithesis to the ideals that define a successful business person. I believe strongly, however, that acting toward an ideal set of values inspires every part of your life and, in fact, that doing good is good for business.
Doing good however, is not as easy as it seems. Not because it’s hard to be nice, it’s not. But kindness alone does not equate to business success. Doing good sometimes means enforcing unpopular rules, making the difficult decision, or disappointing someone else. It can mean making a choice that is right for the collective good, but feels very wrong to an individual. Sometimes being a mensch means you have to fire someone who is underperforming or is disruptive to the business because it’s the right thing to do for the organization at large, and ultimately for the affected individual as well.
Having a clear moral compass and working to not deviate from that compass, while also being transparent in your decision making, is what breeds business trust and ultimately success. A good leader is one who enables his or her employees to do their best work and to succeed. When it is clear you have your team’s best interests at heart, it becomes easier for them to trust your leadership and have a sense of confidence in your decision-making. It is within this trust that you are then given tacit permission to hold your team to high standards and expect they can achieve and excel.
I’d like to be at the forefront of the Mensh Movement, one that places value on building open, honest and ethical environments where leaders are committed to enabling their entire organization to thrive.
● Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
● A professor of mine at the Stanford Graduate School of Business gave me a piece of advice early in my career that has stuck with me over the last two decades, and has informed many of the career choices that I’ve made. He said: “There are two kinds of people that really matter in a business: people who make things, and people who sell things.” This doesn’t mean that other functions and roles, such as finance, marketing, customer service etc. aren’t important (they certainly are!) but rather that value accrues to individuals who build depth and excellence in building products and services, or translating those products and services into revenue. The competition for talent in these areas has never been fiercer, nor the rewards more significant. I’ve applied this “life lesson quote” to my own career — learning skills and developing experience on the “build” side of the house through product management and engineering leadership roles, and on the “selling” side of the house through business development and general management roles. This combination of skills has proven to be an invaluable foundation for my current role as CEO.
Originally published at medium.com