Be kind: There’s a way to effectively work with people and be kind, empathetic and understanding. Being impactful in an organization doesn’t mean you have to be hard on folks and always ask the most difficult questions. Kindness is very important, especially as you move up and are managing a team — how do you get your team’s buy in, how do you motivate them and how do you work with them to get the results without ‘driving’ them? Everyone is still accountable and responsible for making things happen, but approaching these things with kindness can make the difference.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Julie Cullivan, CIO and Senior VP of Operations, at ForeScout Technologies. With more than two decades of experience from some of the world’s largest cybersecurity and IT organizations, Julie is responsible for running the IT organization, managing cross-functional operations and executing ForeScout’s priorities in partnership with the business functions. Julie serves on the board for Axon, the global leader in connected law enforcement technologies, and is also an advisor to Cobalt.io, a cybersecurity startup. In 2017, she was named Bay Area CIO of the Year by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My journey has been a bit unconventional, it hasn’t been a direct path — it started in finance and led to technical sales, then to go-to-market strategy and operations to CIO. I think a career path is a combination of some accidents, some risks and some karma. And, I mean karma because when I was on the business side, I was not the best partner to CIOs — I wanted things done [borderline] unrealistically fast and put those demands on our CIO, and now today I am facing those challenges for my company as a CIO.
Taking on a role that stretches you can feel overwhelming, but I recommend taking the leap, take that risk. The worst case scenario doesn’t have much downside, you have nothing to lose.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your team?
When I joined the company, the first set of meetings that I schedule were “skip levels” with everyone in the organization. As I was meeting with many individual contributors, what struck me most was the volume of comments that I received about how they had never had the opportunity to meet with a CIO. This really struck me as a leader and was a reminder that building relationships and support at all levels is critical. In the end, we are all people and being inclusive and showing that you care enables teams to do their best work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Early on in my career, I hadn’t traveled much and my first business trip was a nightmare. My taxi didn’t show up, so I was late and rushing to the airport. Upon arriving, I tripped over my bag and fell in front of everyone. If that wasn’t mortifying enough, when I got on the plane I realized my skirt was ripped significantly, which required me to change since I had to go straight to the office. To date, this has been my worst business trip ever. However, instead of this trip discouraging me from future travel, I realized that no matter who you are or why you’re traveling, we are all people and things happen. I learned so much from this and I was able to handle it. Today, I’ve traveled all over the world for work. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself things happen, so you have to tough it out, get through it and learn from it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I was previously a customer of ForeScout, so there was no question that the technology is valuable. ForeScout is solving a problem that just about every company is struggling with — our solution quickly provides device visibility and actionable intelligence in any environment. When the opportunity came up, I was thrilled to join ForeScout since we are at a pivotal time of transformation — from a technology, partnership and even use case perspective — and being able to come in amidst this time to be a part of the change was a no brainer.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are constantly working on new things to deliver an innovative solution for our customers. This means we continue to evolve and change in order to remain a leader in the industry, including refreshing our offerings, refining our business model, and developing new partnerships with other industry leaders.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
I would offer the same advice to all leaders — men and women. It’s important for leaders to make an impact, be passionate about their area of expertise, drive change and do what’s important for a company. This means playing into their strengths and being authentic. When you are honest, transparent and real, individuals and teams respond well and they’ll trust their leader even during difficult conversations.
Being authentic and knowing yourself enables a leader to truly recognize his or her strengths and, although more difficult, also acknowledge areas of weaknesses. True leaders understand this and will hire to fill their areas of weakness, enlisting the help of others in addition to hiring the right talent.
Lastly, we often get so busy and feel obligated to say ‘yes’ to everything. A leader knows when to say ‘no’ based on priorities and understands the impact each decision can have on his/her team. Although it’s not easy, saying ‘no’ when appropriate can support the camaraderie of a team, build trust and motivate a team to really thrive.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Honestly, the size of team doesn’t matter, leadership is leadership and the traits remain the same — be impactful, passionate, authentic, honest and transparent. These traits will enable a leader to drive change, motivate their teams, and overall do what’s right for the company.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
A recent story of a person who supported me to tackle a milestone in my career is Coco Brown from the Athena Alliance. At a time where I wasn’t sure if I was ready to join a corporate board, she really gave me the confidence to not only take the opportunity, but to do it now. Although, I wasn’t sure the timing was right, she reminded me there’s no time like the present and it’s turned out great. This is a tough question because I’ve truly had a great network of both males and females support me along my journey and I am grateful for them all.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I’m a huge advocate for empowering the next-generation of professionals. I enjoy speaking with up and coming talent to motivate and educate, provide guidance and answer questions in effort to offer support along their journey. I find the majority of the time that my mentees already know what to do, they just need the right validation or nudge to do it! And recently, my male colleague and I became the executive sponsors the new ForeScout Women’s Network. It’s a place that both men and women can come together to discuss challenges, successes and gain the tools to further build their careers. Bringing goodness to the world is honestly an ongoing, continued effort both professionally and personally.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Take risks: Everyone will come across a point in time where they ask themselves if a certain move should be made — whether it be a career/company move, a role change or even starting a family. Personally, my risk was stepping into a sales role, which eventually led to CIO after starting in finance. I was working in corporate finance and thought that was my career for the long run, but someone suggested I take a sales opportunity and after initially thinking no, I decided to take the leap. If it didn’t work out, I could always go back to finance, but it was a calculated risk that I decided to move forward with and I the long run has been a great decision.
- Be yourself: a lot of people are encouraged not to be yourself. But, it’s really difficult to pretend and it takes a lot of energy to not let yourself be authentic. I’ve taken a lot of time doing assessments and understanding who I am — I have rough edges that I work to soften a bit. But, it’s important to be yourself, speak up and ask questions. People will figure it out quickly if you’re not being yourself.
- Lose the guilt: Often times we put the guilt on ourselves and it’s okay to let some of that go. As a mother of two, I felt guilt putting energy and focus on my career and wondered if that meant I’m not putting the right amount of energy and focus on being a mother. Similarly at work, I wondered if I was not doing what I should have been doing since I had a number of external priorities as well. Letting go of the guilt as well as learning to say no are important. Make the best choice for you personally and prioritize based on what offers you a balance from both a personal and professional perspective.
- Ask for help: This is an ongoing lesson. Going to someone for help is not a sign that you are weak. Having a network — whether inside your company or outside — of people that you can go to for input on an issue or bounce ideas off of is immensely important. My network is not just professional relationships, but we have become friends as well and it’s a two-way street — the information sharing and knowledge is invaluable.
- Be kind: There’s a way to effectively work with people and be kind, empathetic and understanding. Being impactful in an organization doesn’t mean you have to be hard on folks and always ask the most difficult questions. Kindness is very important, especially as you move up and are managing a team — how do you get your team’s buy in, how do you motivate them and how do you work with them to get the results without ‘driving’ them? Everyone is still accountable and responsible for making things happen, but approaching these things with kindness can make the difference.
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. 🙂
Parity: It will take effort from all genders to demonstrate that modern organizations can successfully operate with a truly diverse workforce. One of my top professional priorities has been fostering the professional growth of women across the globe. There is a fundamental issue in the technology industry, we are not doing enough to encourage young women so they can grow their careers at the same time that they want to grow in their personal lives. I have also made it my mission to encourage the growth and success of personal lives as well, celebrating the ability of women to make the right choices for themselves, their companies and families.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Just Float, Every Pebble is not a Boulder”
– Kate Spade
How can our readers follow you on social media?