“Understand your team members” With Candice Georgiadis & Linda Hand

Understand your team members, what each of them are good at, where they need help and then trust them enough to push them beyond what they know they can do. They will rise to the challenge, but no matter what, do not let them fall without your hand there to guide them. As a part […]

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Understand your team members, what each of them are good at, where they need help and then trust them enough to push them beyond what they know they can do. They will rise to the challenge, but no matter what, do not let them fall without your hand there to guide them.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Hand.

Linda is the CEO of Prealize Health, an AI-enabled health insights company that transforms healthcare from reactive to proactive so that more people can live healthier lives. Linda brings 35 years of experience to her role as CEO, with an emphasis in organizational leadership, product development, solutions delivery and go-to-market strategies across a diverse portfolio of industries. She has also provided management consulting services to several emerging enterprise and venture capital firms.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My father worked for IBM for 37 years. He brought home a pamphlet when I was in 7th grade that laid out the career path for computer scientists at IBM. It had about 17 job levels, and at the very end of it, it read: “If you are good in math and science (which I was), then this is the career for you, and especially if you are a woman, because there are so few females in this discipline.” I decided at that moment to chase a career path as a Computer Scientist! I graduated from UC Berkeley with a CS degree and programmed for several years before I realized that I could make a much bigger impact by leading teams.

I worked for several early stage companies across all different industries but, as a technologist, never wanted to go into healthcare or government offerings because my mentors always warned that those industries were too slow to adopt. I eventually came to healthcare via some management consulting I was doing for VCs and their portfolio companies and got hooked on wanting to solve the many complex challenges presented, while doing something for the greater good. After leading a company providing clinical technology to life science companies developing new treatments, I joined Prealize almost 2 years ago to revolutionize healthcare using AI and machine learning.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I joined Prealize in late September 2018, knowing fully well that I would be raising Series B in early January 2019. That gave me five weeks to pull together a team whom I had only just met, in an industry that I had not been in previously, to create a product strategy, a 2019 strategic plan and our 3 year vision! I trusted my years of experience, my intuitions about the team from my limited experience with them, picked a few to work intensely with, and got started. The amazing board members, thought leaders and advisors that the founders and investors had attracted to support the company were incredibly insightful, helping us to pressure test our assumptions, challenging my hunches and experience, truly contributing to solidifying the plan. We closed a successful Series B round at the end of April 2019.

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?

When I was first starting my career I didn’t think that ANY mistake was funny! I was far too seriously evaluating everything I did and trying to improve. That said, when I think back to my very first job out of college, I was employed for maybe all of four months and was the youngest and least tenured on the engineering team, when my boss decided the day before she left on maternity leave to change her decision from having the most experienced male run the organization to having me be the manager while she was out. I had to work hard to be an empowering boss without losing my ability to go back to being a peer upon her return. That mostly meant joking around and trying to develop rapport, while doing my best to project manage and report on all of the efforts of the far more experienced senior team. It was one afternoon in the hallway that I was bantering about with “the guys” (there were only two of us women in the team out of 12), when I referred to one of them using a term that, in my household, was only ever used as an “endearing” term for someone you truly liked. Within seconds, a booming voice from down the hall called out “Who said that? Who just used that word?” We froze, my face flushed bright red, and I spoke up that it was me. It was one of those moments where you truly have to choose accountability, but would prefer to run; where the fight or flight kicks in. The big boss asked me to come to his corner office to explain myself. He asked me if I knew what it meant. I fumbled to explain the whole endearing thing, which he wasn’t having. He scolded me deeply and asked me never to use that word again. I apologized for my ignorance and skulked out of there sheepishly. To this day I have never spoken that word again.

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?

I have had so many wonderful mentors along the way. Managers early in my career that saw something in me that I did not, or just could not see, and then inspired me to develop a specific skill. They made me want to learn how to uplift others in that same way. Senior leaders, like Dennis McEvoy and Umberto MIlletti, who recognized and rewarded my integrity and courage, deepening my resolve to always lead in that way. Tom McKinley, with his mentorship, generosity of time and true partnership, continually expands my understanding of what it takes to build a business and govern it with those same values.

But it was Jim and Michele McCarthy who taught me about courage and vulnerability as a leader and how to bring it to my work consistently and intentionally. I was building a new division at the time, in an organization that had legacy peer organizations, led by extremely politically motivated individuals. The environment became increasingly toxic the more success my team achieved. Backstabbing and withholding information, telling mistruths behind doors, were regular behaviors of one peer in particular. I found myself starting to withhold information, not quite telling all and hating my job and the person I was becoming. The McCarthys were instructive in getting me to see that even though I was experiencing a hunt-or-be-hunted environment, the only way to respond was to hold true to my integrity and behave as if I were not in the jungle watching my back. It took a lot of trust and courage to do that, but the method was surprisingly effective. The hunter did not know what to do when faced with truth, trust and openness when he knew I knew he was not trustworthy. This was probably one of the biggest lessons of my career — to learn what it really means to live my values, no matter what. To know that I was living and behaving and modeling what I wanted in my culture and organization grounded me as a leader, it changed the dialogue and it ultimately won out.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I am committed to getting in my daily workouts to manage stress. I cycle, hike, ski, walk, stretch, strengthen my body in some way, every day, to release the buildup of anxiety that comes with leading a fast-paced startup. For high stakes meetings and decisions, I really need to prepare early and often to feel like I have done my best. I might frame up an outline, some key points and objectives and then “noodle on it,” while I ask others for their help and insights and differing perspectives. For talks and presentations, I adhere to the “Practice Practice, Practice until I can do it in my sleep” approach. I always get nervous before a public speaking engagement and find that I need to admit that I’m scared and nervous and work through the worst thing that can happen, before I am ready. Then I need to turn that nervous energy into passion and excitement before my heart races out of my chest. I usually practice so much that I can “see” the slides without looking at them, but it doesn’t always protect from a brain freeze, which I suffered at an annual meeting. My entire talk track for my first two slides was a story about the business that the person who introduced me told as I was walking to the stage. I froze, blanked out, no ideas coming about what to say instead, just cut off at the pass. It took me a few minutes to regroup and decide that I should just go to slide 3 and start there!

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Diverse teams can be stronger teams, but must be inclusive first and foremost. Such teams make better decisions, they incorporate different perspectives and they value, encourage and actively seek out the input of others. Executives in a diverse and inclusive team are more collaborative and are more likely to value that in their own teams, thus building strong, well rounded organizations of their own. To intentionally and deliberately recruit, attract and develop a variety of individuals starts at the top, in the executive suite and on the board. One of my key decision criteria for joining Prealize was the value of diversity embodied by the board, the team and the advisors and founders fostered inclusiveness and debate throughout the interview process.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

It starts with sharing core values that not only support, but require inclusion and equity, the willingness to challenge our subconscious biases and the courage to refuse to tolerate anything less. We need to make active commitments to each other to challenge and change. Awareness and introspection have been critical for my team, especially since the death of George Floyd. We realized that we could do better, that simply “saying” was not doing. We realized that we weren’t doing enough to promote and attract a representative community of employees, that we really didn’t even have a true baseline from which to measure. We became founding members to sign the ParityPledge™ in support of People of Color (we had already pledged in Support of Women when i joined). Public statements about what we are doing, what product innovations we are funding — all these things have been very important in elevating our team’s focus and attention on racial equality.

In terms of fairness and equity, I regularly review compensation across my organizations to ensure parity at all levels and encourage my leaders to do the same. In a prior job, one of my directors came to me asserting that she felt she was unfairly paid, compared to males in the company. While this was categorically not the case, I had to point out that she had an inequity on her own team, where a male employee was making less than a more junior woman. She could not see her own bias as she attempted to explain the difference — the woman had been a better negotiator than the male when she joined and the disparity was too great to make up in one performance cycle. Inequities do not just occur in one direction.

We also need to understand and track why people stay, get promoted or leave our organizations to have a clear view of how ingrained our values are across the company and throughout our processes and interactions. We have added interview questions at offer decline and employment exit to try to get more insights in this regard. This can help us understand the experience a candidate has through the interview process as well as an employee’s experience within the company. We are just starting to understand how to reflect this in our customer interactions and processes as well.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The CEO has the ultimate responsibility for the successes or failures of the business. She needs to not only be on top of, but also in front of, the risks and opportunities that are available to be mitigated or leveraged. It is a non-stop job, with “no rest for the wicked,” as my mother would say. CEOs must manage not only their business but their response to the markets and influences around them, seeing the implications of things before they come to fruition so that timely, optimal decisions can be made.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

One of the biggest myths is that ‘it’s lonely at the top.’ As CEO I am solely accountable for the business results, but building the right team and partnering with them well, including my board members and advisors, keeps me from feeling isolated and alone. I feel tethered to the team by asking them for help and guidance, though ultimately owning what comes of if.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

There are so many articles and books written on this topic, but the most prominent thing is that expectations are different, both externally and internally imposed. Women are much harder on themselves than men, expecting to know something like 90% of how to do a job before feeling “qualified,” whereas men will typically feel qualified at around 30% of the qualifications. In my experience, with males dominating leadership positions across industries, men supporting men, hiring in their likeness, they are less likely to hire a diverse team and more likely to set a higher bar for performance for women than men. I’m generalizing here, and there are wonderful exceptions to this; male leaders who do everything they can to create equitable opportunities for all shapes, size, colors and genders. But women just have fewer role models in the leadership ranks, fewer women leaders to raise them up, and the women that are there don’t always see that as their responsibility.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

The thing that comes to mind is the constant weight of knowing I am responsible for the team and their livelihood. The successes and failures of the business affect the team, their partners, their children, their homes and college funds. I did not think I would carry that burden as profoundly as I do.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Having a tolerance for a certain level of ambiguity while having the courage to make decisions and move an organization forward in spite of what you don’t yet know, is both an art and a skill. You need high levels of accountability and self awareness to be a successful executive in that environment.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Understand your team members, what each of them are good at, where they need help and then trust them enough to push them beyond what they know they can do. They will rise to the challenge, but no matter what, do not let them fall without your hand there to guide them.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I have been mentoring high potential women leaders for some 25 years, volunteering for Menttium Corporation, to be matched annually with women, people of color and aspiring executives. It is rewarding to nurture and support these incredibly smart and capable executives in their journeys to greatness. I continue these relationships well beyond the first year assigned and with several, we are into our second decade together. My former colleagues and mentees, also exceptional women leaders, have gone on to develop and inspire the next generation of high potential women leaders as well. I am super proud of the people I have had the honor to work with in this capacity.

And frankly, I am proud and honored to have been a working mom for my whole career, raising four strong, successful daughters and two sons that understand how important it is to promote and support equality, diversity and respect while bringing your absolute best to your colleagues and your customers. That has now expanded to five granddaughters!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

What I wish I knew before I started:

  1. Work/Life balance is a choice, but you need a supportive environment :. Having worked throughout my career in industries dominated by males, often those with partners supporting the primary care needs of their children and homes full time, I often found myself working incredibly long hours, struggling to “keep up” with four kids at home (teenagers and toddlers) to raise, to get to school, to programs, to help with school lessons, while holding down a full time job and with a spouse that traveled internationally three weeks of every month. Male leaders made it “seem” unacceptable to have to leave early to pick up the kids or come late to drop them off, or work from home with a sick kid. The stories in my head were that I would not, or could not, be promoted if I let these challenges interfere with my work. I eventually learned that those were stories that I was choosing to believe and I had the power to work elsewhere and chose otherwise.
  2. Focus on results and those things you can control. Results matter and, in the end, those key performance measures are all that anyone remembers. Keeping my head down and my eyes on the prize helped me when encountering highly political peers trying to distract me with minor problems blown out of proportion. When I focused on results, I did not fall for the “look over there” strategies that could set me off track.
  3. As much as you believe your work defines you, it is “just a job.” In the grand scheme of things, it is also probably one of many you will have in your life. I recall fretting over the possibility of missing a key deadline with one of my peers at Sybase and him telling me “It’s just a job” and thinking, “wow, I thought you cared!”. Turns out he did, he cared a lot, but he also had perspective. In 20 million years, no one will have remembered my missed deadline. It will have been a spec on the windshield. I will have wasted a ton of time and energy worrying about it. So…back to #2.
  4. Stuff happens and it will inevitably happen to you, it’s how you handle it that matters. If you could not have stopped it, then all you have is the aftereffect, so deal with it. So many times, I needed to just regroup and face the current situation and found it very unhelpful when my boss was overreacting, escalating or blaming, which focuses on blame not results. I learned to focus on outlining a plan for a retrospective root cause analysis, while laying out the timeline for solving the current situation. So again…back to #2.
  5. Ask for help, ask often and even when you don’t think you need it. This is probably my biggest lesson and one I continue to work at. I was raised to be strong and tough and to try to study and know as much as I could. Needing help seemed to imply a weakness. At a strategic offsite, I was having a discussion about needing to develop more trust amongst my leadership team and Michelle McCarthy, who was teaching me how to boot up my team, mentioned that she didn’t trust me. I was mortified! I challenged that I was probably the most trustworthy person she knew — how could she think that of me? Her response was that she didn’t trust me because I didn’t ask for help. She taught me that asking for help takes strength and vulnerability and that people connect more authentically to those who trust them enough to show their vulnerabilities. Modelling that simple and very powerful behavior empowers a culture that allows for trusting collaborations, open and honest dialogues. It has changed the way I lead.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

In these times of needing to go extra, extra miles to make right what has been wrong for so long, I would inspire the “Got One? Give [at least] One!” movement. For every opportunity we enjoy, we must use both hands to raise another up. For each laptop I have, give one away for distance learning or working from home. For each trip to the grocery store, donate a meal to a family in need. For each paycheck, pay it forward to someone who lost their job with COVID. Are you in?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Presume good in everyone.” Starting with the basics that most people have good intentions and that I might not be able to “see” everything I need to see about or within a situation before arriving in it, to “presume good” means I enter the dialogue assuming that and then ask questions to fill in details and learn more. It sets me out from the start on a “seeking to understand” journey and allows me to be clean and pure in my approach to my questions. I have no hidden agenda, no ulterior motives, no assumptions and I get to the truth faster than dancing around predispositions and foregone conclusions. I have taught so many people this and it has changed their lives as quickly as it did mine, but it has been an especially useful tool for those questioning whether their biases, subconscious or otherwise, get in the way of their interactions with people.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

I would be honored to have a private breakfast or lunch with Melinda Gates for her extraordinary work in healthcare, and frankly life care, with women in disadvantaged situations, making a phenomenal difference in their lives. Her book, The Moment of Lift, was quite inspiring and the work she and her husband are doing during this pandemic, as well as with other seemingly insurmountable challenges, is tremendous.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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