This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Alisa Cohn. Where to start with Alisa. She has been named the top startup coach in the world and has been coaching startup founders to help them grow into world class CEOs for almost 20 years. She is also an angel investor and advisor and has worked to help everyone from Venmo to Etsy to Draftkings in their sucess. She has coached CEOs and C-Suite Executives at many of the largest Fortune 500s such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft.
And if that is not enough, she is a top leadership speaker and guest lecturer at Harvard, Cornell, and even the Naval War College. Alisa is the author of the best-seller, From Start Up to Grown Up and I’ve asked her to come on the show to talk everything startup and leadership.
Alisa was in the non-profit world and had a moment of truth when she was working at a university. A provost told her that “you could not manage faculty because the have tenure.” She thought that it could not be. She went to business school at Cornell and ended up focusing on finance and accounting. She ended up working at Price Waterhouse Coopers. She was fast-tracked. After working for some time, she knew it was not what she wanted to do. One Sunday she woke and thought to herself that she hoped to get the flu, so she didn’t have to go to work the next day. 18 hours later, she was rushed to the emergency room with the flu!
She was out for 2 weeks and during that time really thought about what she wanted. She went to a conference and there was speaker and coach. They were amazing. The next day, she followed the coach and watched her speak – she loved it and decided that she wanted to go that route. She took jobs during the dotcom boom and went through coach training. When the dotcom bubble burst, she decided it was time to go on her own and she’s been doing it ever since.
- A leader is like a conductor. They bring people together in service of something bigger and better, coordinated together – and then empowers the people to do the best work of their lives.
- It’s knowing where you want to go and having the vision and then finding the people and unlocking their potential to help in fulfilling it.
Qualities of great leaders?
- Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes.
- The greatest leaders care about people genuinely.
- They do what it takes to move the organization toward the mission.
- They make the hard the calls. They make sure everyone is on the same page.
- Sometimes it means getting in the trenches.
- Great leaders have situational awareness and do what it takes in the moment to be effective and powerful.
How do you teach people to gain better situational awareness?
- It’s first checking in with yourself.
- Second, it is recognizing that all others have their own bundle of emotions, priorities, dynamics, etc.
- Get curious and super observant as a leader and strive to understand these things in people in the context of what you are feeling.
Leaders have blind spots. What are the ones you see most prevalent in leaders?
- Leaders do have very similar blind spots.
- The first one is that leaders sometimes forget they are the leader – the boss. Your suggestions are orders. As a leader, you have authority and need to remember that.
- Leaders don’t realize how much they need to communicate. They need to repeat themselves over and over to make sure everyone has heard them and is aligned on the strategy and vision.
Most important aspect for a startup leader to get right from the beginning? Most important aspect for a leader in a mature company?
- Starting up, leaders how to figure out who to even higher and need to be charismatic enough to get people on board and raise money, etc. It’s working a miracle in some ways.
- Startup leaders must be adaptable and willing to persist against all odds.
- As a company matures, the leader has to be willing and able to rapidly grow.
- Alisa’s book “From Startup to Grown Up,” deals with this.
- All leaders must have emotional self-control and be able to weather the ups and downs.
- Leaders in mature companies must be consistent and be excellent at delegating and making sure everyone is on mission.
Talk to us about dealing with the internal politics of business….
- Any time you have more than one person, you have politics.
- People have different opinions, agendas, ways of looking at things, etc.
- In large companies, status and power is part of politics and politics in companies is reality.
- Leaders need to have organizational awareness and be savvy to navigate for good and not for ill.
- Leaders need to build relationships and network with those have power and align in the right ways with the people making decisions.
- If you want good things for the company, you need to be savvy enough that your voice is being taken into account when decisions are made.
- For startups, it’s about creating a great culture and hiring the right people aligned with it.
- For startups, it is also about being transparent and doing things in the light of day.
Power and Influence – what role do they play in the development of a leader and what should leaders understand about them?
- You must gain power and influence as you get more senior, or you will be sidelined.
- This means you must be networking with and savvy with those that make decisions and the key stakeholders.
- You have to look and see what is being rewarded in the company and make sure that you participate in it.
- Observe your surroundings and the power/influence dynamic in the organization and what drives it.
How does a leader and organization developer their guidepost and values?
- Spend a lot of time thinking through what you want the company and culture to be. It’s worth it to slow down and get it as close to right as you can.
- Sit down and ask what things your really value? What kind of company do you want to work at? What culture do you want to ensure lasts?
Key elements of a successful startup?
- You have to have a lot of magic.
- You have to have a strong view of what you can create and why it is significant in the market.
- You have to get the feedback and take the negative comments and keep going.
- You then must find the right team who are aligned and committed to the mission.
- As you grow, you will need to bring in more senior people who know how to grow a bigger organization – maybe even replacing yourself.
Personal mastery – how does someone learn to live and work at their peak?
- You spend a lifetime doing it.
- It starts with intention.
- How are you going to be better tomorrow than today?
- It’s about learning from the masters and what world class experts do to achieve peak performance.
- It’s also figuring out which things make sense for you to take on and do with discipline and diligence that make the most difference.
What have you learned that is most important for success as an entrepreneur?
- Resilience, resilience, resilience
- The longer you can stay in the game, the better chance of success.
- Keep putting one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing.
What is the most unexpected thing you found on your journey?
- A pivotal moment was in 2006 when she reached out to Marshall Goldsmith.
- She met with him personally and he took her under her wing and helped her get her start.
- She dared to say yes to working with him and it has made all the difference.
Best Quote: The longer you can stay in the game, the better chance of success.
Alisa's Misfit 3:
- Get out of your comfort zone and take more risk.
- Build your network early and often.
- Be someone who is known for helping other people and the rest will take care of itself. Believe in yourself.
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