Dec 10, 2018

Nurturing the Next Generation of Leaders: Mike Giordani

Often, professionals get promoted because they’re great at their jobs, but management demands a new set of skills which they may not have yet.

A few weeks ago, we brought together Mike Welsh, L&D leader at Stripe, Cody Wright, Founder of Plumeria and former Senior Instructional Design Architect at Apple, Thomas Igeme, COO & Co-Founder at for a panel discussion. They talked about how they nurture new leaders on their teams who are not only experts in their fields, but also strong communicators and managers.

Our Co-Founder and Head of Success Mike Giordani moderated the discussion at San Francisco’s American Bookbinders Museum. We reached out to him from our New York office afterwards to find out how it went and what he learned.


Natalya Hirth: How would you characterize the three panelists’ perspectives on nurturing leaders?

Mike Giordani: Cody Wright talks a lot about leadership development as it relates to the transition between individual contributor to leadership—how to make that transition work. He brings a business perspective, how to make it happen strategically and tactically.

Mike Welsh, his perspective is all about the personal lifelong journey of learning—self-reflection, self-awareness. He doesn’t see leadership as detached from developing yourself as a human being. They actually go hand-in-hand.

Thomas Igeme is all about the team science and what the research says—what does it take from the team’s perspective, what does effective leadership look like, what do effective teams look like?


NH: Did you learn anything new from the panel?

MG: There’s one thing that Thomas said that really resonated with me, which is that the definition of leadership is expanding. There isn’t this static, “This is what it means to be a good leader,” without the context of the team, which I think is really interesting.

So as you think about the old definition of leadership—the ones who are outgoing and assertive and strong in their point of view—that may work for some teams, but not for all teams. Now it’s really about thinking about the leader that this team needs, and it’s not about plugging in any great leader without taking the team into account.

Another idea thing that he shared was the idea of unlearning. So it isn’t like an additive process when you become a leader. It isn’t about, “Hey, you’ve got this skill set, let’s add to that so you can become a leader, and this is the gap,” but it’s about unlearning. So the very things that made you a great individual contributor will make you a bad, ineffective manager.

NH: Like what?

MG: Problem-solving is one that he shared that comes to mind. Being an IC is all about being a problem solver, so you’re identifying problems and you’re solving them yourself.

As a leader, nobody wants a leader who’s coming in a problem-solving all the time. They want a leader who’s going to create an ecosystem for problems to be solved. That’s what engages people—that they’re part of the problem-solving process.

If you bring that, as a leader, you’re actually disengaging, disempowering, and making your team less able to develop the muscles to run on their own.

NH: So you don’t want to hog all the problems?

MG: Right. And it’s sort of like the adrenaline rush that you used to get from actually executing on something, crossing it off your to-do list, now you have to find a way to get it through other people and let go of that control.


NH: Did anyone in the audience ask a great question or one you weren’t expecting?

MG: There was one point where somebody in the audience asked about performance management. It was something along the lines of at what point do you give up on coaching someone? At what point do you decide that they’re not a good fit, that they need to transition out? Where do you draw the line and discern that this person is just not a good fit for this role?

NH: What did they say?

MG: They said the person is not ludicrous. They know. If they’re not meeting performance goals, they should know. As a manager, you need to be able to face those difficult, uncomfortable conversations, so that they know where they stand. If they know where they stand, it’s a joint conclusion. It’s not you saying, “You don’t belong here anymore.” It’s more like, “What’s the solution to this? How can we move past it?” and allowing them to bring solutions to the table, and seeing what they bring.

They may come to the conclusion that this isn’t for me anymore. My time is over. You can help them through. It’s about keeping that feedback loop really tight, and engaging that person in the dialogue so that it’s not, “You’re being fired today,” and it takes somebody by surprise. It should be an ongoing conversation.


NH: Has your perspective on leadership development changed as a result of this panel? Will it change the way you try to nurture new leaders on your team?

MG: Yeah, I think it did. There were three takeaways that really stood out to me.

From Mike, I think the biggest takeaway is self-reflection, lifelong learning as part of personal development way beyond your job, and also challenging the assumption that only way to grow in your career is to move into a management role. At Stripe for example, it’s not considered a promotion, even from a compensation standpoint. The path to earning more is not to step into leadership. You can earn the same amount of money as an IC who grows in that direction.

Cody talked a lot about how work has evolved over time, dating back to the industrial revolution—the role that HR paid versus the role it plays today, the role that managers played versus today.

Thomas’s point was about the more holistic view of the team versus the single manager and looking at an organization as a living organism as opposed to a system, creating those kinds of connections. He believes that the main job of a manager is to foster inclusion, and to create an environment where everyone around the table is heard.

NH: When you look at your team do you think there are things you want to do more or less of than you were doing before?

MG: Yeah, I think there’s two things. One is being more open-minded, the idea that it isn’t about me and my perspective. It’s about creating an environment where people will push back and think differently, and not seeing that as a negative, but as a really positive sign of team health—embracing that conflict of different opinions, different perspectives, and not seeing that as “Ooh, something’s flawed,” but as something to be celebrated.


NH: Yes, or even, “My ego is injured,” versus, “we’re getting to a better solution together.” What is your top advice for others who are looking to improve their approach to leadership development?

MG: I would say the main question is how am I serving others. I think if you do that, everything else falls into place. It’s easier to keep your ego in check, easier to make sure that you’re actually taking care of people and putting them first.

Another one that comes to mind is actually caring, and showing people that you care. It goes a long way. Especially in startups, in fast-paced environments, where so much change constantly happening. One of the best ways to manage that change is to work alongside your team and show them that you care and that you hear them through that discomfort and chaos. I think if you do nothing else, if you do that, everything else falls into place.


NH: Do you think you’ll meet with any of the panelists again?

MG: Oh, yeah, totally. We’re already talking about how we’re going to record a podcast. Between the three of them, there was a sense of connection and the beginning of long relationships. There’s a lot of common ground. They see things slightly differently, but when they came together, we had a much more interesting way to look at the topic.


NH: Anything else you’d like to add for our readers?

MG: I would encourage people to talk to me if they have work that they’re doing, ideas that they have that they want to share—if they have ideas for conversations, panels, events, webinars, if there’s something they want to put out there. They can email me at, tweet me at @mikegiordani or connect on LinkedIn at /mikegiordani.



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