Q. What other things did you learn early in your career?
A. Over the years, something I really had to learn was how to truly listen. Sometimes people act like they’re listening, but they’re really formulating their own thoughts in their head. When I would get feedback along the way in my career, people would say, “You’re not a very good listener.” I would think I was, but somehow I wasn’t expressing that, or people didn’t think I was listening to them.
So I really spent a lot of time, even in the earlier years, of biting my lip, slowing down and listening to what they were saying.
Q. When did you get the feedback that you needed to be a better listener?
A. Well, it was when I came to Qwest 21 years ago. I probably ignored that for a good five years. But as your responsibilities grow — more departments and individuals and bigger initiatives and bigger budgets — you start paying attention to that.
I reached a point where my department was so big, I couldn’t do all the work or I would have killed myself working 24/7. When I reached a point where there was no way to get it done, except through influencing individuals, that’s when I had to take a step back and say: “Well, I can’t muscle my way through this. I can’t do it myself. I can’t get through this. I’m working weekends and nights, and we’re not getting anywhere, we’re not getting the results.”
You also get to a position where everything’s filtered when it comes to you. So you have to dig under, and the only way to dig under is to listen. People have to believe you want to listen; otherwise you’ll get the corporate gloss-over — “Everything’s fine, don’t worry.”
Q. Any other lessons?
A. I realized people want a leader. I think prior to that I was mindful to not tell people what to do. I was in a phase where I didn’t want to boss everybody around, so I would let them circulate whatever it was, an idea or decision. In fact, it was my role as the leader to give direction, to give vision, and therefore sometimes make those difficult decisions.
Q. How did that realization come to you?
A. With most of the important things I learned about leadership, it was usually because we weren’t hitting our numbers. When things are going well, you think, “Oh good, everything we’re doing is right.” When things aren’t going so great, that’s when you reflect and you say, “What am I doing that isn’t working, or what do I need to change?”
Q. How do you know when to step in and make the decision that needs to be made?
A. It’s very much on instinct and past experience. Even the instinct is driven by watching people’s body language, watching how they’re presenting. I mean you can just ask an open-ended question, and if three people wiggle and one person doesn’t, you can figure, O.K.,…