It takes a very special type of leader to shepherd a company – with its culture, people and products - from good to great. Today’s leaders must possess a paradoxical mix of two important and seemingly conflicting qualities: professional ambition and personal compassion. Leaders should be, rightfully so, highly ambitious, yet the focus of their ambition is not only for themselves but for the greater good - a rising tides mentality of sorts. And at the same time, they aren’t afraid to demonstrate acts of personal compassion. Indeed, a natural leader is ‘the heart’ - rather than ‘the head’ of an organization. Meet Nina Simosko.
Nina recently served as President and CEO of NTT Innovation Institute Inc.(NTT i3), the prestigious Silicon Valley-based innovation center for NTT Group, one of the world’s largest ICT companies.
Previously, Ms. Simosko was responsible for leading the creation and execution of Nike Technology strategy, planning and operations worldwide. Prior to that, she was Senior Vice President of SAP’s Global Premier Customer Network (PCN). At SAP, she led both the PCN Center of Excellence and SAP’s Global Executive Advisory Board. During her eight-year tenure, she was a part of SAP’s Global Ecosystem & Partner Group which was charged with continuing to build and enable an open ecosystem of software, service and technology partners together with SAP’s communities of innovation. Additionally, she served as the Global Chief Operating Officer for the worldwide Customer Education organization, responsible for driving more than half a billion euro in global education software and services revenue. Currently, Ms. Simosko serves on the advisory boards of two early-to-mid stage technology companies: Reflektion and AppOrchid.
According to Nina, women and men contribute equally to an organization. “I personally don’t see a difference in the roles of women versus men in business. Everyone is there to make their teams and their business successful”, says Nina. “True innovation is hard work, not magic, and it takes execution to make it real and sustainable. When we innovate, we are making something real that has the potential to deliver significant change in the world and alter the lives of people in positive ways.”
“True innovation is hard work, not magic, and it takes execution to make it real and sustainable. When we innovate, we are making something real that has the potential to deliver significant change in the world and alter the lives of people in positive ways.”
The Best Company Policy: Trust, Honesty, and People
So how does one build a lasting business? “A lasting and innovative business can only be built on top of a base of meaningful relationships that reflect honesty and transparency”, says Nina.
For Nina, everything goes hand in hand. Talented employees are exceptionally hard to locate, procure and in fact difficult to retain. She believes that a leader should treat this talent pool with absolute respect and focus on creating a culture which encourages a spirit of learning.
“To drive success in any organization,” Nina says, “You need to hire people who are better than you, specifically in areas where you do not profess to be the best. This means truthfully acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses within the team. Leaders need to know how to ―find a better person rather than always needing to ―be the better person in their organization.”
Building a meaningful company culture is of acute importance. “Much of my energy as an executive is focused on building deep working relationships and cultivating a culture of compassion and innovation that naturally enables self-directed inquiry, learning, and collaboration among the company’s diverse team members and enterprise customers around the world”.
“I love to see people grow into new positions and contribute at a higher or more demanding level,” Nina says. “When that happens, I feel I’ve done a good job of encouraging or inspiring people to challenge themselves, establishing a work environment that fosters such personal and professional opportunities that enables team members to continue to grow. Watching that happen is one of the most satisfying parts of my work.”
Undeniably, success in a culture as inimitable as in Silicon Valley, is hard for entrepreneurs and start-ups. But it is during difficult circumstances that a true leader emerges. Leaders should be change champions. “I believe that there is no single path to success. Many different paths can lead to the same successful outcome,” says Nina.
The entrepreneur’s mindset is one which is always seeking dragons. It is a mindset that is open to ideas, challenges, and experimentation. It is a mindset that integrates risk into the very experience of its decisions. She advises budding entrepreneurs to start now and keep escalating, “It is never too late to cultivate a growth mindset, but it is a challenge that comes with obstacles. Some of these obstacles are external – can be identified and overcome, while others are internal and require a deeply personal response. Successful leaders are constantly working on their growth mindset and expect the same from their teams.”
People and Purpose before Profit
People are an organization’s greatest asset, but the reality is -- companies will do away with that asset quite rapidly if it is costing too much money or if profits are impacted. In her role as CEO, Nina’s strategy for leading in an innovative environment is simple. Let's first understand the people, and then we can do business. That's fundamentally different than saying let’s first understand where we make money and then deploy people against that.
Over the many years Nina has spent working as an executive at several of the top-tier technology companies in Silicon Valley, she has learned that people come to work searching for purpose and meaning, much as they do in their everyday lives. People ask themselves why the organization that they work for exists.
Nina has been featured as a keynote speaker at several global corporate conferences. At these events, she has spoken before thousands of attendees about her views on managing people. She understands that if individuals come to believe that a company’s sole mission is to make money for shareholders, they will not find the environment or management style to be attractive.
"Successful leaders are constantly working on their growth mindset and expect the same from their teams"
Rather, they are looking for a more noble purpose, which doesn't necessarily mean something along the lines of 'we are going to end world poverty'. It can be a software company saying, 'our purpose is to connect communities via infrastructure' or ‘our purpose is to empower innovation in technology so lives are improved’ or ‘our mission is to develop new technologies so that our children will learn better and faster.’ People can go to work in those kinds of organizations knowing that they're making a difference, that they have an opportunity to be part of the equation in a people-centered view of the world.
We Are All Leaders
We are all leaders in our own right. A leader is not just a title. It is men and women, who in each moment, act based on their principles along the lines of - I'm going to act in the right way. I'm going to do a good thing here. It is in that instance that they become a more authentic and compassionate leader.
“As a leader, my job is to demonstrate to my colleagues that I believe they are authentically valued. Each and every one. In my experience, I know that by providing people with opportunities to grow and to contribute at a higher level, they will feel appreciated,” says Nina. “And, if I do all these things and more—I will have succeeded in inspiring – which is and will be among my greatest achievements.”