Many of us are looking for a leader with a powerful vision to make the world a little bit better. We want a bit of hope and not everyone has the inclination to try. So when someone comes along with some brains, some balls and unstoppable drive, we're only human to want to help build a dream….. Has anyone watched The Dropout on Disney +? If you haven't and you want to watch it then best to stop reading now as there's a lot of spoilers ahead. It’s a drama series about Theranos, the high profile San Francisco medical startup of which the CEO, Elizabeth Holmes, was convicted of fraud. She was one of the most successful women in STEM in 2000's and was worth $4.5bn at her peak. After her conviction in January 2022, she is now worth $0. It was quite the fall from grace. Elizabeth Holmes was incredibly intelligent, Stanford alumni. She was a high achiever and had the strongest belief that she could be the next Steve Jobs, that she could change the world. She dropped out of college, because she was so convinced that this was her moment. She hadn't thought about doing anything else apart from being a billionaire and nothing was going to get in her way of winning. She put herself in a position of the CEO at the age of 20 but had no idea what was needed. She had zero training or experience. She was surrounded by media chatter; a female CEO in STEM! She's so young and blonde and pretty! Everyone had faith in her vision because she TRULY believed that she could make it work and through learning to be a brilliant storyteller, she effectively brought everyone else along with her. She was the walking epitome of the American Dream. Yet she had been completely disconnected from the science of the product for years as she had shifted to the CEO position and was responsible for getting the money for the business. Her role models and influencers had told her 'just get the f*cking money' and worry about everything else later. She ignored her technical team and instead listened to the people that called her brilliant, that gave her accolades and called her a hero. As much as I'd like to believe that a woman in STEM could achieve such great things, I'm actually not surprised that this was such a failure. Holmes lied because her ego didn't want the story to end and she didn't know how to admit to herself and to those around her, that the idea was a failure and that it had never worked consistently. I was already aware of the story having watched the documentary Out for blood in Silicon Valley. Watching the show, I found myself noticing parallels with what I had seen in my career in product development. Although I don’t agree with the fact that Holmes knowingly committed fraud in the name of collecting money from investors
I understand the pressure which comes with feeling that you simply can't say no to upper management.
In the series, technical leaders laughed at the concept of the timelines given to them to make things work; they were years behind. But the people at the top had sold the idea to someone else, so they were ignored. This is a harsh reality and It’s a real shame that the financial side of things will always take precedence over technical.
In my experience when you say no, you will have 5 people pushing back to you saying 'oh yes you will'.
Through years of working in this type of reality, I learned a lot about how to manage this. I learned the value of saying 'yes…. But'. Always inform them of the timeline or technical limitation to saying yes. And always make sure you have someone in the right position who can back you up. Not only do you need those who will build you up and celebrate the wins, but also those who will help you see the realities and call you out with bullsh*t when you need to hear it. To educate you when they recognise there are gaps in your understanding, but respect what you can bring to the table. I have always been lucky to have someone around me that knew the moment to 'call it'. Usually someone of more authority or with the right connections and sway to tell the right story.
Structures and support are key aspects to making any new endeavour happen.
In my new business venture, I ensure I engage with people who I can speak the same language, who have already taken their paths off piste. I listen to the warnings from my friends and I hear what it is that people find slimy about coaching (cookie cutter approach, hard sales tactics, clients not being listened to) and ensure that I stay true to my intention to help others. Yes, it is important not to succumb to the naysayers that fear change around them and in you but it's important to stay grounded and listen to the hard facts and call bullsh*t when things continue to not work. Are things too good to be true? Are they consistent and repeatable? Does this serve your clients or only you? How many people are you talking to? What's within budget? What's within the scope of the project? These are all important to consider when to make the final call. Unfortunately the imbalance of finance vs technical power is a negative aspect of our capitalist ideals and I wonder how many more stories there are out there, where those with the dream simply didn't listen and cost the lives, jobs and money of many. (I also watched WeCrashed which is another similar story of a dangerously ignorant ambitious dreamer) To help explore who you would need to surround yourself with on your dream to make the world a little bit better, here is a little more about my coaching process