CEOs: Show Your Vulnerability, and Win Over Customers and Employees


 I learned something recently about the value of vulnerability. Before I tell you the lesson, I’ll share a little bit about myself and my frame of mind as the lesson came to me. 

I live in San Francisco, and my family lives in Southern California. My mom has cognitive impairment that seems likely to turn out to be Alzheimer's disease, and as a result, she resists any kind of outside help. On one recent weekend, my mom was hospitalized, and I went down at the last minute and spent several days helping navigate that difficult situation. I was "on" the entire time I was there, and when I returned home, I was exhausted, stressed, anxious and irritable. 

I took sanctuary in my Sunday New York Times and serendipity led me to my lesson, which brightened my spirits considerably. I’ve been following the career of Cedric Bru, the CEO of Taulia, a maker of invoicing software, and was pleasantly surprised to see him interviewed in The Corner Office column, with the headline, "Trust from the Top Down." 

Cedric wore his heart on his sleeve in this interview. He talked about instilling trust in his employees by making it acceptable for himself, his management team and his staff to be vulnerable. He also shared personal bits of information. He told about how he grew up working in his family's vineyards in France. He said his experience as a rugby player taught him to trust his team. And he gave a powerful example of how he revealed his own vulnerability to his staff, telling them that he was going through a difficult time because he was separating from his wife. 

I now know enough about Cedric to feel a real connection. That knowledge makes me want to promote Taulia as a product and place to work. 

A few days later, I also read that Taulia had decided to use Xactly, a sales compensation data analytics tool, which will help the company establish a fair system for paying its salespeople, through competitive salaries and commissions. Xactly’s claim to fame is that it uses technology to help businesses give employees the right incentives, so their interests align with the company’s interests. Building a compensation plan with Xactly should help Taulia hire and retain the best salespeople possible. That’s smart business. 

Who wants to work with a CEO who candidly shares personal challenges, who recognizes you have to trust your team, and who wants his company to have the most competitive compensation for its sales team? I do; do you? 

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O'Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps CEOs of public and private companies who want to build, grow or refresh their boards with an aim for inclusion. 

Thanksgiving epiphany — respecting cultural differences.

My Thanksgiving this year was the typical blend of fun and stress, as I hosted a feast for an international crowd. And while I wasn’t exactly expecting any epiphanies, certainly not about how to respect people’s cultural differences, that’s exactly what I got — and I am thankful for it.

I live in San Francisco, one of the most liberal and welcoming cities in the world. My boyfriend was visiting for a couple of weeks. He lives in another country, where he was born and raised. He spent his childhood in a remote, mountainous village where his mother and grandmother cooked in a one-room stone home with a hole in the ground for overnight baking. He is now a chef at a famous restaurant in a metropolitan city. I grew up in Southern California where we celebrated Thanksgiving traditionally: with roast turkey and my maternal grandmother’s homemade gravy and mashed potatoes, and my paternal aunt’s famous pumpkin pie.

I have roasted turkey and hosted Thanksgiving only once before, several years ago. This year, my boyfriend and I were hosting 15 guests, who hailed from the U.S., El Salvador, Taiwan, Germany, Turkey, Australia and Ireland. I had a file with notes and recipes from my Mom and clippings from Gourmet magazine.

I struggled from the beginning. Maybe you have a fondness for your family traditions, as I do. I feel I am a good cook. I know I have strong opinions. As we started cooking, I found myself anxious and argumentative about how things should be prepared, most importantly the turkey. Let me I remind you, my boyfriend is a professional chef. However he had never roasted a turkey, so I assumed my family tradition and Gourmet magazine should supersede my boyfriend’s ideas regarding how to cook a turkey (as well as side dishes such as stuffing, which he also never made before). I should mention that I typically follow recipes like a hawk follows a gopher on a hillside, relentlessly. My boyfriend is more free-form. When he is asked to follow a recipe, he reacts like a kindergartner held back from recess, sullen and squirmy.

We had many push me, pull you conversations, particularly regarding the traditional dishes. I forced myself to let go on some things, but on others, I held my ground, such as bringing the turkey to room temperature before roasting. The preparation ultimately became about collaboration and compromise. The turkey turned out fabulous, and I learned a few new ways to prepare some of my other old favorites, and the guests — and my boyfriend and I — had a marvelous time.

The next day, I reflected on the irony that my work is promoting diversity and inclusion, and yet when I was confronted with differences from my own traditions, I was extremely challenged.

That’s where my epiphany came in. Take my Thanksgiving experience and consider how you might be challenged by cultural differences in your own organization. Here are three tips to guide you in embracing those differences and creating a more inclusive environment, even if that environment involves preparing for a holiday gathering:

1) Acceptance. Accept that you grew up with rules, preferences, traditions and routines that may differ from the experiences of other people.

2) Unlearning. Be willing to “unlearn” what you think you know to be true or right.

3) Dialogue. Transparently share the challenges you are having regarding the different or unfamiliar, particularly if there is something you hold dear, like family traditions.

I help CEOs who want to build or grow diversity and inclusion on their boards. The more I do this work, the more I am humbled by my own unconscious and conscious biases. For that, I am thankful.

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC).

You Can Achieve Your Goals Without a Mentor or Sponsor

You may face adversity in life. You may think you need a mentor or coach to help you. You may wish you had someone sponsoring you in your efforts. Well, you can achieve your goals without any of those things. I want to share an inspirational story about someone who has achieved great success despite extreme adversity, a break with her coach, and an outrageous lack of sponsorships.

Have you heard of Claressa Shields? I have asked several people this question, and only one person said the name sounded familiar. She is a two-time gold medal winner of a male-dominated sport, boxing, yet she does not get the media attention she deserves. She won her first gold at the age of 17 in 2012, the first time female boxing was allowed in the Olympics, and she did it again this past summer in Rio.

I first learned of Claressa only by happenstance. I was in JFK airport eating a salad and sipping a glass of wine after a trip to Portugal where salad was difficult to find. (Wine was easier to come by in Portugal, but I was happy to find it at JFK as well!) I was happily settling into my meal and scanning the multiple closed-caption televisions for something of interest when Claressa and her coach caught my attention.

I could not hear the commentary, but I could feel the power, dedication, commitment and strength Claressa had. There was a tangible bond between her and her coach. I am not a boxing fan, but I watched as long as I could until I had to dash to my departure gate to head home to San Francisco. I jotted her name in Evernote and planned to research her further.

When I got home, I discovered a documentary about her, “T-Rex: Her Fight for Gold” and watched it on Netflix. Wow… Her story is so powerful. Claressa Shields has unyielding grit, commitment and determination. She started boxing at eleven years old, as a child in Flint, Michigan. Her father, who had been in prison when she was a young girl, prevented her from boxing before then. Her mother, who struggles with substance abuse, tried to maintain a home for Claressa, even if that meant Claressa slept on a bare mattress on the floor.

Claressa pursued her goals with tremendous dedication. Her coach would tell her to take a day off, but she would show up the next day at 5:30 a.m. to train before high school. That is commitment.

Her coach seemed like the nicest guy and a very talented mentor for Claressa. He had one notable flaw: he was controlling when it came to personal relationships. He had a rule that members of his boxing gym could not date each other. That may be fine in theory, but real life sometimes has its own ideas. Claressa became close friends and romantically involved with a teammate. They defied their coach and attended their high school prom together. Her coach lost his temper when he found out. It seemed to me he was projecting his own personal issues on her. He had divorced twice and didn’t go pro in boxing. I feel his control was also possibly sexist. I got the sense he did not want her to be distracted from future opportunities by getting pregnant or married.

Although she won a gold medal with him in London in 2012, she cut him loose before the 2016 Olympics. She was so committed to her sport that she went to Olympic training camp without a coach. She vigilantly trained herself, but she was eventually assigned an older, Irish coach whose approach to training was not aligned with hers. They ultimately reached a mutual understanding and, as you already know, she won her second gold medal.

After her first gold, she and her first coach thought corporate sponsorships would be rolling in. Claressa told one potential corporate sponsor how she loves beating people up. The sponsor, and her coach, advised her not to say that ever again. She could not understand why, but she agreed. Still, the sponsorship did not come to fruition.

I find myself randomly checking the Internet to see if she has yet signed any corporate sponsorships. I would love to see corporations signing Claressa to endorsement deals, but it does not appear to be happening. A friend noted that companies could hire Claressa to help young girls and her community by starting a boxing school, sharing her expertise and influencing others to excel as she did. Yet she still has not received the endorsements, sponsorships, fame and accolades she deserves.

Claressa is an inspiration to me because she overcame huge adversity, remained determined to succeed even without a coach, and came out on top smiling all the way through. The only time she wasn’t smiling was after her one and only loss. By the way, she graduated high school, another goal she wanted to accomplish, after her first gold medal and before her second.

Claressa is literally fighting to achieve her goals. I want you to join me in pursuing your goals with the tenacity of Claressa Shields!

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps CEOs of public and private companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.

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Walking The Talk. Even Diversity Advocates Must Battle Unconscious Bias

I was not entirely comfortable producing a four-minute branding video for my business, but I know I have to put myself out there. I didn’t realize how much I would learn in the process — that I would reveal my own unconscious biases, it would give me greater understanding of what CEOs go through in filling their board seats, and enable me to “walk the talk” of my business in a much more effective manner.

As an introvert, I try to live by the saying, “Do something every day that scares you.” As a small business owner, I have to promote my work or I won’t have a sustainable, successful business. So I got out of my comfort zone, hired a videographer, and started interviewing people on camera for my branding video. My goal was to showcase my work helping CEOs build diverse boards of directors. I picked three great connections for my interviews:

*Tom Kalinske, a CEO who has a long history of successes in the toy and gaming industry.

*Olga V. Mack, a young attorney who launched a company in high school and sold it to her competitor years later. Olga is now general counsel at a reputable tech startup and serves on startup advisory boards.

*Penny Herscher, a CEO with activist investor experience who is on public and private boards.

I was extremely self-conscious in the first two video shoots, like a deer in headlights. I felt very uncomfortable in the spotlight. By the third interview shoot, I felt a little more relaxed.

After completing the three interviews, my videographer, who is also a journalist, wanted one more shot of me interviewing a board candidate via Skype. In thinking of who I could ask to do that, I reflected on who I already interviewed. I was mortified when I realized I was not “walking the talk.” I had diversity in gender and geographic origin, but no people of color (POC) nor LGBTQ community members in my interviews. I had gone to my immediate network, which tended to look like me.

In making that omission, I experienced the same issue CEOs and nominating governance committee chairs find when they look for board members: unconscious bias. I then made a conscious effort to ask my immediate network for referrals to executives who are people of color, in the LGBTQ community, or intersecting members of those groups. It did not surprise me when each person I asked had multiple referrals. Eventually, I called Darnell Kemp an investor who was perfect in giving me the balance the video needed, declaring, “In my day-to-day business world, I don’t see people like me, and I don’t see women.”

I am thankful for the experience I went through. I have renewed empathy for CEOs and nominating governance committee chairs who struggle to diversify their boards.

Are you experiencing unconscious bias when you or your executive search firm recruits board members? I can help. I am your conduit to a diverse network and, thanks to my video experience, it is a growing one!

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps CEOs who want to build or grow diverse corporate boards.

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Do It For The Right Reasons: Boards With More Women Grant Higher CEO Pay

Gretchen Morgenson’s “Fair Game” column in the Sunday New York Times Business section is a must read for CEOs, their teams and all investors. Gretchen is known for uncovering discrepancies, inequities, and potentially illegal maneuvers in the corporate world. The headline on this particular column, “Where More Women Are on Boards, Executive Pay Is Higher,” really grabbed my attention. My first thought was, this is a win-win. You get more women on boards and CEOs will be more highly compensated.

Alas, first thoughts are not always what they seem. As I dove deeper into Gretchen’s article, she pointed out several issues that countered my initial excitement.

The most disturbing notion was what may be behind the number: pressure women feel to avoid upsetting anyone in the boardroom. In the column, Nell Minow, a corporate finance expert, said executives are “looking for a consensus builder in a director. What that means is someone who doesn’t rock the boat.”

I was disappointed to learn that women in the boardroom are caving to the consensus; after all, the consensus may be wrong, or it may not be what is best for the company or its shareholders. In her column, Gretchen talks about how this may be the result of the hard road these women had to travel simply to get on a board. Even though they are often extremely successful and accustomed to speaking their minds, now that they’ve made it to the boardroom, they are not willing to go against the CEO for fear of losing their seat.

This attitude seems to fly in the face of the intent for diversity and inclusion. Yes, you need a consensus to move forward and get things done, but if you rely solely on a CEO and his or (in the rare case) her consensus-building directors, you will lose the statistically proven profitability benefit of a diverse board. You want a diverse board so you’ll hear perspectives you haven’t considered, not just so it can tell you what you want to hear.

Companies can remedy or alleviate this issue by implementing onboarding procedures that include discussions of the best practices for broaching opinions or ideas that differ from the CEO’s. Input on this can come from the CEO, board members and an outside vendor. Onboarding procedures should also include, in writing, the philosophy and values of the company. CEOs who embrace diversity in their corporate culture will have an easier time in allowing for differing opinions on their board. In the end, they’ll also have a more profitable company.

That’s because, after all, having diverse boards and workforces really do lead to better financial performance, and it’s got nothing to do with sycophantic behavior. See this Wall Street Journal article about how companies with more women and minorities in the upper ranks tend to turn in better financial performance, and this Yahoo Finance article about a study showing that companies with women on their boards outperformed those who only have men on their boards.

Smart CEOs don’t just want a rubber stamp. They want someone to give them honest answers. In the words of University of Notre Dame researcher Craig Crossland, management professor at the Mendoza College of Business: “Diverse groups tend to engage in discussions that are more thorough, more contentious and more likely to identify problems with the topic at hand.” CEOs need that frank and open dialogue, which will lead to better decisions.

Add women, people of color and LGBTQ community members to your board and encourage their divergent ideas, and you will make more money — not only for you, but for everyone in your company.

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps technology companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.

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Achieving Equality One Step at a Time

You never know where inspiration will strike or what form it will take. I was surprised to find myself getting a valuable lesson in equality, and taking my own small step to fight bias, at Dreamforce, the massive technology conference sponsored by Salesforce that took over San Francisco’s Moscone Center in early October.

I was not the typical Dreamforce attendee. I went because I wanted to hear one of my personal heroes, Congressman John Lewis. I had read his graphic book, “March: Book One” (co-authored by Andrew Aydin and fantastically illustrated by Nate Powell) earlier this year and was moved to tears by his raw, humble accounting of his painful experiences during the civil rights movement. He shares his history from childhood through his adult years, including being inspired by and meeting Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rep. Lewis was joined by tennis legend Billie Jean King and Bernard Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, on a panel titled “Equality Summit: Road To Equality Through Business, Sports & Government. Pattie Sellers, executive director of Fortune Most Powerful Women Summits and Live Content at Time, Inc. and a three-decade veteran of Fortune magazine, moderated the discussion. (You can see the panel discussion here.)

For me, John Lewis was the anticipated and real highlight. Billie Jean King was a nice surprise and Bernard Tyson was a breath of fresh air. Part of John Lewis’ history includes leading protesters on the infamous bridge in Selma, Alabama; he was the first to be struck by a police officer, a blow which resulted in a concussion. He has been arrested 40 times or more for civil disobedience and said he anticipates more arrests. He cannot be silent if he sees injustice. He said, “Leaders must lead.”

Billie Jean was lively, genuine and heartfelt. When asked how she felt after she was outed in the early 1980s, she paused and said it was devastating. She was about to retire and counted on advertising sponsorships for her future livelihood. They were all retracted the next day. She was one of the original proponents of equal pay in tennis, which came to fruition in 2007. To this day, tennis is the only sport with equal pay for men and women in its marquee events. Billie Jean said professional athletes are in an influential position and must speak out.

Bernard was admittedly humbled by being on stage with John and Billie Jean. He chuckled when it was his turn to tell his life story, saying he didn’t feel on par with the other panelists. He said he joined Kaiser to effect change in the disparities of medical care. He garnered attention for posting two articles on LinkedIn about Michael Brown’s murder in Ferguson, Missouri and about the striking difference between how he is treated in his C-Suite, top floor office and when he leaves the building and heads onto the streets of Oakland.

In addition to hearing those inspiring speakers, I had a personal experience at the event that I’d like to share with you. Arriving more than an hour before the panel began, I was guided to a section with a side view of the panelists’ chairs. The rows of seats were filled until about eight rows back, where a young black woman sat in the end seat. The seat next to her was empty and a diverse, young group filled the rest of the row. I asked the young woman if the seat was free but it was not. She was part of the group and they were waiting for a friend to join them. The next row was mostly empty, with a young white woman in the end seat. The row after that was also mostly empty; a black woman in her 30s or 40s was seated on the end. I could feel myself drawn to sit in the row with the white woman, and if I’m being honest, I don’t think it was just because it was the next closest row to the stage. It was because I could feel the comfort of seeing someone who looked like me. I pushed past that and asked the woman in the next row if the seat next to her was free. It was, we got to talking, I learned she is a software engineer living in Oakland. We chatted about Dreamforce’s U2 concert at the Cow Palace in San Francisco the night before which I could hear from my home. When she shared her dilemma that her phone battery dies at critical moments such as these, I volunteered to save her seat while she went off to charge it. She left and trusted me with her belongings. She returned when the panel was in process and soon thereafter received a text message and suddenly had to leave to catch a ride with her husband. A missed opportunity for a business connection, but our brief interaction left me feeling warm, calm, and uplifted.

My intention is to continually, consciously connect with people of color to acknowledge and step away from my comfort zone, which I believe is my unconscious bias rearing its ugly head.

I want you to step out of your comfort zone as well. Throughout your day, wherever you go, reach out to someone who is not like you. It may seem like a small step and it is. Not every step has to be with John Lewis across the bridge in Selma. Small steps evolve into big steps. I look forward to the day when we will be sprinting towards equality.

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps public and private companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.

Intersectionality Lessons From a Teenage TV Star

Teenage actor Rowan Blanchard has been speaking out about intersectionality on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. I learned about Rowan in Interview magazine’s April, 2016 issue, which noted, “At only 14, the native Angeleno Blanchard speaks, tweets, and writes with ease, confidence, and urgency — on everything from intersectionality and the politics of feminism to the elitist girl gangs of social media.” One word in there caught my attention. What the heck is intersectionality? The article discussed it as if I should know what it is.

I looked it up on Wikipedia, where I learned that intersectionality theory came to fruition in the 1960s and ’70s as an outgrowth of the feminist movement. Black women were experiencing bias differently than white women and they started speaking out about it. They felt an intersection of their being female and black, the “interconnectedness of seemingly disparate forms of inequality.” (Stand, 2016)

Intersectionality is something I probably should have learned about in college as a Social Ecology major, but I don’t recall anyone talking about it at UC Irvine at the time.

The word came up again in a San Francisco Business Times article about executive leadership for the LGBT sector, part of the newspaper’s annual Business of Pride issue in June. I was happy to see intersectionality being discussed, but I was dismayed to learn about Stanford University’s new LGBT executive leadership program. In my view, programs like that are telling LGBT people they need to change, rather than blaming the discriminatory attitudes that have kept LGBT people from climbing the corporate ladder. However, I was inspired to learn about how UCLA, which revamped its LGBT executive leadership program after a dozen years to reflect the importance of intersectionality. The new program is a multi-dimensional leadership institute. Alissa Brill, managing director at UCLA’s Anderson Executive Education, said participants hear “about more filters being stripped away in the workplace and that makes a huge difference in company culture.”

Rowan Blanchard provides living proof of the value of thinking about intersectionality, as well as of the way the world has changed for the better in my lifetime. Rowan recently publicly identified as queer, which I thought was a bold move for a young, female star of the Disney television series Girl Meets World. I grew up near Disneyland and remember how rigid and exclusionary it was. My sister worked there in high school and I was appalled at the dress code that required women to wear nylons, as well as skirts or dresses of a certain length. I also recall that in the ’80s Disneyland did not allow gays to dance together. The company gradually changed its tune over the years and I understand today The Walt Disney Company is one of the best employers for the gay and lesbian community. I was happy to learn the 60-year-old American institution from conservative Orange County, where I grew up, is now inclusive.

That sort of intersectionality, on both the personal and corporate levels, continues to make an impact, expanding our horizons of how we view the world. With that more comprehensive view, we can be more inclusive, make better decisions, and achieve greater success.

Are you a CEO or nominating governance committee chair looking to establish or expand your corporate board with individuals of diverse race, culture, gender, background, age/generation and thought? Let’s work together to make intersectionality work for good.

Kim Clancy is founder and CEO of search firm Hampton O’Bannon Partners, LLC (HOP, LLC). She helps public and private companies attract and hire women and minorities to their boards.

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