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7 Questions with Christian Wattig
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7 Questions with Christian Wattig
Name: Christian Wattig
Current title: Financial Planning & Analysis Lead
Current organisation: Squarespace
Christian Wattig is the Financial Planning and Analysis Lead at Squarespace. The company is based in New York City and helps people with creative ideas to succeed, by giving them the tools to create a beautiful web presence. His role is to analyze the business, separating noise from insights and telling the company’s story with numbers. He joined Squarespace in mid-2020, prior to that transition he spent ten years in various corporate finance leadership roles at the consumer goods companies Procter & Gamble and Unilever.
Christian grew up in Germany, in a small town close to Stuttgart, and has been living in New York City since 2013 with his wife Melissa and their adorable dog Beau.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
While technical challenges can occur quite frequently, they are typically not the most difficult kind.Typically, the most interesting challenges are related to human interactions. I’m thankful for having had the opportunity to lead diverse teams, ranging from people on their first job out of college to individuals with 20+ years of experience. I led people with much deeper knowledge in their area of expertise than me as well as new hires who came from entirely unrelated fields with barely any pre-existing knowledge. This range of backgrounds and experiences naturally resulted in different needs and career aspirations. Navigating this as their manager was at times difficult, but always rewarding since it’s only through deep conversations and attentive listening that I could understand what they were looking for and adjust my leadership style accordingly. I strongly believe that a leader can only be as successful as the people who work for them. My experience has been that helping my team members succeed with their career aspirations always resulted in more trust, loyalty, and ultimately performance at a higher level.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
At the beginning of my career, I was excited to start at Procter & Gamble, a large multinational company. But I was also a bit overwhelmed. I had a lot to learn that they didn’t teach in school, like how to present a sea of numbers in front of people who knew the history and trends better than me and could easily spot any flaw or mistake. So one evening, as usual, I was one of the last people still at their desk working head down on a large spreadsheet, when Ralf, the Head of Sales and most senior executive in my office, came over to my desk.
For a second I was shocked, did I forget to send him something? If he comes to me instead of to my boss it must be something urgent. Will I be able to pull it off without the help of my colleagues who already left? Or did he find a mistake in the report I sent him earlier today?
As soon as he started talking, I knew it wasn’t about anything I had done or needed to do for him. He was friendly and relaxed; started by asking me if I was doing anything for the weekend. He said “Look, I appreciate that you care so much about getting this right, just keep in mind that it’s a process: When you step out of your comfort zone, you will see that your comfort zone grows. Ok?” I could only nod and say thank you as a response, not having understood immediately what he was trying to say. After a while, it sank in. Many things, like presenting detailed reports, appear to be difficult at first, but if I keep doing those hard things that are just outside my comfort zone, they would soon appear to be easier and less stressful.
But it wasn’t just these insights themselves that stuck with me. What deeply impressed me was the fact that a few deep and encouraging words, spoken at the right time with the right empathetic attitude, can have a tremendous impact on how motivated, productive, and fulfilled someone can feel at work. From then on, I developed a passion for learning how to lead people and becoming a leader myself, hoping that someday I could have a similar positive impact on others as Ralf did on me.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I’m a big believer in the power of habit. I read everything I could find about the topic and eventually, after a lot of trial and error, figured out a way that works for me to create habits that stick. I like to get up early in the morning and get the things done that matter to me before the hectic of the workday takes over. I start my day with a workout. These days I row most of the time. Then I meditate for 30 minutes and sit down with a cup of coffee and a light breakfast listening to music. I enjoy just listening to music for 20 minutes, without distractions or reading the news since it’s a great way to keep developing my ability to focus only on the task at hand. I feel that my ability to “single-task” has grown into one of my biggest strengths as a leader.
After a workday that is largely dominated by meetings with the various teams I partner with, I enjoy spending time with my family, playing the piano, and reading.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
I changed roles, companies, and industries in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in June of 2020. As a result, I not only had to learn quickly how to develop relationships with the new team I was to lead but also with the leaders of the various functions I partner with, all without the ability to meet face to face. Going into it, I was concerned that it would be significantly more difficult than changing jobs in normal times when you can simply get to know your new coworkers over lunch or a coffee chat. Fortunately, I learned quickly that building your network remotely is possible if you stick to a few key principles. The first is that video chat is a necessity. Seeing each other versus talking audio-only makes a major difference, especially when you are new to a team. Fortunately, the company culture at Squarespace is such that everyone has cameras turned on whenever we connect with each other. The other challenge is that a lot of relationship-building happens in informal settings, such as conversations in the corridors between meetings, at the coffee machine, or during lunch breaks. Since I wouldn’t have any of these touchpoints while working fully remote, I proactively scheduled weekly team meetings with agendas that reserved at least 15-20 minutes of unstructured periods. We used this time to talk about what we did on the weekend, what was going on in our personal life, to chat about recent company announcements, or to talk about any other unrelated questions we were pondering. These interactions with my teams have been essential not just for me to build relationships at a new workplace, but also to maintain a positive attitude during challenging times.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
The book “Mindset” by Dr. Carol Dweck deeply impacted how I lead my teams. In it, she shows that our brain keeps rewiring itself throughout its entire life with plasticity that allows everyone to keep growing their skills. While everyone has development areas, we have the ability to turn them into strengths, with the right focus and support. This highlighted the importance of coaching skills as a leader. I have seen again and again in my career that with the right coaching and mindset if someone truly wants to develop themselves and grow, they can. I have high expectations towards the performance of my team, and sometimes a role is simply not a good fit for a direct report, which necessitates tough decisions. In most cases, however, a growth mindset can unlock growth and levels of performance that neither I or my coaches would have believed possible at the beginning.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
It is easy to get too absorbed in daily fires and perceived emergencies when managing a broad agenda. If we just follow the loudest calls every day, we have limited capacity to do what separates great leaders from managers, that is building relationships, setting the strategy and long-term goals. What helps me not to fall into this trap is having a principle-based approach to prioritization. I map my own and my team’s most important priorities on a four-by-four matrix with one axis indicating importance and the other one urgency. As part of my regular review process, I try to understand how much time we spend in each quadrant, i.e. important and urgent tasks, important but not urgent, urgent and not important, and lastly not ugent and not important tasks. Minimizing time spent on tasks that are neither urgent nor important is relatively straightforward if you are clear about your objectives with other stakeholders. The biggest challenge however is often spending too much time with urgent topics and too little time with not urgent but important tasks. These are usually work streams that prevent future issues from occurring, such as documenting learning from past projects, mid- and long-term planning, and re-evaluating if existing processes can be done more efficiently. What helped me with prioritizing these leadership tasks are scheduling them in my calendar, creating strict deadlines for my team, and making room for them by coaching my team to address urgent but less important tasks with a laser-sharp focus on efficiency.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
In one of my previous roles, a direct report struggled with many tasks I gave them and made a lot of preventable mistakes. My own manager had already suggested to me that I should think about whether that individual may be better suited for a different role. I knew however that they were extremely motivated and never hesitated to go the extra mile to get the work done and make a difference for the company. Additionally, they told me they enjoyed the work and are willing to do what it takes to improve. Instead of pointing them to the exit, I decided to on the one hand be completely transparent about their development areas and the impact they have and on the other hand to offer coaching and support. I told them that I have high expectations but that I believe they can improve and get better. I was happy to see that hearing how I rated their performance didn’t discourage them, they worked even harder on getting better and opened up to my coaching. I attribute that to emphasizing a growth mindset and that I believe in their ability to grow.