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7 Questions with Loralyn Mears
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7 Questions with Loralyn Mears
Name: Loralyn Mears
Current title: founder and CEO
Current organisation: STEERus INC
I've always been curious. As a PhD scientist, I investigated interesting theories on how to destroy mosquitoes then engaged in a career around market research probing people on the 5 Ws. Finally, late in life, I realized a childhood dream and became an author and a journalist asking questions until I found answers. That led me down the path of founding STEERus, home of the world's first Soft Skills Academy. I founded this HRtech to train Generation Next on the critical soft skills that they're not learning in school to close the gap between education and work. We deliver personalized learning experiences and we have a social impact mission empowering those who have been overlooked and underserved. Today, I'm applying everything that I ever learned and tapping everyone that I've ever met to make a difference in employee engagement, business productivity, recruitment, and retention -- all through the magic of soft skills -- especially curiosity!
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Bootstrapping a startup is enormously challenging. It creates issues like the people problem! It's one thing to find people that you get along with and that all the people get along with each other. It's quite another when you're leading a collective, essentially a federation of volunteers who each have their own thing but they're investing time - as they have it - in your thing because they believe in you and in the mission. How do you let go of a volunteer who isn't doing what they offered to do? Take back their equity that isn't worth anything at this stage? Navigating those relationships, building a distributed team of volunteers, and trying to build something that has value (emotional, intellectual, or spiritual) today so that it can grow into something that offers financial value as a reward down the road is *insanely* hard to do!
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I founded a company and the leaders that have been featured in this interview are in a different category. That said, when you add up all the wonderful coaches, interns, staff, contractors, Board members, and executives that are part of STEERus, it's more than 70 people. We have a flat organization so all decisions come to me and it can be challenging to keep up with everything. It's about ruthless prioritization. Everyday, something, or possibly a few things, are "on fire." I look at everything that is on fire that day and determine which fire is going to turn into a raging inferno and scorch me (or the business) if I don't get to it immediately. That's the thing I do first. Then the next fire ... and so on. I do enjoy time with my team and alliance partners and pause once in a while, although ever so briefly, to appreciate how far we've come together as a team and to be re-energized by the "WHY" we're all doing this together. That's the rocket fuel that pushes me up and away from the burning fires so that I can focus on how we realize our vision and deliver the impact we aspire to make.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I'm a big fan of time-blocking. It's not a 100% solution but it gets the job done. I have long days which I know that we're fundamentally not supposed to, and that sustained long days are an ingredient for burnout which is a recipe for disaster. And I know that "being insanely busy" isn't an honor badge. I know all this, but it's my reality as the leader of a bootstrapped startup with a vision and mission that is much bigger than those of us involved. Moving forward one millimeter at a time doesn't happen without work. I wake at 5am, walk and play with my dog, shower, and then I'm at my desk by 6am or so. I start with my To Do list leftover from yesterday, add some new entries, then determine what's on fire - and I start working to put out the flames. After a few projects or tasks are completed, and the fires are only smoldering, I'll phone a friend or do some household responsibility like making dinner, dishes, or driving my stepdaughter somewhere. And then it's back to my desk to do a project or task that's additive rather than one that's just keeping the flames at bay. Rinse. Repeat.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
How to overcome disappointing your team yet not letting it overwhelm you so that it distracts you from your purpose or responsibility. You can't please everyone all the time. It's just not possible. But you can learn from each experience and grow so that you can more artfully master that balance of getting it done with getting it done in the manner that's right for most people - but never all people.
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?
Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman. Like so many others, I've been a long-time fan of Reid and was an early adopter of Linkedin back in the day when there were only thousands of members. The book highlights different modalities that can be activated to fuel massive growth which is correlated with proportional risk. Approaching a bootstrapped startup this way sounds like madness, and it is - in fact, I've had to reign things in a bit - but the book contains the fundamentals for hyper-growth. And if you're not thinking about how to scale your startup when you know that someone else is, you run the greatest risk of all which is being eclipsed and fading into oblivion, plus absorbing all the financial and emotional loss that goes with it. What I've learned in my leadership journey with this book is that you have to think about all of it - but you don't have to ACT on all of it. Learning to be laser-focused and more selective, and even moving at turtle-speed instead of at rabbit-speed, can still win the race.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
In previous roles at Fortune 10-100s, I've identified aspiring leaders and worked closely with them as mentors. I have a no-nonsense yet casual leadership style. Get the work done and manage through the pitfalls but don't lose sight of the fact that to err is human. I give those around me the confidence they need to present their ideas, try them out, and if they don't work, I encourage them to think about what happened. Learn, and move on. I create safe spaces for people to learn and grow together so that they know they have a safety net (me) if they start to fall.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I was an employee of a Fortune 50 tech company and I had assembled leaders from a dozen other Fortune 50 tech companies. My goal was to create a consortium that supported data interoperability to advance drug discovery (this became the I3C). We had a fabulous meeting - a feat in itself given that several companies were in litigation with each other - and I was all proud of myself as the only woman in the room and that I made it happen. And then I couldn't find my car in the parking deck, blistered my feet walking around carrying my heels looking for it, missed my flight - and had to have the parking guy in the golf cart chide me for being a "silly woman" when I asked him for help to find my car. Humility versus hubris is the lesson every CEO or executive should learn and learn early. Hubris needs to be tempered by humility. Since that day, I've been hyper-conscious of staying grounded in the moment and being aware that everyone has limits. All that you can do is do the best that you can and being boastful or arrogant about what you've done is the first thing that will happen in the pending series of events that will take you down! Stay humble. And be kind to people and pets!