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7 More Questions on Leadership with Alex Alexander

Name: Alex Alexander

Title: Founder

Organisation: XOOTS

I’ve been in the tech space for over two decades, leading technology teams for some of the world’s most renowned companies, and my roles have taken me to 3 continents. It's been a journey through consumer retail, retail banking aviation, and online marketplaces amongst others.

I would say what has been really exciting about my role is working with great teams to build great products, so you could say, my roles have been about getting teams to out-perform, to build products that customers want.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

We’ve gone through the interviews and asked the best of the best to come back and answer 7 MORE Questions on Leadership.

I hope Alex's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. As a leader, how do you build trust with employees, customers and other stakeholders?

I always explain building trust as analogous to constructing a bridge: it requires time, consistent effort, and resilient materials. My leadership journey has underscored key pillars in nurturing trust with employees, customers, and other stakeholders:

* Trust is earned: Trust isn't granted; it's painstakingly earned. Trust isn't about eloquent speeches but the relentless consistency of actions. It's these recurrent, tangible acts that underpin and reinforce strong, trust-based relationships

* Keeping Promises: I always use this simple statement to highlight the importance of keeping our commitments because it takes years to build trust and can be shuttered in a moment, if our commitments are not honoured. .

* Resilience: The bedrock of trust is often the unwavering commitment we show, when faced with challenges. Keeping our promises during favorable times is commendable, but true trust matures when we demonstrate resilience during turbulent times. It’s this tenacity during challenging times that cements and deepens trust.

* Empathy: The power of empathy to build trust, can't be overstated. The genuine attempt to step into the shoes of our employees, customers, and stakeholders isn’t just a leadership trait. It's about human connection, one that forms an unbreakable bond of trust

2. What do 'VISION' and 'MISSION' mean to you? And what does it actually look like to use them in real-world business?

Drawing on the bridge analogy, envision you're standing at Point A.

Your vision is the goal of getting to the other side of the bridge - point B. It embodies the ultimate destination for what we aspire to achieve and the compelling future we're striving towards.

Now, while the vision paints the aspirational picture of the future, the 'MISSION' lays down the pathway. It’s the statement of intent. It's the commitment to build that bridge, to guide every individual across the bridge, ensuring they're motivated, equipped, and resolute. It's a clear declaration of our method, our strategy to realize that vision

In leadership, it's important to underscore the transformative nature of the journey. A journey from Point A to Point B isn't always linear; there may be no turning back once crossed. This sense of commitment, of irreversible change, is integral to a mission statement

In the real world business, the bridge metaphor mirrors organisational transformation. The 'VISION' sketches a brighter, progressive future — a rallying call that inspires everyone. The 'MISSION', meanwhile, delineates the strategic blueprint, the steps we'll take, and the challenges we'll face to turn that vision into reality. For any transformation to be successful, the vision must be magnetic, and the mission, clear and actionable.

I always think back to that famous story about JFK visiting NASA during the Apollo program. He struck up a conversation with a janitor at mission control and asked what he was working on. The janitor replied, “I’m putting a man on the moon”. That, right there, is the kind of magnetic vision.

3. How can a leader empower the people they're leading?

Empowering a team pivots on the concept of servant leadership. At its heart, servant leadership is a shift from traditional hierarchical structures; it's about flipping the script. Rather than a top-down approach where teams serve their leaders, servant leadership is grounded in the belief that leaders exist to serve their teams. It's about placing the needs, aspirations, and growth of the team at the forefront. This approach humanises leadership, transforming it from a position of authority to one of guidance, mentorship, and genuine care. Here's what it brings to the table:

* Individual Growth: A servant leader nurtures the strengths, aspirations, and potential of each team member, ensuring their continuous personal and professional development.

* Collective Wisdom: The team evolves into a more cohesive, informed, and autonomous unit. They are encouraged to share ideas, take initiatives, and contribute to the larger vision.

* Fostering Future Leaders: An environment steered by servant leadership is fertile ground for cultivating future leaders. When team members experience this form of empathetic and supportive leadership, they are more inclined to embrace and replicate the same values in their future roles

4. Who are some of the coaches or mentors in your life who have had a positive influence on your leadership? Can you please tell a meaningful story about one of them?

I have been deeply influenced by a few exceptional managers/mentors in my career. Not only were they exceptional in their roles, but they also assumed the mantle of mentors, shaping my thoughts and actions well beyond our working tenure together.

One vivid memory dates back to early part of my career. I was tasked with spearheading a strategically significant yet intricate initiative. As part of the planning phase, I conducted a workshop, drawing out a tentative timeline based on the best-case scenarios we discussed. As I was engrossed in this 'optimistic planning', I noticed our CEO silently observing from the back of the room.

The initial timeline I sketched was an 8-week delivery. However, once we factored in dependencies and unforeseen constraints, the plan expanded to 20 weeks. No sooner had I charted this out than I heard about a meeting the CEO had scheduled with our investors for a demonstration, a mere 8 weeks away.

Panic set in - I froze with fear. My immediate instinct was to go into the CEO's office and stress the 8 weeks plan was not doable. But before taking any hasty steps, I sought guidance from my mentor. He absorbed my concerns silently. His response? "Don't expend energy on why it can't be done. Redirect that energy into making it happen within 8 weeks." And with that, he left.

This advice wasn't just about meeting a deadline; it was a lesson in the transformative power of positive thinking. By envisioning success and having a can-do attitude, we channel collective energy towards progress. Even if we had missed the mark, we would've been much further along than if we were hamstrung by doubts.

What I learnt was that: Positivity opens doors and broadens horizons, while negativity often blinds us to opportunities right in front of us

5. Leadership is often more about what you DON'T do. How do you maintain focus in your role?

Leadership is as much about determining what not to do as it is about taking action. Maintaining focus requires a disciplined approach to time and task management. Here's how I navigate this delicate balance:

Categorisation: I sort tasks into three buckets: Urgent, Important, and everything else. This simple categorization helps me in visualizing priorities

People-First: Anything related to my team or people management invariably falls under the 'Important' category. However, if there's a pressing issue demanding immediate attention, it takes precedence. Regardless, I ensure that I make time for one-on-one sessions, coaching, or addressing immediate team concerns

Delegate Judiciously: Items that don't fall into the 'Urgent' or 'Important' categories are potential delegation opportunities. But delegation isn't about just offloading tasks. I always consider:

* Whether the task is even necessary. Sometimes, eliminating it is the best course.

* Who's best equipped to handle the task. This isn't about skill alone but also about growth opportunities for team members.

* Providing adequate information and resources. A delegated task must come with clarity on objectives, expectations, and desired outcomes

Efficiency in Execution: Whatever remains on my plate is tackled with planning and execution. My focus is always on doing it right the first time to prevent wastage of time and resources in the long run.

6. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Everyone plans differently. How do you plan for the week, month and years ahead in your role?

"Fail to plan, plan to fail." This adage holds true in many aspects, but the nature of planning has evolved, especially in our rapidly-changing digital world. Over the course of my career, my approach to planning has undergone a significant transformation too.

Early Days: In the initial stages of my career, I was a meticulous planner, anticipating every possible detail and scenario. While this had its merits, it often lacked the flexibility needed to address unforeseen challenges or opportunities

My Approach over the last decade: My planning philosophy is more agile and flexible:

Agile Planning: I prioritise short-term, detailed planning while maintaining a broader, directional radar for the long-term. Rigid long-term planning, in my view, has become somewhat obsolete. Instead, my focus is on adaptability. Our ever-changing digital environment requires us to pivot quickly and efficiently.

Empower Decision Making: Decentralising decision-making is essential. By letting decisions be made closer to where the knowledge resides, we can move faster. I concentrate on major strategic decisions, while trusting my team to handle the more granular details.

Embrace Experimentation: The tech world has taught me the significance of experimentation. The "fail fast, learn, and adjust" mantra is more than just a catchphrase. It emphasizes the importance of testing, iterating, and refining in real-time rather than sticking to a potentially outdated plan

In today's fast changing, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, our approach to planning must mirror our external environment. While detailed long-term planning has its place, it's essential to build systems and processes that are inherently flexible and adaptable. Embracing agility, fostering decentralisation, and championing experimentation are the pillars of my planning philosophy

We trade off optionality with certainty because our environment today is vastly different than it was a decade ago.

7. What advice would you give to a young leader who is struggling to delegate effectively?

Delegation is more than just a managerial technique—it's a reflection of one's leadership trait. Here's the advice I'd offer to a young leader struggling with this essential skill:

Empowerment through Delegation: Delegation is a powerful blend of servant leadership and intentional prioritization. By handing responsibilities to your team, you're not only trusting them to execute tasks but also providing opportunities for them to learn, make decisions, and grow. Empowering your team in this way shapes them to become future leaders.

Spend your time well: As a leader, one's most precious resource is time. Deciding which tasks require your personal touch and which can be handled by the team is crucial. Effective delegation allows leaders to concentrate on fewer, more critical tasks with greater attention, while still ensuring that all necessary tasks are completed by the team

The Art of Effective Delegation: Merely offloading tasks isn't true delegation. True delegation involves a careful mix of guidance and autonomy. Always clearly communicate the expected outcomes, but allow team members the flexibility to determine the best path forward. Clearly define what 'done' looks like, but trust them with the 'how’.

Lastly, always support your team's decisions. Knowing that you stand behind them, even if things don't go as planned, will boost their confidence and foster an environment of trust and open communication

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