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7 Questions on Leadership with Alex

Name: Alex

Title: Interim CTO and Product & Technology Advisor

Organisation: Various companies - Freelance

Alex is global technology leader with 20 years of board-level experience and a proven track record of driving digital transformations, launching new products and re-platforming using cutting-edge technologies. As a CTO/CPTO, Alex has led seven successful technology transformations across various industries, delivering top-quartile performance and driving profitable growth for world-renowned brands in seven countries. across three continents.

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

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


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a leader, one of the most significant challenges I have encountered is instilling a genuine sense of purpose and belief within large, distributed teams that span different cultures. It's not easy to inspire large diverse group of individuals to achieve what may initially seem like an impossible mission, while considering and respecting the cultural differences that shape their perspectives.

This process requires an immense amount of patience adaptability, and a dedicated effort to create a unified sense of purpose that resonates with each team member, regardless of their background. In my journey as a leader, I have learned the importance of consistently reminding my team about our collective purpose and effectively addressing the "why" behind it.

It involves demonstrating through my own actions that they truly have the power to make decisions that leads us toward our goals. Additionally, I have come to realise the criticality of nurturing a culture that early on prioritises psychological safety and empowers individuals to take risks and learn from their mistakes. It's about creating an environment where they all feel supported and know that I have their backs.

Another crucial aspect is actively involving the team in determining the best path forward. When they participate in the decision-making process, they feel a sense of ownership over their choices and the outcomes that follow. Continuous and consistent inspiration and motivation are essential, encouraging them to give their best, believe in their capabilities, and understand that with the right mindset, anything is possible, and no goal is out of reach.

I have also observed that many emerging leaders struggle with transitioning from traditional hierarchical leadership to a more empowering style. I have learnt from my own experience, that it requires a shift in mindset and a willingness to let go of control, placing trust in the abilities of team members.

Providing guidance and support while fostering autonomy and creativity is crucial for developing a successful empowering leadership style. By directly addressing these challenges, leaders can create an environment that promotes the growth of individuals and the collective team, nurturing a strong sense of purpose and enabling the achievement of goals that may have once seemed unimaginable.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Becoming a leader has been a personal journey that began during my school days. I was that enthusiastic kid who always wanted to step forward, express my ideas, and take the lead. But just like everyone else, I faced my fair share of fears and weaknesses along the way.

Overcoming these challenges became a defining part of my growth as a leader. From a young age, I was determined to overcome my own fears and weaknesses. This determination grew as I got older, adopting a "never give up" mindset. I always believed in the value of hard work, always pushing myself to go beyond what was expected.

This attitude carried me through my school years, university studies, and various job experiences, constantly pushing me to improve. I consistently challenged myself, constantly asking if there was more, I could have done to improve and over time it became a way of life for me.

As I progressed in my career, I used my determination to overcome personal limitations and obstacles as the foundation for my leadership qualities. Each experience provided valuable lessons and opportunities for learning and refining my leadership skills I discovered the power of empathy, understanding the importance of connecting with others through effective storytelling.

Collaboration became a key driver for me in uplifting individuals and helping them believe in their own potential. Ultimately, my path to leadership was influenced by the remarkable people I had the privilege of working with. Their contributions combined with my inherent inclination to support others in achieving their goals, even when they may have doubted their own abilities, played a significant role in shaping me as the person I am today.

I believe that leadership is about empowering and inspiring others to realise their potential, and my path has been shaped by this guiding principle. This guiding principle has guided me through my leadership journey and continues to help my growth as a leader.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

While every day brings its unique challenges, I try to have a repeatable and structured approach to my workdays. I typically start my mornings early, often waking up around 5:30 AM. This allows me to have some quiet thinking time. As part of my morning ritual, I prioritise going for a run.

This not only helps me stay fit but also serves as a time for reflection and visualisation. During my run, I visualise what I aim to accomplish by the end of the day, setting a clear purpose for my day. Each day, I have a set of outcomes I try to achieve. I prioritise these outcomes and create a rough mental plan of the order in which I intend to tackle them. However, things do not always go to plan, so it's important to be agile, to be flexible because unexpected events can change the context very quickly, which means changes to my original plans.

Persistence and repetition play significant roles in my day-to day approach because they help me to overcome challenges that I had not planned for. I try to have a disciplined and positive mindset to make sure I can get back on track the next day. This tenacity extends beyond my professional life to my running as well.

For instance, I aim to run the distance of a marathon each week, which translates to roughly 6 kilometres per day. While I may not manage to run every day, I make it a point to compensate by running longer distances on subsequent days.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recent leadership reminder for me was the importance of resilience. During challenging times when you have setbacks, it is crucial to adapt to new circumstances quickly and maintain a positive mindset to stay focused. Resilience helped me to navigate some uncertainties and difficulties I faced in the recent past. I had to resort to my inner strength to stay positive not just for myself, but also everyone who was dependent on me.

It was not easy and overcoming the uncertainties did not follow a linear path, because I was not able to stay positive every day, but I had more positive days than negative days and gradually I was able to adapt, refocus and move forward with a new sense of purpose. It had to draw on all my previous experiences going back to my childhood, and the perhaps the most important one which helped me to pick myself up was my attitude of never ‘giving up’, not allowing setbacks to bring me down and instead channeling the sadness and pain into positive energy.

I believe, I am a stronger person today because of this experience. I have also learned that empathy is a critical leadership skill. It's important to listen deeply and understand the perspectives of others. Empathy has allowed me to build strong relationships with everyone from all backgrounds and has helped me to create diverse, inclusive and supportive environment for my teams, regardless of the situations.

These lessons in resilience and empathy have been important reminders for me of the qualities that make effective leadership possible. They have shaped me as the person I am today and sharpened my focus to foster resilience and empathy within myself and those around me.

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 that has left a lasting impression on me is "Drive" by Daniel Pink. This thought-provoking book delves into the principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. It has been a true source of inspiration and has significantly influenced both my personal and professional growth. One quote from the book that has stuck with me is, "Control leads to compliance, whereas autonomy leads to engagement." This idea has reshaped my perspective on leadership and the importance of empowering others to take ownership and drive their own success.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I could offer one essential piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: Never allow anyone to undermine your belief in what you can achieve. Throughout my life, I have encountered numerous occasions where people doubted my abilities, either too young or too old, too experienced or not experienced or other reasons. However, rather than letting these doubts deter me, they served as fuel to prove them wrong. I urge you to have belief in your abilities. Trust your instincts, work hard and demonstrate to yourself and others that you have the ability to accomplish what may seem impossible.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One meaningful story that comes to mind from my time as a leader is when I joined a company and faced the challenge of delivering a very complex change. The success of this delivery was crucial for the business, and the consequences of failure or delay would have been significant.

As we were encountering difficulties, I held a town hall meeting to motivate the team. Despite my efforts, I could sense fear in their eyes, although no one explicitly said it was impossible To instil belief in the team, I decided to take a different approach. Starting the next day, I sat amongst the software engineers, the very individuals, who I had seen the fear in their eyes.

I held multiple listening sessions with team members, encouraging them to share their thoughts on how we could successfully deliver this change for the company. Instead of telling them what to do, I let them come up with the solutions. I encouraged even the shyest team members to speak up, giving them a voice and a sense of ownership. Slowly but surely, ideas began to flow, and the team started believing in their own abilities.

The more experienced members uplifted and supported their less experienced teammates. Over a span of three weeks, I witnessed an incredible change. The team began to have belief, they talked about how they could do it, they could visualise it.

Seven months later, they accomplished what was initially deemed a mission impossible and I would say, it also transformed my leadership team from a group of individuals into a team of leaders—the successfully delivery of the biggest change in the company's history and with that I witnessed the biggest change in my team, which brought belief, trust, resilience and a ‘can-do’ mindset which equipped them to navigate future challenging situations.

The key lesson I learned from this experience was that motivation alone is not enough. True inspiration comes from engaging the team, providing direction and a framework without micromanaging, and empowering them to find their own solutions. By fostering a sense of ownership and trust, motivation naturally follows.

This first-hand experience showed me how what seemed impossible became a reality, surprising individuals with their own capabilities. It reinforced the importance of inspiration, where leaders focus on guiding principles and desired outcomes, rather than dictating how tasks should be done. Giving the team a sense of ownership and providing measurement criteria creates an environment where extraordinary achievements are possible.

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