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7 Questions on Leadership with Clement Utuk


Name: Clement Utuk


Title: Founder/CEO


Organisation: CERAU Solutions


I am an experienced leader with extensive experience across various industries, including technology, energy, military, manufacturing, and non-profit. My career highlights include serving as a Board Member at Seattle Athenaeum-Folio and holding a directorial position at Microsoft. My roles encompassed strategic planning, operational excellence, change management, and team leadership. As a co-founder of Cerau Solutions LLC and in lead roles at Honeywell Federal Manufacturing & Technology and National Oilwell Varco, I have demonstrated the ability to drive strategy and manage complex programs.

My academic achievements include the Chief Technology Officer program and Executive General Management programs at MIT and Harvard Business School, alongside a Master of Engineering and an MBA. I have served in the US Navy, contributing further to my diverse experience. I hold several professional licenses, including a Chartered Engineer (CEng) from the Engineering Council UK and a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification. My competencies span business intelligence, digital transformation, risk management, financial analysis, and much more.

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


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


Cheers,

Jonno White



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


Navigating the complexities of Cross-Functional and Cross-Cultural Leadership presents a unique set of challenges, demanding a blend of sensitivity, adaptability, and strategic insight. In Microsoft and in a world where teams are increasingly diverse and spread across different geographical locations, I have excelled in understanding and bridging cultural nuances to foster a collaborative and inclusive work environment. My approach to this challenge hinges on my deep appreciation for diverse perspectives and my ability to create a unified vision that resonates across cultural boundaries. I successfully leverage the strengths of each team member, acknowledging and celebrating their diverse backgrounds, which in turn drives innovation and creative problem-solving. I believe that this skill is especially crucial in a globalized business landscape where cross-functional teams often bring together varied expertise and viewpoints. My leadership is characterized by open communication channels, where team members feel valued and heard, fostering a sense of belonging and commitment to shared goals.

Also, I tend to navigate through the intricacies of cross-functional leadership marked by his adeptness in aligning diverse team efforts toward common organizational objectives. I understand that in cross-functional teams, members often have differing priorities based on their departmental goals. To address this, I establish clear, shared objectives and encourage an environment where interdepartmental collaboration is not just encouraged but is a key aspect of the team’s and/or organization's strategy. This involves creating opportunities for team members to understand each other’s roles better, thus fostering empathy and a more cohesive team dynamic. As a leader in this realm, it’s not just about managing tasks but more about building relationships and trust across functions, which is critical for the effective execution of complex projects. My strategic vision in integrating these varied functions into a coherent operational flow ensures that the organization moves as a unified entity, overcoming silos and leveraging the full potential of our diverse talent pool.


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


My journey to becoming a leader is a story of dedication, strategic vision, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. My path began with a solid foundation in engineering, as evidenced by my early education and initial roles, which grounded me in technical expertise and problem-solving skills. This technical prowess, combined with my natural leadership abilities, set the stage for my ascent into more strategic and leadership-focused roles.

Early in my career, I demonstrated an exceptional ability to not only understand complex technical concepts but also to apply them in practical, impactful ways. My transition from hands-on engineering to leadership roles was marked by my proactive approach to seeking opportunities where I could make a broader impact. I pursued advanced education, including an MBA and specialized training, which equipped me with the tools and knowledge necessary for effective organizational management and strategic planning.

What truly distinguished me, however, was my ability to connect with and lead people. As I took on roles with increasing responsibility, from project management to directorial positions, my focus shifted towards leading teams and driving organizational change. My experience in diverse settings, from the military to multinational corporations, honed my skills in cross-functional and cross-cultural leadership, enabling me to effectively manage and inspire diverse teams spread across the globe.

My leadership style evolved to emphasize mentoring, coaching, and fostering collaboration. I recognized early on that to achieve long-lasting success, a leader must not only guide but also empower teams, encouraging innovation and a shared sense of purpose. My strategic vision always included a focus on digital transformation and operational excellence, ensuring that the organizations I led were not just keeping up with technological advancements but were at the forefront of innovation.

Ultimately, my ascent to leadership was a combination of continuous learning, adaptability, and a deep-seated drive to not only achieve organizational goals but to also make a positive impact on the teams and individuals he led. My journey is a testament to the power of combining technical expertise with strong interpersonal and strategic skills to lead effectively in an ever-changing global business landscape.


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


Structuring my workday effectively requires balancing professional responsibilities, personal well-being, and productivity. My structured approach to a typical workday is tailored to meet my demanding and diverse set of responsibilities:

Morning

1. Wake-Up and Morning Routine (6:00 AM - 7:00 AM)

• Start with a consistent wake-up time.

• Engage in a morning routine that may include exercise, meditation, or a healthy breakfast to energize my body and mind.

2. Review Goals and Agenda (7:00 AM - 7:30 AM)

• Briefly review the day's objectives and agenda.

• Prioritize tasks based on importance and urgency.

3. Check Emails and Communications (7:30 AM - 8:00 AM)

• Scan emails and messages for urgent communications.

• Delegate tasks if necessary.

Mid-Morning

4. Focused Work Block (8:00 AM - 10:30 AM)

• Tackle the most challenging or important tasks during this high-energy time.

• Limit interruptions and maintain focus.

5. Short Break (10:30 AM - 10:45 AM)

• A brief break to refresh, a quick walk, or a relaxation exercise.

Late Morning to Early Afternoon

6. Meetings and Collaborations (10:45 AM - 12:30 PM)

• Schedule meetings during this time to engage with teams, stakeholders, or clients.

• Encourage concise, goal-oriented meetings.

7. Lunch and Personal Time (12:30 PM - 1:30 PM)

• Take a full break for lunch.

• Use this time for my personal errands or relaxation to prevent burnout.

Mid to Late Afternoon

8. Administrative Tasks and Follow-Ups (1:30 PM - 3:30 PM)

• Address administrative duties, follow up on emails, and check progress on delegated tasks.

• Engage in less demanding tasks that require attention to detail.

9. Second Focused Work Block (3:30 PM - 5:00 PM)

• Utilize another period of focused work to complete the day's priorities or planning for the next day.

Evening

10. Wind Down and Review (5:00 PM - 7:00 PM)

• Review accomplishments of the day.

• Outline preliminary goals for the next day.

11. Evening Routine and Personal Time (7:00 PM onwards)

• Engage in personal activities, family time, hobbies, or networking events.

• Include a workout or leisure activity to maintain work-life balance.

12. Preparation for Sleep (10:00 PM - 11:30 PM)

• Engage in a relaxing pre-sleep routine like reading or meditation.

• Aim for a consistent bedtime to ensure adequate rest.

My General Guidelines are:

• Flexibility: Always be adaptable to unforeseen events or emergencies.

• Time Management: Use tools like calendars, to-do lists, and reminders.

• Regular Breaks: Incorporate short breaks to maintain productivity and avoid burnout.

• Mindfulness and Self-Care: Prioritize your mental and physical health.

My schedule serves as my normal daily routine, but I occasionally flex or adjust based on specific job roles, personal preferences, and daily lifestyle.



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


Navigating change due to AI evolution is crucial: I believe that the landscape of the world has been dramatically altered by events like the pandemic, rapid technological growth, (e.g. AI), and evolving market conditions, bringing to the forefront the indispensable role of adaptability in leadership. This era underscores that leaders must be equipped not only with the skill to steer through stable times but also the agility to respond effectively to unforeseen changes.

Core components I considered and worked on include but are not limited to:

• Constant Evolution as a Norm: As an effective leader I recognize the inevitability of change. I keep myself abreast of global developments, technological breakthroughs, and consumer behavior shifts, ensuring I can anticipate and swiftly respond to new scenarios.

• Agile Strategy and Operations: The capacity to modify strategies and operational methods, or even overhaul business models in light of external shifts, is essential. This requires a reevaluation of current plans and an openness to innovative methods, especially in the new global work environments (remote workplace).

• Cultivating Agility in Organizational Culture: It's imperative for me as a leader to nurture a culture where rapid adaptation and responsiveness to change are ingrained values. This environment promotes creativity, supports taking calculated risks, and empowers teams to make impactful decisions.

• Communication During Change: Effective and transparent communication becomes even more critical during transition phases. It's crucial for me to keep teams cohesive and morale high by ensuring everyone is informed and aligned with ongoing changes.

• Gleaning Insights from Experiences: I believe that each new challenge or shift in circumstances is an opportunity for learning. So, as a reflective leader, I analyze successes and failures to enhance resilience and prepare more robustly for future disruptions.

For instance, the recent illustrations of the COVID-19: The pandemic serves as a stark example. Leaders who swiftly adapted to new operational models like remote working and realigned their business strategies to the altered landscape were more successful in guiding their organizations through these turbulent times.

In essence, the adaptability lesson I got from the COVID-19 pandemic reiterates that effective leadership involves not just navigating smoothly in calm waters but also skillfully adjusting the sails when encountering uncharted territories, ensuring resilience and readiness for whatever lies ahead.


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?


One of the books that has had a profound impact on my leadership is "Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't" by Jim Collins. This book has influenced me as a business leader and manager around the world in my leadership journey.

Impact of "Good to Great" on Leadership:

Book Overview: "Good to Great" examines why some companies can transition from being good companies to great companies, while others fail to make the leap. Collins and his research team identified several key characteristics that distinguish great companies, including leadership style, focus on core business, and the culture of discipline.

Key Insights Impacting Leadership:

1. Level 5 Leadership:

• Collins introduces the concept of Level 5 Leadership, characterized by a blend of personal humility and professional will.

• I have adopted this approach, focusing on building enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional resolve.

2. First Who, Then What:

• The idea that getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) before deciding where to drive it has influenced my leadership in hiring and team-building strategies.

• To me emphasizing character and work ethic over just skills or experience has led to more cohesive and adaptable teams.

3. Confront the Brutal Facts:

• The book stresses the importance of facing the reality of one's situation while maintaining faith that you will prevail.

• I learned to balance optimism with realism, creating a culture where truth is heard, and problems are confronted head-on.

4. The Hedgehog Concept:

• This concept encourages leaders and organizations to find what they can be the best at, deeply passionate about, and drive their economic engine.

• I have used this framework to refine my business strategies and focus on my core competencies.

5. Culture of Discipline:

• The idea of a culture that combines a strong work ethic with entrepreneurial freedom has led leaders to foster environments that encourage innovation within a framework of disciplined action.

Narrative of Impact: For me, "Good to Great" could have served as a catalyst for transforming my leadership style. I was inspired by the Level 5 Leadership model, which might have shifted from a more authoritarian style to one that blends humility with determination, leading to greater respect and loyalty from my team. I have applied the Hedgehog Concept to streamline my organization's focus and enhance its performance. The principle of confronting brutal facts would enable me to lead my team through challenging times, building a culture of honesty and resilience.

In conclusion, in my personal experiences, the impact of "Good to Great" on leadership exemplifies how influential the principles from this book have been in shaping modern leadership philosophies and practices.


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


Cultivate the Art of Active Listening: Engaged listening transcends the basic act of hearing words; to me it's an immersive process of truly understanding, interacting with, and thoughtfully considering the conversations I have with my team, colleagues, and mentors/mentees. I believe this skill is essential to young leaders for various reasons:

1. Fostering Trust and Respect: By showing my team that their voices are heard and valued, I create a foundation of trust and respect. Open and honest communication flourishes when team members believe their leader genuinely considers their viewpoints.

2. Embracing Varied Insights: I believe that engaged listening allows young/old leaders to absorb a multitude of perspectives and insights. This is vital for informed decision-making. Embracing a range of ideas enriches problem-solving capabilities and drives innovation.

3. Young Leaders should deepen their knowledge and understanding collaborations are essential and young leaders should take each interaction with others as a chance to gain new insights, whether about their field, their team’s specific challenges, or their own development as a leader. To me engaged listening enhances my ability to internalize and ponder these insights.

4. Mitigating Conflicts: Misunderstandings are often at the heart of conflicts. Active engagement in listening enables me to catch and address these misunderstandings early, preventing potential escalation.

5. Showcasing Empathy: Recognizing and validating the emotions and challenges of my team demonstrates my empathy. This understanding is crucial for me to successfully lead teams that are not only motivated but also deeply committed.

Among the myriad skills vital for my effective leadership, the practice of engaged listening stands out. It significantly improves communication, fosters stronger relationships, and underpins effective decision-making and problem-solving. For emerging leaders, honing this skill can greatly influence the trajectory and impact of their leadership path.


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


The Story of Maya and the Team Retreat:

Maya, a young team leader in a tech company, faced a significant challenge. Her team, though talented, struggled with communication and collaboration. Deadlines were missed, and the atmosphere was tense. Realizing something had to change, Maya decided to organize an offsite team retreat.

The Retreat: The retreat began with team-building exercises. Initially, there was resistance; some team members felt these activities were trivial. The Maya observed but did not force participation. Instead, she joined in, showing her willingness to be part of the team, not just its leader.

The Turning Point: The key moment came during a group discussion. Maya shared a personal story about a time she failed a project due to a lack of teamwork. This moment of vulnerability from Maya encouraged others to open up. Team members started sharing their own experiences and challenges, both personal and professional.

The Result: This sharing session broke down barriers. Team members began to see each other as individuals with their own struggles, not just coworkers. They started understanding the value of support and communication. Maya facilitated this dialogue, ensuring everyone had a chance to speak and be heard.

Back at Work: Back in the office, the change was palpable. The team communicated more openly and helped each other without hesitation. When conflicts arose, they were handled constructively. The team started meeting their deadlines with work of higher quality. Maya's approach to leadership transformed the team's dynamics.

Lesson Learned: Maya learned that leadership is not just about managing tasks but about understanding and nurturing people. By creating an environment where vulnerability and open communication were valued, she helped her team to connect on a deeper level, which in turn improved their collaboration and productivity.

This story reflects a common scenario in leadership: The need to foster team cohesion and the power of vulnerability and open communication in achieving that goal.

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