Name: Donald R Hammons
Title: Chief Customer Office and EVP for Global Alliances
Oranisation: mxHERO, Incorporated
Donald (Don) Hammons is a career technology leader located in the Silicon Valley. His technology career started with an eight-year service period in the United States Navy where Don served aboard commands including the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) aircraft carrier, Naval Communication Master Station - Atlantic, and as a Peacekeeper in Beirut, Lebanon in 1983. Don's role in the Navy involved cryptography system setups and radio communication network activations and led to his career pivot into the private sector upon completion of his military service.
Don is a graduate of the MS/MBA program at the University of Texas, a PMP-certified project manager, and he's certified on some of the latest edge-technology platforms including Salesforce, Box, and Google Cloud (AI).
Professionally, Don has enjoyed a career in multiple industry verticals including his leadership on a $200m capital program for a Texas-based municipal government, he led the Donald W Reynolds Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center and Dallas Heart Study (as Program Manager) and served UT Southwestern Medical Center as an AVP for Web Services. His co-authored paper on using social platforms for inter-institutional scientific collaboration was presented at Harvard University.
Don's technology leadership included stints in strategic IT roles for Lucent/Bell Labs, Alcatel-SA France, and Dr Pepper Snapple Group and several cloud technology start-ups.
In 2010, Don relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area to launch his career as a consultant, an investor and entrepreneur providing technology platform implementations and professional services to industry.
Don is an avid motorcyclist, a live music enthusiast, a certified advanced SCUBA diver, a self-proclaimed 'foodie', and a world traveler. He resides in San Francisco.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Donald's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
The most challenging aspect of leadership is related to mapping all possible energy towards the mission. The mission may be qualitative (e.g. let's do something good) or it can be quantitative in nature (e.g. let's grow our GEO by x% next year). Either way, leadership's prime challenge is to ask the question "Is what I'm about to do going to help me, or help us - to accomplish the mission?"
A lot happens when mission is the focus. One may elect to spend their time or energy on alignment - to ensure everyone on the team feels supported and a sense of ownership - a shared responsibility as it were - towards hitting a goal. A focus on the mission may result in tradeoffs that must be made in order to achieve the goal - making those tough decisions is critical. A focus on the mission may lead us to say "No" more than we'd like to. A focus on the mission may cause us to benchmark, ask questions of others, seek out mentorship, take risks and try new things - all viable considerations on the path to goal attainment.
Leadership is about focusing a set of actions, energy and investments in such a way as to achieve a targeted or positive outcome for customers, partners, employees and perhaps - for society as a whole. Maintaining that 'laser focus' on the mission, the "What are we trying to actually accomplish?" mantra - is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I've always had a systems orientation and a need for efficiency - even as a young age as a child. I knew leadership when I saw it - like the football coach whose team is encircling him and they're hanging on his every word, while the other team has players running around, the coach is yelling - and no one is listening. I always gravitated to those who led in a way that made me want to listen to them. As such, by observing others and emulating the styles that seemed to work best, or the styles perhaps that I responded-to best, I was able to tune my own leadership style.
I learned from football coaches, outstanding instructors or professors in school that served to inspire, from tech leaders, from U.S. Navy leaders, and from community leaders and others who gave their energy to try to accomplish something meaningful.
I guess 'becoming' a leader was actually more fundamental for me in some ways. I also grew up with little parental structure (my dad was gone and my mom worked 2-3 jobs). As such, if anything was to get done - I sometimes had to step up and make sure that it did. There was no passing of the buck when I was in my youth - we just had to own things and I suppose that made it's way into my adult life and in some ways informed my own 'servant' and trust-based leadership style.
I've always said my favorite role is as 'catalyst' - there's just something powerful about leadership (not the title - but the responsibility) in terms of it's potential to help others achieve their own potential. That's how and why I love exploring the concept of leadership. It's all about unlocking our collective potential and it happens all around us. The crossing guard next to a child's school, the teacher who inspires a struggling student, the football coach who inspires a player to be their best on and off the field, a Navy Commander leading his team aboard a ship at sea - inspiring them when no one is watching, the technology innovator who takes the risk, takes the chance - to try something new. Leadership is all around us and yet, the opportunity we all have - regardless of our title or stature in life - to also be a leader - is profound.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
As with many of us, I wear a number of hats and there is an eco-system I must support as a catalyst. So, I'm normally up early (e.g. 0600am) to prepare for my day and handle any administrative responsibilities. From that point, I think it's all about managing my energy allocation moreso than managing to a schedule. I try to carve out blocks in my schedule that allow for creative thinking or creative work. I tag meetings as strategic or tactical (e.g. strategic might be a meeting or time on my schedule where I'm looking over the horizon - a two-three year aim) whereas tactical meetings or actions are more aligned to what needs to get done 'right now' for us to progress as a team.
I also find value in meeting with others in creative ways such as ZOOM Coffee sessions, walk/talk sessions to get some exercise while having meaningful conversations, and taking the time to have lunch with a colleague or partner to get away from the laptop.
For me, there's also the notion of integration when it comes to hybrid work environments. As I focus on managing energy allocation - I also tend to see the convergence of personal as well and professional responsibilities within the context of a work day. We all have those experiences - such as having to make a doctor's appointment in between work-related ZOOM meetings. I try to park time on my schedule for such things so that I have less conflict, less stress and so that I go into every meeting excited, with the right mindset and fully prepared.
I also try to put time on my schedule between meetings instead of booking them back-to-back. I do this by staging time blocks or by holding 45-50 min meetings instead of every meeting being the 'default' hour every time. Even a 10-15 min break between meetings - often when they're of various topics - is so helpful as a reset. The worst thing one can do is bring the energy, stress or actions required from the past meeting into the 'next one'. I think my employees, partners and customers deserve to have the 'full me' on every call and by staging time between them, I can ensure I'm giving them my best.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
I suppose it's aligned with "Just because it's a good idea, does not mean we should do it!"
We've had examples where we had a flood of good ideas and in some ways we chose to pursue them. In retrospect, an idea being a good one doesn't mean that it's a north star or a focus area that should be pursued. For example, it's probably a cool or good idea that every home's windows has a robot installed that cleans the windows inside and out - top/down - every week - all autonomous. I'd like it and to me, it seems like a good idea. But, I am not going to start a company, go raise capital and launch a firm that focuses on that. Should someone else? Sure! So it's really all about making the decision on where you will find happiness or success, staying laser focused on it, knowing when to say no, and remembering that even 'good ideas' often should not, be pursued.
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?
I am an avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction. One book that influenced my leadership style was Paul Marciano's book "Carrots and Sticks Don't Work"
It impacted my view on leadership because I think the 'long game' that applies to inspiring others to accomplish meaningful goals or to hit their own personal or professional trajectory is quite profound. It's less about a pay raise or an award (the proverbial carrots) and less about 'demanding' performance. Both may work in the short game - but in the long game, it takes more than carrots and sticks. So, while those tactical things such as pay, awards, acknowledgement and accountability structures are important, the MOST important thing to remember is that trust, respect, inspiration and alignment to accomplishing something meaningful are all way more powerful than the proverbial carrots and sticks. Marciano was right about that.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
I would tell them to value every relationship they have and can make. Human beings teach us things. They can give us a line of sight into a new way of thinking that maybe in our own paradigm we do not see. They can teach us to invoke empath and to be less 'self' focused. Others can teach us how to inspire - because they tend to - inspire. They can unlock doors and show us path's to happiness and trust that alone, we'd perhaps not find. They can share with us lessons from their own journey so that we make less of 'their' mistakes and more of 'our own' - new ones so to speak. Others can give us courage to take risks, to think outside of the box, and to find mental health - as one never discounts the power of laughter. Build relationships, value them, create them, invest in them, and every once in a while reach out to someone who inspired you - just to say "Thanks!"
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
I have to share two stories here:
First, as a kid I remember my mom coming in one morning from the cold outside and she took plastic bread sacks and wrapped them around her shoes. I asked what she was doing and she told me that the car would not start and she'd have to walk to work in the snow. So, the bread sacks would keep her feet from getting wet in the snow. The walk to work that morning - 10 miles one way. The store would not open without her. The employees would not have a means to get their work done, if she were not there. Her ability to take care of us, in jeopardy if she did not show. I learned a lot about 'commitment to others' that morning. I learned a lot about my mom. I learned a lot about not giving up - even in the tough times.
The other story relates to a leader who sent me to Asia to run a program. We'd just signed a major multi-million dollar deal and they wanted a program leader in Tokyo to kick off the new program. I was tapped to lead it and I'd never led such a large program, I'd never been to Tokyo, or Singapore, or Hong Kong, or Sydney. I probably had 70% of the skills needed to be remotely successful in the role. Yet, I was sent anyway. My leadership, my team, and my company believed in me as they knew I'd work really hard to close that 30% gap and that was good enough for them. I learned that it's okay to take on something that's new, it's okay to bootstrap and learn new things as you go, and when leading others, don't ever forget to give someone a shot (in fact, seek them out), as you just might find - they'll exceed your expectations! To me, that's leadership.