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7 Questions on Leadership with Praveen Kollaikal

Name: Praveen Kollaikal

Title: VP, Security Product Managment

Organisation: Oracle Inc

Praveen is the Vice President of Oracle’s SaaS Cloud Security Product Management organization. He has spent close to 25 years in multiple leadership roles building products and leading teams at Salesforce, Yahoo, McAfee, and KLA-Tencor. Praveen holds a B.E. in Electronics Engineering and an MBA in General Management specializing in Engineering Leadership from UC Berkeley and Cybersecurity from MIT.

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

I hope Praveen'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 I have been noticing the lack of emotional intelligence (aka EQ) at the workplace. When you are a leader, you deal with people from different culture, upbringings, and backgrounds. Lack of EQ creates tension, workplace conflicts, misunderstandings, blame games and outbursts. While managing global teams, you are hardly in the same locations. It is more important than ever to have an empathetic and collaborative workplace where you feel safe, trusted, and heard.

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

I started as a Developer and worked my way through the levels in the last 25 years of my career. As I lead the Oracle Product Management group as their VP of Security products, I look back at my journey with sincerity and pride. However, my first stint as a leader was during my tenure at Yahoo!. I was chosen to lead a very strategic initiative of launching 135 global sites within 24 months. I had to learn new tricks and unlearn a few. Building a strategy, developing the sites, working with partners, vendors, content providers, PR, media, and finally go-to-market, was all a new experience for me. We launched 135 sites in 16 months, ie 8 sites a month. It was a marathon, not a sprint. At every step, there was learning, collaborating, pacing, all of this while keeping my eyes on the finishing line. That is what made me the leader I am today.

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

I shall start with this, I am NOT an early bird. 8 AM is the best I can start my workday, but I work late hours. Mornings are for important meetings, so I try to do most of them in the morning, especially since I work with APAC and EMEA. I like to keep afternoons for my team or for myself to catch up with the work that I must deliver. I take a break in the evening from 5 PM till around 9 PM, then I check emails and respond to any urgent requests before I go to sleep. Of course, there are always exceptions.

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

Leadership is about simple things and mostly common sense. “When you give up more control, you earn more command”. I was reminded of this recently by a team member. When my team started growing and had few first-time managers, it was hard for me to trust them to make the right decisions and judgments. 6 months ago, during my 1:1, I was challenged by a team member about trust and control. I then realized what I was doing wrong. This made me change the approach to “Trust”, but “Verify” till I got comfortable with new managers. Today, I have a leadership team that operates independently and takes ownership for their success and failures.

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?

This book was given to me by one of the mentors, and it is called “It’s Your Ship” written by D. Michael Abrashoff. This book narrates the story of a captain and how he turned around an underperforming ship into the best ship in the US Navy. In this book he talks about how he invested in people by identifying their strengths, and helping them reach their full potential to achieve goals. This made me think of what kind of leader do I want to be, the one with command-and-control or the one who can earn your team's respect, loyalty, and commitment. It gave me a perspective on how to get people to play to their strengths than fixing their weaknesses. It reminded me of the days when I was a Developer and how I wanted to be treated by my leader.

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

Create trust within your team; Empathy is not a sign of weakness; Communicate with purpose; Listen more. Think of control as a scoop of fine sand inside your hand. The more you hold it tighter, the more it slips out of your hand.

And, one last thing; act based on data, but never on perception.

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

This story is really close to my heart. Marissa Mayer joined as CEO of Yahoo! and one of her key projects was to give an uplift to the Yahoo brand. Yahoo logo was introduced in 1996 and it did not change much with the modern times. The idea was to get a logo that was more reflective of the reimagined Yahoo with new user experiences. I was chosen to lead the program with a handful of people across various teams at Yahoo. That was my “Tiger Team”. To get everyone warmed up and to make this fun, we kicked off a 30-day challenge. On August 6th, 2013, we started displaying a new logo every day for 30 days on our homepage and throughout our network. It was our way of honoring the legacy of our present logo and building up to the launch and unveiling of the final logo on September 5th, 2023. To make it more interesting, 8 days before the final logo change, we were thrown with another challenge to make the “!” animated. While the team was tirelessly working, we also had to maintain confidentiality throughout. Finally, on 5th September we launched our new Yahoo logo exactly at midnight. It was one of the most historic events for Yahoo and a proud one for me personally. It wouldn’t have been possible without the motivation, drive, passion, trust, and excellent collaboration of the team along with Marissa’s leadership. When you have a great team, a great leader, and a will to do the impossible, nothing can stop you. As they say, “Teamwork makes the dream work.”. I still have a picture with Marissa after the launch, and I wish I smiled a bit more in that.

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