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7 Questions on Leadership with Steven V Selthoffer

Name: Steven V Selthoffer

Title: Founder / CEO

Organisation: Comeback! Solutions

Steven V Selthoffer is the Founder / CEO of Comeback! Solutions a healthcare app based on a smartphone with embedded AI. Comeback’s DNA is designed to bridge the digital space between patients and doctors through the entire healthcare treatment lifecycle.

As a communications executive, he worked for Deutsche Telekom and T-Mobile doing a number of projects.

Selthoffer also has a background in relief aid working between the military, political, and intelligence communities of our NATO partners bringing humanitarian aid into refugee camps and war zones around the world.

Skiing when he can, he mostly inline skates to stay in shape along the Rhine.

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

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


Jonno White

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

The need for solid, uncompromising and trustworthy leadership responsible for the lives of so many others is greater now more than ever. What we do today in AI is going to affect tens of millions of people and many more exponentially downstream in the future as AI is implemented in new and innovative applications around the globe.

Despite improved releases, if many of the current derivative forms of large scale, generative AI models were used 500 years ago, it would output as fact that there are sea monsters in the middle of the oceans and dragons in Africa.

We’re not in a much better position today with nameless, faceless software engineers deployed in various companies tweaking algorithmic LLM systems for their own personal interests to the harm of many others whether politically, medically, religiously or historically. Recent press and multi-government investigations and hearings confirm the dangers of closed system development without oversight, verification or policy and legal guardrails.

The danger of data manipulation, distortion, elimination or dilution of information and data sets is self-evident and will continue to be a concern moving forward.

You must not only have an understanding of tech ecosystems, markets and operations, but you also have to be on top of your game regarding emotional intelligence, the understanding of human nature combined with the mental bandwidth to anticipate potential vulnerabilities and any misuse possibilities no matter how innocuous or bland system operations may appear. Developing opportunities is one thing, protecting the users/consumers is another. Both must happen in concert together.

Trust but verify.

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

In my childhood, when I was playing American tackle football in first and second grade You're just a little guy, pint size.

I was the quarterback and led my little team to victory in the championship game two years in a row. In both years we were behind with only two minutes left on the clock and each year we needed to score twice to win.

In both games the conditions were very cold. Everyone wanted to go home. Mentally my teammates felt like it was over. There was discontent. They felt everything was hopeless. But I looked at the clock and gathered my team around me. It wasn't over yet. In the huddle I told them we could win. You have to believe it first before you do it.

Then as the game resumed, in a few crucial moments when the coach was signaling, calling the plays from the sidelines, standing in the middle of the field with my team as we broke the huddle and lined up against the defense, I looked at the defense and decided to go against the authority of the head coach and called an audible (a change in play against the coach’s order at the last seconds before snapping the ball) on the most critical plays in the game with everything on the line.

No matter what situation you’re in, block out the noise and the screaming from the sidelines. As a six year old and the following year as a seven year old, I trusted my own instincts calling and running the plays against the wisdom and authority of the head coach. We drove down the field and scored, coming from behind to score twice in each year and win both years in a row.

Those early experiences were embedded in me throughout my childhood, teenage, adult and professional life and have benefited me greatly. Trust your own instincts.

Whether it’s a healthtech startup like Comeback!, working in Deutsche Telekom, T-Mobile, coaching Olympic athletes or running your own company wherever you are… There is still time on the clock. Declare your vision. Stay cool and composed under pressure. Model the best leadership you know. Control your emotions. Demonstrate loyalty. Use the players you have. You are there to bring out the best in them. It’s all about the team. Encourage the weak and fainthearted. Believe in your own God given gifts and ability. Don’t look at what your competition can do, focus on what you can do.

Despite the circumstances and previous setbacks, you know deep down inside you can overcome. You can win this whole thing.

Walk in humility and grounded confidence and the success and victories will come.

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

Stay in shape. Sports, fitness and health are vitally important. When you’re physically fit, you’re mentally sharp.

When I’m in a warm climate I like to get up before 06:00 am and go for an early morning swim practice before breakfast. 3,000 to 6,000 meters. Varied training. There’s nothing like it. Horses have to run with horses to get better. When you finish swim practice walking home in the early morning sunshine then going for a coffee at a café feels so good.

When the weather is colder, I inline skate along the Rhine to stay in shape going on average 12 KMs to 15 KMs a workout three times a week weather permitting and doing a 25 KM loop once every week or two up to the island and back.

I used to swim for US Olympic coach Dr. James E. (Doc) Counsilman, Head Swimming Coach, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN, USA. He was a legend and impacted the sport for over 50 years. Half of my teammates were on various Olympic teams, US, Canada, Brazil, France, Australia, Germany, etc… He ran an open program. All television networks, coaches, national team high performance and conditioning experts were permitted to come, watch, film and record the workouts and duplicate the program. There are no secrets in Olympic swimming and in coaching, setting world records, or winning in the Olympics. It comes down to four things, character, hard work, perseverance and a love for excellence.

The same is true in business.

In the morning, I do a lot of focused work at my workstation. I use lunches to engage with various members of my team. In the afternoons are socially based for dropping into meetings and planning sessions.

In the evenings, I make sure everyone goes home. Family time is more important than work.

However, I am a creative person. When the creativity comes, I drop everything and write down the ideas. Whether it's 12 midnight, riding my bike, walking, or sitting in a café.

Someone once said: “The sign of a genius is to save all the pieces.” It’s good advice. I ardently try to save new creative ideas and other elements that come to mind tapping the ideas into my notes on my iPhone.

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

Always, always, always stay current in your area of tech, expertise etc. Know where everything is going and how everything relates to everything else in the big picture. You have to love what you’re doing. “With all thy getting, get wisdom. Get understanding.” Proverbs 4:5-9. Bible KJV.

16th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes said something to the effect: “Life under tyranny is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short."

Life on a large, poorly planned tech project is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and never short enough. Whether you’re doing large projects for Deutsche Telekom or T-Mobile, or sitting somewhere on the planet fine tuning engineering aspects of your new LLM, there is no substitute for having a great team of people around you. A great team can out think, out produce and out perform a collection of titled, talented individuals any day.

When you get an idea you need to nurture the idea in an environment of trust and support. You must protect what you’re thinking about. Don’t open yourself up to a crowd and risk ridicule. Protect yourself. You won’t get the whole idea instantly or have all of the answers of the product market fit all at once. The vision comes in pieces, many times from the end back to the beginning as time goes on.

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 Bible. It’s life. It’s His word to us now. He knows what’s going on, where you are at and where to go and what to do. Listen to the still, small, voice.

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

Do what you love to do and spend time discovering what your real skills are instead of being squeezed into someone’s mold of who they think you are and should be. You need to really search for yourself and find out who you are and what you really like to do. The rest will take care of itself.

It’s not about the market, the economy, where you live, the color of your skin, your family’s background, your environment, your culture, your lack of this or that, your difficult upbringing. You are responsible for yourself, for your own success.

It’s about: “What is in your heart? What is your vision?” If you don’t have one, go and work for someone until something ignites inside you. Then pursue it with everything you have. Only you will know what it is and when it is right.

Success can come at any time in your life -and it does come. And... you get many chances.

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

I was standing in the middle of a field surrounded by 40,000 Mozambicans in a refugee camp on the mountainous border in Zimbabwe during the MNR War. It was considered the poorest country in the world.

For many years, I worked with our NATO partners between the military, political and intelligence communities bringing in humanitarian aid into refugee camps and war zones around the world.

Exposed to the elements, the people had been traumatized beyond emotional or human understanding. Many had experienced losing loved ones, they were raped, tortured, had homes burned, businesses torched, there were people maimed from fighting, minefields, hundreds without medical attention, many starving, all lacking food, thousands without adequate clothing, or basic necessities... You’re standing there and everyone is looking at you: “What now?” You can feel it.

Start being the solution to the problems around you. Take the initiative. Do what you can do. Think fast on your feet. Prioritize the issues. State the vision. Start organizing. Spot the talent. Delegate. Assign jobs. Make it happen. Protect the weak and everyone else. Respect the children. Give everyone hope. Life does go on and life does get better. It did then too.

The best is always yet to come.

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