Tag Archives: Leadership

Linus Torvalds’ 7 leadership lessons

This video of the founder of the Linux kernel is fascinating. I am pretty sure that the world will stumble upon the one shocking phrase that Linus said during this conference at the Aalto University, in Finland : “F*** you Nvidia”.

Linus is obviously an opinionated person and this sentence was tweeted, re-tweeted and shared all around the world. But it misses all the other points Linus made during this presentation; to me, this presentation was an excellent leadership lesson in 7 points:

1) You don’t have to plan something to be successful at it

When Linus started his operating system, he was “looking at a new project to use [his] computer”. Today, according to Google, 900 000 Linux-based Android devices are activated. How more successful could an “accidental” project be ?

However, I think that even though Linus had no exact plan about what his OS would become, several factors helped him along the way. He stated, for instance that “when [he] started Linux, [he] had been programming half of his life”. He was not a complete beginner. He had time to create and shape something entirely new, as he was a student. Linus mentioned that the “development of Linux was very natural.”. I think that this development was natural because the external factors were positive at that time. You don’t have to make big plans for something to be successful, but watch your environment if, even without planning, you want to be successful.

2) Focus on your strength

According to Linus, the strength of open-source is that people can do what they are best at. It helped him focus and not have to bother about minor tasks. He  put his passion, interest and energy where they were the most effective: the development of an operating system kernel.

3) Trust is limited, put it in people who deserve it

Although people might have thousands of LinkedIn contacts, for instance, they really trust only a handful of them. In Linus’ case, it is between 5 and 15 people and only 3 to 4 can really take his job over. It is not that many, they have to be the right ones.

4) You have the right to be opinionated

Linus is honest in his statements, he uses strong language and if people are offended “it’s their problem”. The story with Nvidia is, again, a blatant example of it. However, if the media only remembers this three-words sentence, it might forget the five-minutes explanation that preceded it. Torvalds explained in a lot of detail what went wrong with this company and why he was displeased. His wording might be offensive, he has very valid reasons to be angry, though.

Moreover, these opinions are important as a leader. As Linus said “people take him seriously […] and in an open-source community, other developers need to know how he feels”. He explains very well in this interview how, in the past, not to have taken a decision early enough leaded to trouble subsequently. As a leader, people should not misread you and you should take decisions as early as possible to show where the way is going.

5) Give credit to others

I found remarkable that Linus gave credit to others. He did it in particular to Dennis Ritchie and Brian Kernighan, two of the inventors in the 70s of Unix, which leaded the way to Linux in the 90s. Leadership, to me, is about showing to the world what you have done, if it makes an impact, but also recognizing when you sit on the shoulders of giants.

6) Work hard and execute

For Linus, “execution is more important than vision”. He  believes in hard work and attention to detail and in Edison’s definition of genius : 90% of perspiration – 10% of inspiration. This is what made him successful.

I found his sentence very inspiring “If you look at the stars all the time, you’ll stumble upon the pothole in the garden”.

7) Do it with passion

During the last minutes of the conference, Linus said “I believe that having passion, caring about what you do is more important  than having this mental vision of a golden future you want to reach”. As a leader, people should do everything they do with passion. In my opinion, it is a trait of leaders that they really care about the things they are doing and that passion is a driving force for their efforts.

Toastmasters fall district conference 2011

Last week end, I attended Toastmasters district 59 fall conference in Basel, Switzerland.

This bi-yearly event takes place every time in a different city among the numerous continental European countries that belong to the district (Portugal, Spain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Germany, Danemark, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway).

The main purpose of this Fall conference is to host the humorous speech contests (held in French, German and English), as well as the table topics contests (impromptu speeches) held in all three languages. These finals attract among the best speakers in continental Europe !

I arrived on Friday afternoon in Basel by train, as I took the role of chief judge for the German table topics. The conference was hosted in the Ramada Hotel in Basel: a great location for such an event !

After having briefed the judges about the rules and the ranking criteria for the contest, I attended both the German and French table topics contest, and one of the the English humorous speech contest semi-final. Finally, on Friday, the District Executive Committee Meeting (DECM) took place. This meeting gathered all Toastmasters Area, Division and District governors to present the progress made by the district towards its goals fixed at the beginning of the year.
From my perspective, the Area I supervise (F1) contributed to the general progress, as a new club was is being chartered in Stuttgart, which is excellent news for all Stuttgarters.

It was definitely an exciting experience to see how structured the success plan of the district is and also to see that it is executed in a fairly disciplined manner. All aspects of the plan were addressed : club and membership growth, educational achievements of the members, organization of the district conference and financial status. Although all people who contribute are completely benevolent, a lot of time and energy is put inside this organization.

One interesting fact is that the district has grown so big that it will be split in two in the coming years. A vote of all club president, VP education and district officers allowed the start of the procedure to check all facts and make a proposal in that sense. I personally think that the strength of this district is its diversity (especially of languages) but its size is just too big and a split would benefit the members. One of the biggest challenges of this reform is that a “border” will need to be defined to separate the two districts. As Germany provides by far most of the clubs, I fear that it may be separated, thus making a German speaking district contest less interesting. Germany also has a not-so-positive history with splitting…

On Saturday, Ted Corcoran, an Irishman, former Toastmasters International President, gave a very good keynote speech about leadership by stating ten skills leaders show (for example “take responsibility”, “be proactive”, etc.). Although these presentations may look repetitive, their core message is still important and the delivery of the one-hour speech was impeccable.

I then attended the German humorous speech contest (yes, these two things are compatible !), the English table topics contest, as well as the finals for humorous speeches. The table topic, an impromptu speech usually to answer a question, was this time very original. The table topics master gave an egg to the speaker, who had to make a one-to-two minutes speech out of it. The result was very different from speaker to speaker and it was fun to watch. The last contest was the humorous speech contest. As expected, the level of the speeches was excellent. The winner deserved her title and although some speeches were funnier than others, all participants deserved their applauds.

The organization of the conference must have been a huge work for the organizers. I contributed a bit by volunteering as a chief judge, but the task of managing this whole convention must have been a herculean task. The organization team can be proud of themselves !

For the future, from a personal perspective, I would like to contribute to the success of the district by taking over a role in the district team, for instance as Lieutenant Governor Marketing. Growth is something I am fascinated by and I would like to help extending the network of clubs all across Europe.

The next district conference will take place in Spring, in Poznan, Poland. The evaluations and International speech contest will be held there. I am confident that I will have achieved all the goals set for my Area for this Toastmasters year (June 2011-May 2012) until then. Also, I looking forward to go for the first time in Poland and to participate to the growth of Toastmasters in continental Europe !

New branding for Toastmasters

Back in August of this year, Toastmasters International introduced a complete new branding. This -much needed- initiative aimed at presenting this venerable nonprofit organization with over 13,000 clubs and more than 270,000 members in 113 countries in a new light and give it a distinctive identity.
Founded in 1924 in Santa Ana, California, this institution’s goals is to help members become better speakers and leaders. The public speaking skills are trained based on a self-paced program and the leadership skills are trained by taking over roles in the organization, either at the club, or at a higher level. I have been an enthusiastic member for four years now and already wrote on this blog an article explaining the basic principles of Toastmasters.

The organization encountered identity problems as clubs and geographical divisions were created around the world. Many clubs started to use their own logos, colors and tag lines. The District 59, for example, which comprises all western European Toastmasters clubs, invented its own motto “Connect through diversity”. Although this sentence makes sense for this particular district with so much diversity, the strength of the Toastmasters brand was diluted. Indeed, there are around 89 districts in the world, each with its own tag line !

Toastmasters International gradually lost control on its own brand and needed an energetic answer to the fragmentation of its identity across the world. Moreover, some of its communication artifacts were not representative of the current state of the organization, such as its exponential international growth.

The logo, for instance, was one of the most outmoded part of the branding. Although the globe gave a sense of the international purpose of the organization, it was centered around the American continent only.
The gavels, one is used to open the Toastmasters club meetings, were not understood from a large part of the population. Some even believed to see fists gripping the world !
Furthermore, this logo, which is an evolution of the first logo designed in the 1930’s profoundly lacked dynamics and modernity. On the other hand, it provided a sense of authority (the gavels reminding of the justice) and of tradition.

The tag line of the organization was “Become the leader and speaker you want to be“. Although it perfectly described the goals achievable through this organization, it had a major issue : its length. No one could remember exactly the sentence after having heard it for the first time.

Finally, the organization used to use a patchwork of unrelated colors, changing, at each event or in each manuals.

Toastmasters International hence decided to hire a consultancy to refresh and align the Toastmasters brand on a worldwide basis. The outcome can be seen on Toastmasters International’s website, as well as on my club’s.

A definition of a brand is an idea embodied in, among others, products, services and experiences. The brand represents the interface between us and Toastmasters. It is present on all web pages, all official documents, all flyers and promotional items. If a branding is not efficient or not focused, it loses its strength and the message of the organization weakens with it. Toastmasters hence introduced in August a new unified branding for the worldwide organization. Its goal is clear : the clubs need to align to the headquarters’s communication to give a unified and controlled member experience.

The consultancy came up with a “brand” new concept, with a distinct set of colors that are culturally neutral and are not part of any country flag in order to emphasize the international vocation of Toastmasters. Also, this color panel is distinct from any other public speaking association, thus increasing the distinction and value of TM. I think they completely succeeded in this task.

The new logo is now much less centered on the USA and looks much more modern. However, as modern as it may look, the drawback is certainly that it will be outmoded much faster than the previous, more conservative, logo. Note the use of the new color scheme.

Finally, and this is my only real complaint, the emphasis of this new branding is clearly much more important on the leadership side than on the public speaking side of Toastmasters.

For instance, the tag line was changed to “Where leaders are made“. In the elevator speech provided by Toastmasters for district leaders, I could count one “speech”, three “communication”-related words , one “tell” versus 12 derivatives of the word “lead” !

The reason for that is that the consultancy associated the needs of the target groups (one of the most important being the young professionals) with the will of becoming better leaders. Thus these people will look for opportunities to increase their leadership capabilities and will acknowledge that, in order to become better leaders, they need to become better speakers.

I fundamentally disagree with that assumption. Although I look for leadership opportunities in this organization, I came on first place to improve my public speaking skills, and so did all members I know.
I highly doubt that people will make the connection between leadership and public speaking at first. Googling on the web “public speaking” would lead them to a website where “leaders are made”… not exactly what they were looking for, and in a world where the first impression is often the last one, I think this messaging will not grab the attention of the prospective learners enough to make them stay and learn more on the website.

This brand positioning assumes people want to become leaders, putting the public speaking skills aside. However, leadership can be understood in many ways and is too fuzzy to be really effective as a tag line. Hence, instead of reinforcing the message of Toastmasters, which is dedicated to helping people improve their public speaking first and then their leadership skills, this branding centered around leadership rather undermines it.

Despite this point, I think that this branding was much needed. Unifying and changing the color codes and the logo was necessary to regain control of the Toastmasters brand and to give members a better experience wherever they are on Earth. Nonetheless, I fundamentally disagree with the emphasis set on the leadership side of the educational program. I think it weakens our message, as well as will be less effective for prospective members to connect leadership and public speaking and eventually join this fantastic organization.

Mark Hurd leaving HP

As probably most of you know, Mark Hurd, HP’s CEO and chairman has left HP for, according to HP’s press release, reasons related to the way he conducted business with a contractor.

While Mark Hurd was often seen as a tough CEO, especially from HP’s older employees, I personally think he has done a great job at the top of the company. Some criticized him for having killed the “HP way”, which was one of HP’s fundamental approach of dealing with employees but, since Carly Fiorina’s time as a CEO, has lost more and more importance in the company. Despite HP’s R&D reorganization, some revolutionary products such as Virtual Connect or HP BladeSystem Matrix were brought to the market when he was a CEO. Mark Hurd made of HP the number one IT company in the world, before IBM and its financial results always (at least since 2007, year of my enrolment) outperformed the expectations, and that is, I think, the most important. The best job security is to work in a company that actually makes profits.

I was very impressed by Mark Hurd’s performance on the following video of the Haas School of Business. What I will remember from this talk is the mantra of any CEO: “To succeed, you need three things: to have a vision, to execute it, and you need the best people”. I wish the next CEO of HP will succeed as Mark Hurd did.

A year as VP public relations for Toastmasters

Toastmasters International offers tons of leadership opportunities. After having spent 6 months as a member, I volunteered one year ago to become vice-president public relations of the Stuttgart International Toastmasters Club.

I was mainly elected for my technical abilities to reshape our Internet website, so I created a brand new website for our club and took any opportunity to advertise for our club. I started Xing, Facebook and LinkedIn groups, in order not only to promote Toastmasters in Stuttgart but also to create an esprit de corps around the club. Finally, since one of our members could record speeches with his camera, I also created a Dailymotion user for our club, in order to upload the videos. This gives the visitors a better idea of what they can expect to see and learn by attending our meetings.

In order to keep as much attention from the members and visitors as possible, I have created a blog on which I have put all new information that was related to our club. As a good salesperson, I know how customer cherish references and have made two interviews of members in order to show a testimony of success of the program. In the end, our members are our customers…
It is interesting to note that the number of visits increased every time I have sent a newsletter to all members and registered persons. This newsletter, published about every two month, was a summary of the blog and gave direct links to the website. Hence my advice if you start being involved in PR activities: don’t assume that people will check by themselves the information you give, you have to be more pushy than that.

Finally, one of my goals was to create awareness about the club in the local press to reach as many people as possible. I have sent literally dozens and dozens of emails to reach journals from the Stuttgart area and got very, very, very few answers. My experience is that if you want some press coverage, you have to persevere a lot. Most journals didn’t even bother responding an email to confirm they had received my request for an article.
After lots of efforts however, some journalists eventually came to write an article in their respective newspapers. However, the content of some of them was disappointing… if not partially invented ! The only thing I wanted to do was still to… thank the journalists! Because, honestly, if the article does not exactly look like what you imagined but makes your club look good, then it was worth the effort, and Toastmasters is such a great organization that it is difficult to write really critical things about our meetings.

I was pretty satisfied with the results of all these efforts : our club has gained 16 new members and the total number of members reached the good number of 40 (same as last year).

From a personal perspective, doing all these things helped me being seen as a credible officer and becoming the president of the Stuttgart International Toastmasters Club for the year 2010-2011. I am looking forward to leading the officers’ team of the club and, again, to taking all leadership opportunities offered by Toastmasters.