From doing the right things in the right way, to considering how you dress and represent yourself and your company, the characteristics of essential leadership stand the test of time.
In this special series of podcasts, Ray Zinn provides the finer points for leadership and leadership qualities and how to develop them.
Rob Artigo: Welcome to a special edition of the Tough Things First Podcast as we launch a new series, Essential Leadership. I’m your guest host, Rob Artigo, writer and entrepreneur in California. Hello again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hi, Rob. So good to be with you again.
Rob Artigo: Well, I really enjoyed listening to your series on Silicon Valley history. It was a hit apparently, because you were asked to do another series. So this time we’re going to focus on leadership. I guess you must be very excited to spend at least maybe, I’m thinking 10 podcasts dedicated to something I know is near and dear to your heart, but also to your success.
Ray Zinn: Absolutely. This is going to be a great series, Rob.
Rob Artigo: So I’d thought we’d start with this broader question of leadership so that we can give kind of an overview. We’ll start with a broader question. And then we’ll end with sort of the final episode, we’ll look back at what we talked about and give another broader overview of leadership. But I thought we would start with talking about an overview of leadership and then we’ll break it down into smaller topics, individual subjects that really matter to making a decent leader better or a good leader great and that sort of thing. We’ll just really focus on that sort of thing. So let’s launch into Episode One. What do you say?
Ray Zinn: That’s good. This is good, better, best, okay? This is what we’re going to be doing.
Rob Artigo: Okay, great. Good, better, best, and that is perfect for how we’re going to start this, because I was thinking there are good leaders and there are bad leaders. There are adequate leaders and there are great leaders. We’ve heard stories. Sometimes we see leaders on TV, some news network, we see the leader on TV one day being interviewed by CNBC. And the next day they crash and burn, because they have some huge failing or something they did horribly wrong. Maybe it’s personal, or maybe it’s professional, or whatever. You may have a good leader who turns out to be bad or you might have an adequate leader who could be great if they changed a little bit. So let’s start looking at, for the new leader or the would-be leader, what should we be setting out as a goal from the beginning?
Ray Zinn: Well, to be a good leader, it starts out, your attitude, what kind of characteristics you’re going to employ as the leader of the group, as you would. So we all have our strengths and our weaknesses. And you want to build on your strengths, but also you want to overcome your weaknesses. So this is what the series is about. This series is to help you become, if you’re already good in a particular area, we’re going to help you become much better. And if you have some weaknesses we’re going to help you develop and overcome those weak areas that are plaguing you as the leader of your organization.
Rob Artigo: When you talk about weaknesses and strengths, are we talking about, what kinds of weaknesses, and what kinds of strengths are the kinds of things that we can expect to accentuate in the process of practicing or learning and absorbing things from the people around us?
Ray Zinn: We often focus on just running the company, just trying to either meet the goals and objectives of our investors, or other customers, or whatever the audience is that we’re trying to appeal to, and we’re forgetting about the fundamentals. There are fundamentals that you have to have to be a good leader. And just focusing on trying to make your investors or your customers happy doesn’t necessarily make you a good leader. And, in fact, most leaders forget about really what it takes to run their organization. Every company has a building or has some edifice and they’re all the same, but what makes the difference is the people that are involved in running the company. And it’s the people that are running the company are the ones you want to focus. You become the coach. You become the one that’s going to be the leader of the band, as you would. And so it’s your quality or characteristics that will make the difference as the kind of coach you’re going to be for your team.
Rob Artigo: Do you ever run into young leaders or maybe even somewhat seasoned leaders in the tech world, the venture cap world, that they’re more interested in presenting themselves as an edgy, creative, great leader when really all they’re doing is presenting themselves that way and they’re not really interested in demonstrating that they are good?
Ray Zinn: Well, that’s what I was just talking about. That’s the thing that I was referring to when I said you got to motivate your people. You got to be a good coach. If you’re the kind of coach out on the sidelines and you’re jumping up and down with all kinds of antics and stuff so the camera’s focused on you, you’re not leading the team. It’s not about you. It’s about the team. And so it’s losing yourself in the team. A good coach is not the one out in front. The good coach is the one that’s with the team. He’s part of the team. And the team knows that they can depend on him. He’s got those characteristics that they can admire and respect.
And so remember, the company is not about you. It’s really about the products, the technology, the kind of image that you want to project for the company. So many leaders, unfortunately, it’s focused on them, like Elon Musk and Tesla. You hear more about Elon than you do about Tesla. And so you got to lose yourself and your ego when it comes to being a good coach.
Rob Artigo: What about those who come before you and they want to pitch you an idea and do their elevator pitch? Do you find people who would rather be perceived as the next Elon Musk in their persona than to present a good idea?
Ray Zinn: Yeah. Unfortunately, you’re correct. I mean, when you go in to buy something, whether it be a car, or some clothing, or wherever it is, you’re not interested in the person that’s selling the product. You’re interested in the product that you’re buying. And the same thing when you’re running a company. Your employees are not interested in you. They’re interested in the product that they’re going to be building, or the service they’re going to be providing. And that’s what you should be focusing on, is really leading out with that, “Okay, we have a great product. We have a great service,” and not, “Hey, I’m a great leader.”
Rob Artigo: So going back to good, better, best as we’ve started this podcast, what are you more likely to run into here in 2021 in the work that you do, whether it’s going to the college campuses or getting out in the business world, what kind of leader are you most likely to run into, the good, the better, or the best?
Ray Zinn: I think probably the good, not that there aren’t wonderful and fantastic leaders. It’s just like anything else, there’s the average. And so most of the ones I run into are more average. And so even when I’m teaching at the various universities and I look over at the students, there’s usually maybe just a few that stand out as good potential leaders of the 30 or 40 that I teach at a time. So that’s roughly 10%. And so it’s the other 80 or 90% that really need help and need to understand some of the qualities and characteristics that they need to employ if they’re going to be a good leader. As we know, 9 out of 10 startups fail within the first three years, because they lack that leadership. And really it’s not the product usually, or the service. It’s usually the leader that results in the company going under.
Rob Artigo: I want to remind the listeners real quick here, we’ve begun a new podcast series and we’re discussing essential leadership here on the Tough Things First Podcast. Of course, Ray Zinn, being a longtime CEO has leadership in the tech world, in the business world that many of us can only hope to have one day. And Ray, I wonder if, we were talking about what levels of leadership you experience or the types of leaders that you run into out in the world are good, better, best and you say, “Yeah, most of them are just okay.” And so I look at what a natural leader is versus a leader who’s just okay and can either learn or just stagnate, right?
Ray Zinn: Yeah. Well, we talk about the natural athlete. Well, they had the certain physical characteristics that just makes them a natural athlete, the genetics and so forth. And it’s the same thing with our personalities. There are some people who are just naturally good leaders, because they have that personality. There’s a personality associated with a good leader. And all of you who have or now work for somebody that you know is a natural leader, it’s because they have the natural characteristics that make a great leader. So in this podcast series, we’re trying to help the listener become… Let’s say you are the best. Let’s say you are a super leader. We’re going to help you even become better, because we’re going to help you focus on those areas that you need to strengthen.
The natural athlete has that ability already genetic-wise to be a great athlete, whatever sport that they’re involved with. And the same thing with a great leader. They have just those natural characteristics that make them a great leader. But not everybody has those natural, as you would, physical characteristics or personal characteristics that make them a fantastic leader. And so this series is going to help you do that. If you will listen carefully to the ideas that we’re going to present, you can become, even if you’re the best that there is, we’re going to help you become even better than the best. So this is the purpose of this series.
Rob Artigo: So how about getting the confidence to pursue leadership roles? If you’re one of those people who maybe you have innate leadership skills, but you don’t have the confidence to assert yourself, is this something that we might be able to cover in this podcast series?
Ray Zinn: Sure. Absolutely. It does take courage to be a great leader. The main focus of this series is those areas, those characteristics that make great leaders. And all of you who are going to listen to this, or who are listening to this series, know people who you think in your mind are great, super leaders. As you mentioned, Rob, I started Micrel in 1978. And I was young. I was in my late 30s. And just like being a father, nobody goes to school to learn how to be a father. It’s OJT, you kind of learn it as you go along. Now, there are people who are naturally just great fathers. And so they don’t need a lot of extra help, because they have those characteristics that just make good dads.
And so as I was starting out in my career in 1960, I didn’t have a mentor, necessarily, anybody leading me, guiding me, walking beside me, as they say. I had to learn OJT. And so I did have, of course, good parents and they did teach me good personal characteristics that helped me, I think, as I started my company in 1978. As I said, I was in my late 30s and here I am starting out, running a company. Now, I ran organizations prior to starting Micrel, but I didn’t actually take over the reins of a company until I started my own in 1978. As I said, I never ran a company before. I ran an organization, but not a company. And so here I am, in my 30s, and now I’m starting to lead this company and so I worked diligently. I studied. I got my master’s degree and just tried to see if I could get the characteristics and the learning necessary to become a great leader. I would say that I’m not necessarily a natural leader, as you would, or like a natural athlete. And so I had to learn.
And I did learn, because I wanted to. I had that desire. It wasn’t all about me. It’s all about how I can help people become better people. In fact, when I hire people at the company, when at the time when I was running it, I said, “I’m not here to make you rich. That’s your job. You’re here to make yourself rich. But what I will promise you I will do, I will help you become a better person, a better husband, a better wife, a better father, mother, a citizen. I’ll help you become a better person. That’s what I’m going to do.” And that was a focus that I had as the leader of Micrel, was to help people become better people. That was my goal. It wasn’t to become rich. It wasn’t to become famous. It wasn’t to turn the world upside. It was really to help people become better people.
Rob Artigo: Well, we’re discussing essential leadership here on this special edition of the Tough Things First Podcast. This is a new series with Ray Zinn. So you can also reach out to Ray with your questions at ToughThingsFirst.com, where you’ll find more on the podcasts. All the podcasts are there, even the past podcasts, logs and links to information about Ray’s books, Tough Things First, the Zen of Zinn and the Zen of Zinn 2. And I think in this podcast, we’ll cover some of those finer points of Zen of Zinn 2 as our leadership topics pop up over the next 10 or so podcasts.
So please go to your favorite podcast source, probably the one you’re listening right now, and give your rating to us and help us spread the word about the Tough Things First Podcast, as well as the books and, of course, the great advice we get every day from, or at least every week, every other week, from Ray Zinn. And if you are following him online or on social media, you can get that information every day. The series is Essential Leadership. It will be going about 10 podcasts. This is Episode One. We’ll have Episode Two coming up. Thanks, Ray. It was a good way to intro this.
Ray Zinn: Well, thanks, Rob. I think it’s a good way to start it. Our goal is to help people become better people and better people become better leaders.