Having worked in tech for upwards of over three decades, a question I’m often asked is “what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?” This comes up in numerous forums, whether it’s in a one-on-one mentoring session or in a large audience filled with younger, as well as tenured, colleagues. And like the varied audience, my answer is nuanced. Allow me to explain.
One of my early career opportunities was the chance to work as a chief of staff for an executive in our company. While at the outset, I wasn’t super interested in the role, this executive’s persistence and passion prevailed, and she convinced me to join her team. Looking back, working for her was the first major inflection point in my career. Why? Because I learned so many things from her that were never prevalently taught at school — even in business school. I was privy to executive decision-making, team dynamics at senior levels, governance, and politics in ways that I didn’t know existed.
After months of being in awe of this amazing executive, my boss, and trying to keep up with her brilliance and drive — I finally asked her what her secret was. Without hesitation she said, “Anne, don’t ever forget that staffing is your #1 key to success.”
Hmmm, as a twenty-something, I’ll admit that at the time I didn’t really “get it.” Sure, I understood that it was important to have smart people on your team, especially when you had a chance to pick them yourself.
But what I didn’t realize at the time were the implications and nuances in her advice — namely, that your success is all about people.
Whom you choose to surround yourself with has a direct correlation to how happy you are and how successful you can be. Additionally, the value of relationships and the role they play are EVERYTHING. As I developed as a manager into a leader over the course of my career, I realized that “staffing” was not simply choosing someone to fill a role — it has to do with ensuring that you have the right people in the right seats at the right time on the bus (thanks, Jim Collins, for “Good to Great”1). And it has everything to do with which relationships you choose to invest in vs. those that you don’t.
In our current world, there’s no question that an integral part of developing meaningful relationships is the ability to embrace diversity and inclusion and the unique experiences and viewpoints it brings. To unleash the potential of individuals, teams, organizations, communities, and society as a whole, we must focus on purposefully seeking and fostering meaningful relationships so that progress can be made. When I share my learnings from this priceless advice, I frame it in the context of people.
Humanity is about the people. Life is about the people. Progress is about the people. Positive impact is made — for (and by) the people.
So yes, it is all about the people, if you will, the “staffing” choices we make — and most foundationally, the importance of our relationships in this hyper-connected world.
Author Anne H. Chow is CEO of AT&T Business, the first woman to hold that role.
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