Jim Saliba is a certified coach, trainer, and public speaker with over 30 years of leadership experience as VP of a $4 billion tech company. He worked tirelessly to gain the knowledge and experience to become a leader employees wanted to follow, and to create an atmosphere where employees were encouraged to experiment, learn, change and improve. He has leveraged his years of experience and experimentation to develop the successful Triple E structure to help his clients get unstuck so they can progress to the next level of leadership.
Certified Executive Coach
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Graham: Welcome to the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation. I'm excited to say that my guest today is Jim Saliba joining us from San Jose, California. Jim's coaching practice focuses largely on helping emerging leaders grow and thrive in their new roles. Today's subject is how to be successful in your new leadership role. Jim, welcome to The Coaching Conversation, for the audience, please fill in the gaps about your background and how you find yourself doing exactly what you do now as a coach.
Jim: I got to coaching in a roundabout way. I started in tech as a programmer and grew my way up through different companies till I was VP in this 4 billion dollar software company.
I had almost 200 people in my group and I wasn't enjoying it, so I went out consulting, helping other tech companies change and grow and do software development better at that time. The concept of Agile Programming was new and coming up. I was a coach for that. That's where I started coaching. But I realised that the big problem wasn't so much the engineers or the boots on the ground. There was always a gap between what leadership thought was happening and what was happening. So I started focusing on leadership and leadership skills, which brought me to where I am now, coaching leaders to move their organisations in a better way. I work with new leaders, and emerging leaders, as you said, all the way up through the C suite to help grow their leadership team.
Graham: So, give us a sense of your clients and the challenges that they might be facing.
Jim: There are a lot. One big thing is that the director's 'favourite' within an organisation seems to be a stumbling block for so many people. We move people up, and promote them based on their technical skills, what they're able to do in tech or whatever. But as they start moving up, what they need is leadership skills, what I call core skills. And I'm surprised HR departments still call them soft skills. It's the core skills any leader needs to move a business or an organisation.
Graham: It's interesting. I mean, emotional intelligence is often undervalued and really for many people, but with responsibility for influencing and managing people, it is the core competence, almost an entry-level ticket to be able to do the thing you're responsible for, but to be able to manage others requires a huge amount of responsibility, ability and insight and empathy. It's an interesting point.
So, what sort of challenges other than the people challenges do your clients have when they're looking at their teams, developing and growing their teams, or if they're an individual that's emerged into a leadership role? What are the grassroots issues they're faced with?
Jim: I find that many times they are just overworked. They have a hard time prioritising, especially when you have conflicting things going on, want different priorities, and they don't know how to say no, and they don't know how to say yes.
But, I bring it down to what I call the four fears of leadership. When I look at the bottom thing, the root cause that stops people from moving up - is plain fear.
The first one is the fear of incompetence, or what we often call the imposter syndrome.
This is a confidence killer because we constantly question ourselves when we have this fear. We underestimate ourselves, our abilities, and our intelligence. But the other problem is, because of the actions we do, we create a culture in our team and our organisation below us. In this case, it will be indecision. So, if you're seeing projects get pushed aside because we're waiting to make a decision. We're going to work on something else and that gets put on hold and we bounce back and forth. This may be because some leaders have this fear.
The second one is fear of appearing foolish. This is often fueled by the need for security and a need for approval. Fear of missing outcomes in here, but when we're seeking approval, we're also holding back from sharing any of our new ideas or approaches, which creates a culture that limits innovation and creativity because we want to resist change and do the things that we know work.
The third one is fear of failure. Often fueled by the avoidance of embarrassment or shame. We're noncommittal on things. We push decisions in other places. We push them up to other people or out. We don't want to be held accountable. We want to put that decision to someplace else. So when it doesn't work, we have a finger to point right away from us. That creates a culture of being noncommittal.
And the last one is fear of appearing vulnerable. If you ever see Brene Brown's work, this is what she talks about a lot. It's about avoiding rejection. We often hold back. We wait for perfection. Passive-aggressive behaviour sometimes comes in here. And we create a culture of mistrust. So our fears not only stop us from being good leaders, it create bad behaviour in our organisation.
Graham: Yeah. It feeds on itself, doesn't it? And the more those fears become real for everybody, everybody becomes defensive and on it goes.
What's a typical client or organisation for you, Jim? Are they large? Are they small? What would they typically be?
Jim: I have a wide range of clients. Sometimes a CEO or C suite of smaller organisations of maybe 100 Million dollars or smaller down to 20- 25 Million dollars. Sometimes I work with large companies like Samsung and Amazon and they're their middle leaders.
Graham: Right. So when you look at these different clients, all of those in that range that you've got, is there an obvious successful culture that you can see straight away that you recognise? And what attributes would you think are in a successful culture?
Jim: Well, there is no one single successful culture. However, when I see a culture within an organisation that embraces the fact that we fail now and then and that we can learn from that, I think that is a successful culture. I always talk to my leaders about experimenting because we don't know what will work and what won't work. Something might work for company A, but it won't work for company B. It has a lot to do with the people that are there. So you need to try things out.
I say experiment like a 5th grader. When I was in 5th grade, there was the science fair that we did with a poster board and you have to have a hypothesis on top. The experiment we ran and did we prove or disprove that hypothesis? We should be working that way. I know a lot of people "try things", but they don't formalise it into 'What am I trying? What do I expect from it? Is there a timeline for me to make a decision?'. When we put it together in an experiment, we formalise it in this way. And we can say, okay, it worked. We can now do the next thing or it didn't work. What should we try next?
Graham: It's very interesting. I mean, a lot of clients are frightened of failure and they put a lid on anybody making a mistake or anybody doing anything wrong when they, in my opinion, overreact to any sort of situation and it does it, I think anyway, I see is it stifles the organisation's natural abilities and it stifles the individual's chances of growing. And there are certain phrases, aren't there? You know, failure is part of success and so on, but you don't learn if you don't make mistakes, do you - you just keep repeating the same stuff.
Jim: Right, that's that fear of failure coming in and perfectionism coming in. It didn't work. So next time we just tighten it down even more and give people even less room to work in.
Graham: And where's the job satisfaction in that? Where's the fun in that?
When I was getting to know you, Jim, and researching it, there's a triple E structure that you talk about. Could you give us a bit more insight into the triple E structure?
Jim: Yes. So, I wanted to formalise how I work with my clients. I came up with this structure where we go through three phases. In each phase, there are two steps, and that's the basis of my book which I call the Six-step Leadership Challenge.
In the first part, we're emerging. Where we are right now? What's going on? What's our baseline? What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? What's going on with my team? What's going on right now? Lifting my head above the day-to-day weeds that keep me so busy that I can't see what's right and wrong. That's emerged.
Well, once we pass that it now looking to the future and I call this 'to elevate' because we bring ourselves to a 30, 000-foot level. What's going on? And where do we want to be 1 year from now? 2 years? 3 years from now? What's our vision? And that vision could be for ourselves, where I want to be, what I want to be doing, what I want my group to be, or my group, or my product. What is that vision for the future? I call it a postcard from the future. If you were one year from today, and you made these changes, what would you tell yourself if you wrote a postcard? What would you be telling yourself to do? So it's about now understanding that and putting a strategy together for that.
And the last one is to accelerate. It is to excel, to now put this vision into action. I have a 30, 60, 90-day plan format divided into four swim lanes of what I call my four quadrants of leadership. We can build activities and experiments each month in each of those swim lanes. And that's how my whole structure comes together.
Graham: So the threes are emerge, elevate and excel. And as a coach, you're working with your clients. How long would a typical program work with you with an emerging leader? How long would it take?
Jim: Generally, we start with a six-month engagement because we don't get to help people change behaviour in something less than that. As a coach, like many coaches, I get to hold people's feet to the fire a little bit and be accountable for what they say that they're going to do. Often there is a gap between what we know we should be doing, what we think we should be doing, and what we actually do. This fear kind of stops us from moving forward. So sometimes it's stopping, recognising what is holding us back, why is it holding us back for us to move forward.
Graham: Do you work exclusively one to one or do you work with groups? What's the normal format for you?
Jim: I do both. I do a lot of one-to-one, that's most of my business, but I love working with groups. Groups have a whole different dynamic to it where they help each other and build relationships with each other. It could be a group that works together, but I'm starting to do some public groups where different people from different companies come together. And it's interesting because now you're building relationships that support each other for years after I'm out of the picture.
Graham: It's interesting. Teams often bond enormously through shared experience, don't they? If they've all been through, for example, a coaching experience, they acquire a new vocabulary and a new insight into each other. They've all made themselves vulnerable to one another. It's a really interesting experience to see when you're working either in a group or indeed one-to-one.
Do you find individual personalities, and individual profiles that impact the work that you can do or how you can help somebody?
Jim: Yes. Well, you know, we all have our different styles of leadership, our personalities that come into play. Some of them help us move forward. Some of our things are baggage that holds us back, right, our self-sabotaging, limiting stories. And that comes from often, I believe when we were in grade school and your parents wanted you to come back with an A, and if it wasn't an A, you were bad. I think our school system kind of wants us to fit in with each other. So we lose some of our personality and our creativity. We lose the the drive of where we want to be in the world and we must achieve we must achieve. For some people, I guess this is great, but I think for many people it's not. So, those personalities come up when we start coaching and we start digging into them and understanding why we are where we are.
Graham: And when you try to fill in the gap. When you're working with new leaders, is it just the length of time in the organisation whether they're brand new or they've been there some time, does that have an impact on how you can help them?
Jim: Well, I take a different tack depending on where they are. Many times I'm working with a very experienced person, but they're in a brand new job, right? I'm working with a great woman right now and she's realising that she can't do everything herself, right? We had a conversation about how she can't be the hero anymore. She can't do everything. She has to put her cape away and start leading people. So we were talking about the movie The Incredibles, if you saw that, and the woman that makes the costumes, she says, no cape, no cape. So that's our phrase now, no cape.
Graham: And do you find also that age or any kind of background format impacts people's ability to emerge and innovate successfully?
Jim: Most of the people we talk to or that I talk to are basically in their 30s and 40s. That's where they are in a place where they're moving up in their leadership. They are kind of feeling things out, trying new things, and wanting to understand how to move forward. And I think we are in an age where people who are coming up want to have mentors. People want to have people to help them out and they're willing to go for help. I think in my time, that was less common. We kind of had to feel like "I know what's going on and I can't show that I don't know". We had to have that virtual facade on. I think things have changed.
The other thing that I'm doing a lot of looking into is gamification to help bring employee engagement. We're looking at a workplace right now. Almost everybody has come up through Nintendo and Xbox and PlayStation, and we understand what it is to have different boards and levels and scores and badges and things like that. How do we bring that to the workplace to make it fun? And I see this. For a long time in sales on the sales side, but less in other places - in tech or accounting or so on. But how can we bring that in?
The other thing that it brings for a leader is not only engagement, but it brings more transparency to what's going on in your team and your organisation and not so afraid to bring you the bad news because this is part of the game, but it allows a leader to make decisions sooner in the timeline than when people are hiding the bad news until the last minute. So now you can make decisions and change expectations or change direction much earlier.
Graham: Well, that's, that's quite a challenge that I can see that being exciting. The ability to do that in any organisation, particularly with the younger generation coming through, that's a real skill, a real advantage.
Jim, we're coming to the end of this coaching conversation edition. How can our audience find you? How can they reach out to you if they want to know more?
Jim: There are two ways. The first way of course is LinkedIn. I'm on LinkedIn every day as James Saliba (my proper first name that mom uses when she's mad at me) and underneath my headline, there's a link that you can use to create a virtual coffee meeting with me. If you want to set up a meeting and just chat, this is not a sales thing. I welcome your listeners to give me a call and we'll set up a meeting and we'll talk about what their situation is for 30 minutes and give advice. If you want to engage me after that, that's up to you. This is not a sales call.
Graham: Excellent. That's great. Once again, thank you, Jim, all the way from San Jose, California. Goodbye.
Connect with Jim: Website: jamessaliba.com
That was the latest edition of The Coaching Conversation.
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