C-suite career advice: Athani Krishnaprasad, ServiceMax from GE Digital
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C-suite career advice: Athani Krishnaprasad, ServiceMax from GE Digital

27-03-18-athani-krishnaprasad-servicemax-from-ge-digital

 

Name: Athani Krishnaprasad

Company: ServiceMax from GE Digital

Job Title: Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer

Location: Pleasanton, California, US


 

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?

The most valuable career advice I received was about leadership, and it came from a former boss of mine, Kevin McCarthy, who I consider one of my mentors to this day. I was newly into a leadership position, struggling to find my groove, and was leaning heavily on Kevin to put me in a position where I could control and lead. Then one day he simply told me ‘Athani, if you want to be a leader, then lead! Don’t ask for permission, or for someone to silence the room so you can speak. Just speak up, take control of the discussion, and start driving from the front’. This was a big ah-ha moment for me. It turned my perspective on its head and made me understand, in a profound way, an essential leadership quality– leadership is also a mental game. It is about you believing it first and acting accordingly. It is as much about confidence as it is about competence. If you see yourself as a leader and act as a leader, others will see it as well.

 

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?

The worst advice I ever received formed very early ideas for me on how leaders should act and who they could be. It was the subtle but profound difference between ‘leading’ and ‘directing’. There was a time when I was led to believe that leadership was all about being the smartest person in the room and that one person has all the answers. That there was one person that could out-think and out-smart everyone else, and this person directs everyone else to execute ideas. This stereotype is also often perpetuated in Silicon Valley – the all-knowing, hero leader that is marching troops into the battle field. However, I have learned over time that true leadership, especially in the knowledge economy that we are in, is so much about enabling your team – enabling smarter people in your team to succeed by helping them see their blind spots, and providing the environment for them to succeed. 

 

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?

Looking back on my own career journey, and other successful people that I have known or worked with, there are the three things I’d say to newcomers:

  • Drop the entitlement. The world doesn’t owe you anything. Forget where you come from, and what your accolades may have been prior to starting in the industry. You have to start with humility and a great curiosity to learn. You have to be willing to work hard, and learn for the sake of the joy of learning and satisfying your curiosity. Money is a byproduct. Don’t chase money… make money chase you.
  • Technology is a means to an end. So, treat it and use it that way. Develop a fearlessness about technology. Focus on understanding the problems you are solving, and develop deep domain expertise.  Some of the most successful people in the tech industry, both career professionals and entrepreneurs, succeed because of their deep domain knowledge, and resulting empathy for customers.
  • There is no shortcut to success. Unless you work hard and become an expert in a field, you can’t build long-term, sustainable value around yourself. Yes, you will hear stories about folks making it rich or becoming famous overnight, but those are few and far between. And in most of those cases, we don’t hear the full story. The surest path to success and satisfaction is to think about how you can add profound value to an equation – to a team, to a company, and ultimately to a customer.

 

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?

One word – empathy! Empathy for customers, empathy for your team members, and empathy for investors. The most valuable skill for a leader in a c-level position is to be able to put yourself in the shoes of a person sitting across the table, and see the situation from that perspective. Having empathy helps develop what I call an outside-in perspective (as opposed to inside-out). This, more than any other skill, will help you develop trust and credibility. This will give you a unique perspective to evaluate ideas that are presented to you, and help your teams make them better. This helps you confront decisions that you will be faced with and make the calls that gain broad acceptance. Finally, empathy will help you develop a realistic world view and perhaps most importantly, develop lasting relationships.

 

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?

Advice to one particular individual comes to mind. A brilliant technologist that works for me. I have worked with him, and mentored him through his journey from a star individual performer, through a reluctant leader, to now a fantastic leader! Two particular pieces of advice helped to shape his success.

  1. The trickiest part of transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader/manager is not managing your team… not working with your boss… it is managing your peers. You can only influence your peers… you can’t direct them. You can only influence your peers by developing a respectful and collaborative relationship through a give and take collaboration that takes time and effort.
  2. Your success is defined by your team’s success. It is not about being the smartest person in the room, it is about enabling your team to make smart decisions. You have to let your team make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes, even though you know the answer. At the end of the day, the goal is not a bunch of right decisions. The goal is creating a solid team that is encouraged to make decisions. Empowering a team can be difficult for a strong individual contributor that is transitioning into a manager/leader role but it is also tremendously rewarding.

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