C-suite career advice: Martin Henley, Globality

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? "It's all about the people. Always fill your team with people who are better than you and who are comfortable questioning you..."

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What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? Earn the trust and respect of your team so they are motivated to go above and beyond and do whatever it takes to get the job done — because you've set an example that inspires them and brings out their best. When a leader truly leads, people will readily engage because you ask them to, not because they're financially incentivised to do so.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Unfortunately, there has been a lot of bad advice! Usually that's been the case because the person giving the advice was really just trying to get me to do something for them. Once I realised that I could learn something from everyone, whatever their level — but that might mean only getting one or two truly worthy nuggets from each person — I pretty quickly stopped listening to poor advice and became more selective and focused on what was of value. Remember that no one will do your thinking for you; don't just blindly follow any advice, but instead think through the implications and make your own judgments.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT? Find a leader who impresses you and watch them.

Did you always want to work in IT? No! I left university with a maths degree, knowing I liked numbers and messing around on computers. While I wasn't particularly inspired about it, I decided to become an accountant. After qualifying for that profession, I moved into a finance/IT budgeting role. Then, two important things happened: organisational changes were made in the company, and, at the same time, I had personally committed to positively extending myself and mixing with new people. In that dynamic, I was offered a technology development role looking after a team of 400 people internationally. This was my sink-or-swim moment in IT, and I swam.

What was your first job in IT? At age 26, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to run a team of 400 developers working across various international locations. I was given this opportunity based on my positive attitude to change, an approach that has worked consistently for me over many years. However, I would not have succeeded but for having a great leadership team working with me, all of whom were 10-20 years older than me and therefore highly experienced.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT? Men, beards, and sandals! While the rise of tech start-ups over the last decade has been slowly changing this situation, there is still not enough diversity in the sector.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position? It's all about the people. Always fill your team with people who are better than you and who are comfortable questioning you (it is easy to fall in love with your own ideas). Find a few great leaders to learn from. Even done at a distance, this can be very powerful.

What are your career ambitions, and have you reached them yet? No, because that would mean I want to stop learning. I get out of bed in the morning knowing I am going to be uncomfortable — and that means I am learning! That brings difficulties and can bring stress, but I enjoy finding ways through the difficulties to ultimately succeed.

I learned early on it is very difficult to choose a role and say, "I want to do that!" because, unless you are close to the role, the organisation, and the industry, you don't really know what the job entails. I also learned early that however good your career plan is, it doesn't count for much unless it is aligned with market dynamics. I have consistently been given the most opportunities during times of huge change.

I have relied on a few themes throughout my career—know the numbers, understand people, and become a great leader. You can learn these generic skills in any function, although not many functions seemed (at least to me) to have the opportunity, scale, or complexity of technology. I found all of this really attractive. The final piece is client focus and salesmanship, which I'm working on now.

Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? Today, yes, it is pretty good. Earlier in my career, as I was establishing myself and building my reputation by delivering what sometimes felt almost impossible, that was not always the case. The consistent factors I have found to make the biggest difference here are your own desire for work-life balance, plus your manager. I have had some truly awful managers, and at these points in my career, the balance was very much tipped towards work! You can't always choose your manager, for lots of reasons, so you just need to decide whether you should power through and learn what you can from the role or decide to move on.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I am not sure there is much I would change. Perhaps I could have pushed myself to be outside my comfort zone more often.

Which would you recommend: a coding bootcamp or a computer science degree? That depends on your ambition. For a corporate CIO, the degree would be more helpful. For an entrepreneurial start-up, bootcamp.

How important are specific certifications? They are tickets to play, similar to education.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates?  Right attitude, cultural fit with the organisation, and intellectual dexterity.

What would put you off a candidate? Being arrogant, or not having researched the organisation in advance.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Typically, you want to try and make the interview a work discussion rather than a Q&A. The way to do that is to conduct plenty of advance research about the organisation and the people you are meeting. Imagine yourself in the role — think through what your questions would be in your first few weeks, and ask those questions. This gives the interviewer the impression that not only could you work there but maybe you do already! Also, when you do that, the interviewer tends to relax, and you have a more open discussion.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills, or a mix of both? Ideally both, because it generally means that you are more rounded. Remember, a good interviewer will pick up on what you don't say as much as what you do and will judge you by the quality of your questions.

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