C-suite career advice: Nader Mikhail, Elementum

We ask industry leading C-suite professionals for their expert career advice...

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: Nader Mikhail

 Job title: Founder & CEO

 Company: Elementum

 Location: Mountain View, California

 Years’ experience: 11



What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
Stay driven, stay humble. When I think back on the people who have inspired me the most, they share two specific qualities: Humility and drive. Leaders who keep that game face on in the most challenging of environments. Leaders who don’t flinch when they go head to head with the biggest risks of their careers. But those leaders also had the incredible habit of never letting that rare grit get to their heads. Instead, they judge their successes on the strength and accomplishments of the teams they lead. They act in the name of their organization’s mission, not their own success. And those strong-willed but light-hearted people are so often the ones who bounce back the fastest after failures. The ones who build something great, something that lasts.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
Any advice on how to “climb the ladder of success”. The truth is, even imagining success as a ladder is doing it wrong. I’ve had the opportunity to work for a hugely diverse range of companies. I’ve experienced the huge diversity in leadership styles. The thing that the great leaders had in common was their paths often strayed from the “norm.” In fact, most of them didn’t have a path to follow, so they made one themselves. These were the leaders who saw problems no one was solving and decided to take them on, even if it wasn’t in their job description. When I began thinking in the same way, a world of opportunity opened up to me. So ignore the ladder and just climb the damn wall.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
Don’t allow yourself to get too stuck in one silo. If you’re just starting your career, you probably have a picture of what you want your future to look like. I guarantee that if you do things right, that picture will change drastically. That begins by learning from everyone, and surrounding yourself with people you respect and admire. Learn what people in your industry are passionate about. Explore what you’re passionate about. If something piques your interest, even if it’s not in your job description, go find out why. The beautiful thing about the tech industry is that its very foundations are going in different routes, in breaking off the beaten path.

But never let success get to your head. One of the biggest mistakes I see newcomers make is that, in their quest to make it big, they forget to build real, sincere relationships. All that hard work means nothing if you haven’t invested in personal connection. A company runs on its culture: forget that, and you can forget success.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a C-level position?
Getting promoted to a C-level position isn’t about being the most skilled in a specific functional area. The more important talent lies in seeing the bigger picture: putting the right team together, identifying opportunities that others don’t, and influencing people across organizational boundaries. These individuals understand their department’s goals and the goals of other functions, within the larger context of the organization’s overall mission—an ability very few possess. If you’ve read Jim Collins’ Good to Great, you might be familiar with the “Level 5” leader: the one who starts with people. The one who stays humble and coaches others to greatness. Without that insight and perspective, your organization will falter.

Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
I’m proud of the development of so many members of my company. My incredible employees have taken an audacious vision and ran with it, embracing tough challenges and taking on tasks beyond their job description. With startups, many people’s roles change from day to day, and it’s the ones who are sure-footed, adaptable, and excited to take on new responsibilities who make a real difference. But in order for these great minds to thrive, I need to strive to maintain a space of innovation and collaboration. I need to stay open to feedback and encourage my leadership team to do the same. Good ideas come from everywhere, and I learn from employees at all levels every single day.