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SIM RLF Interview

Regional Leadership Forum

Name: Corky Valenti
RLF Role:  New York Metro Facilitator

Question 1  | Question 2  |  Question 3  |  Question 4  |  Question 5

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you?  Why and how did this person impact your life?  
Since I find it difficult to name just one, I’m going to name two people, but they are both related to RLF:  Darwin John and June Drewry.  Darwin was the lead facilitator when I went through the program.  He brought such a depth of experience and knowledge, but more importantly insight and incredible wisdom, into the vast spectrum of topics related to leadership. He teased with bits of information and whet our appetites with his simple, yet profound, models and concepts. He modeled enlightened leadership by challenging us to think and question, to read between the lines, to reach our own conclusions and determine our own personal applicability.  

June is the person who first got me involved in RLF and sponsored me to go through the program and has been a mentor to me from a career perspective. She carved out a leadership position for me not once, but twice, and showed the confidence in staff abilities that any good leader has to have. I was in a unique position to see a highly successful leader deal with business pressures and organizational change up close and came away with a better understanding of the need for balance between corporate and business needs on the one hand and very real and personal staff needs on the other. She demonstrated an uncanny ability to be both a brilliant and capable business leader who made tough decisions almost daily as well as a down-to-earth and compassionate "real” person with unparalleled ability to communicate, motivate, empathize, inspire, and recognize.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?   

Since the question does not ask for "the one” or "the most important one,” I will assume that people agree on all the "usual suspect” characteristics such as honesty, integrity, insight, inspiration, communications, and so forth. I would add one that is just as important, but often overlooked:  humility. A truly great leader understands that he or she cannot do everything and is humble enough to realize that their main role is to enable their staff to be successful.  They surround themselves with people that are smarter than they are and to trust them and empower them to do things without being "managed.”  Humility also opens the door to other solutions and other perspectives – diversity of thought. And, humility is fundamental to realizing that you simply do not and cannot know it all and should always pursue life-long learning. Great thinkers and leaders from Confucius and Aristotle to Gandhi and Einstein to Peter Drucker and John Wooden all have essentially pronounced a truism:  If you are not learning and growing, you are falling behind and dying.     

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today? 
The scope and intensity of today’s challenges is unprecedented, but I think it can be boiled down into a single, all-encompassing idea:  the accelerating rate of change. Whether we are talking about technology or business climate or competitive pressures or workforce or globalization influences or massive amounts of data or information travelling at the speed of social media, they all come down to pervasive, continuous, and immediate change. Successful leaders have to navigate those treacherous waters by understanding, implementing, and communicating effective change management in many different dimensions.  

What is your favorite book from the 2013 RLF booklist and why?  
That’s like asking which car is your favorite: Porsche, Maserati, or Ferrari?  All the books have something special and important – whether practical, instructive, or thought-provoking – to offer or else they wouldn't be on the reading list. However, I will point out two books that really represent for me the "core” of what RLF is all about: authentic, passionate, servant leadership. They are True North by Bill George and Winners Never Cheat by Jon Huntsman.

Can you explain the impact the RLF has had on your life? 
RLF  has had a profound impact on me -- not so much from a career development perspective (although I can provide first hand stories of people who have gotten that next promotion largely on the strengths gained during their RLF experience), as much as on my own perspectives of myself and work and life. It has given me better understanding of heritage and influences, relationships and communicating, and of the all-important need to understand my values and align with them. As testament to that impact, I continued to "give back” by working on ‘special projects” with RLF after completing the program and am now a facilitator.  

RLF provides a wealth of information and resources, but I would say that the real value of RLF is what we often call "the magic in the room.”  That could be a particular bit of learning or a relationship or a new insight or an appreciation of some new viewpoint.  It could come from a book or a discussion or a speaker or a fellow participant or the facilitator – or it could be a sudden "Eureka!” from no apparent cause.  RLF has helped spark my interest in learning and understanding, being open to new ideas and connections, and giving back.     

Name: Scot Berkey
RLF Role: Midwest Facilitator

Question 1  |  Question 2  |  Question 3  |  Question 4  |  Question 5

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?  Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?   
Thomas Herman had a profound impact on me as a leader.  As a young leader who was coming up through a software vending organization, Tom gave me my first opportunity in a leadership position with a national/global scope with direct, material revenue responsibility.  He gave me the opportunity to succeed and provided a coaching environment where I was held firmly accountable but where I did not feel threatened.  It was a great time of learning for me, and when learning opportunities presented themselves, Tom was there to coach both ahead of time and after the fact when he saw fit.  Tom always provided me with direct, firm input and support, allowed me to to be accountable for my own actions, and supported me in growing into my own natural leadership style.  I have always appreciated Tom for the opportunity and support, but probably more importantly, the manner in which he provided it.  He showed me how to lead firmly but also with compassion.  

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?      
Empathy.  No matter the role(s) that you play in an organization, if you cannot empathize with the people around you you cannot be an effective leader.  There are many leadership toolkits and books out there.   Most can help a person become a more effective leader, but ultimately leadership is about people.  About values and trust and connection to an individual's personal motivators and self-identifiers.  If you cannot connect at some human level with the people around you, you cannot connect to their spirit, and if you're not connected at least in some way there, you have an employee or associate, not someone who will unhesitatingly follow you into difficult situations.  You will create working groups, not high performing teams.  

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
The pace of change.  The velocity of change in today's society, both in America and globally, is incredibly fast.  This results in changes in the environments in which we are asked to lead as well as in wide differences in the people that we need to lead through these changing environments.  Managing each of these individually can be quite difficult, but managing them together requires a very special talent set.

What is your favorite book from the 2013 RLF booklist and why? 
Theft of the Spirit.  This book speaks to the core of what makes people, groups, teams, companies, and societies work (or not work).  It is not a typical business book, but it provides incredible insight into how to connect people together in a genuine manner and how to create a culture in which high performing teams can thrive and where individuals can match their personal center and values with that of their surroundings.  It has spoken to me every year in a different way since 2002 when I first read it during my RLF class, and in being mindful of its content, I have found it useful and compelling in all aspects of my life.  

Can you explain the impact the RLF has had on your life?  
RLF has had a profound impact on both my career as well as my personal life.  As a young man in IT, I was much more concerned with facts and figures, bits a byes, than with the human nature of people.  Which that approach may get a person started up the corporate ladder and may provide for some success outside of the workplace, it is not sufficient to keep a person moving in an upward direction, and arguably, it may not be sufficient to keep a person happy and centered in their life.  RLF's razor-sharp focus on humanity in leadership was the first time any program delivered to me a message and understanding that was wholly compelling to me.  It has provided a basis for me to continue to develop those skills and remain mindful of the human aspect of leadership in all of my relationships, both inside and outside of the workplace.  I am certain that without the RLF experience I would not have become a CIO, and I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to participate in the program as a learner and subsequently for the last decade as a Facilitator.  

Name: Ed Trainor
RLF Role: Northwest Facilitator

Question 1  |  Question 2  |  Question 3  |  Question 4  |  Question 5  

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?  Maybe some one who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?     
I cannot single out one person who alone has had a tremendous impact on my development as a leader; instead, it has been the cumulative impact of a number of people - some of whom I have worked for and others I have worked with.  I have probably seen almost every leadership style and technique and most of them can work in given situations; however, I do not believe they should all be emulated.  For example, instilling fear in your team will work only if the threat is real and imminent but it is not an effective style for the long run in most situations nor is it sustainable.  It also inhibits people from giving feedback to the leader when s/he is about to make what is perceived to be a bad decision.  I think that all of us learn to be leaders by observing what seems to be effective in different situations and then developing our own style that is genuine and not simply role-playing.    

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?      
The one characteristic that I think every leader should possess is empathy for people - i.e., the ability to truly understand what it is like to walk in their shoes.  It is sometimes necessary to make difficult decisions that negatively impact people but if we lose the ability to have empathy for them we have lost our soul.    

What is the biggest challenge facing leaders today?
I think that the biggest challenge facing leaders today is the more rapidly changing business, technical and demographic environment.  The rate of change in all areas is accelerating and making the best decisions in light of all these changes is increasingly difficult.  Perhaps one of the most difficult dimensions is leadership of people in this changing environment, and that is why as a CIO I found the Regional Leadership Forum (RLF) to be the best way to invest in developing high-potential people as future leaders.  

What is your favorite book from the 2013 RLF booklist and why? 
My favorite book is Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankel, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, who was arrested in 1942 and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents.  Three years later when the camp was liberated most of his family and many others had died but he had lived.  In Man's Search for Meaning Frankel explains his conclusion that the difference between those who lived and those who died came down to one thing:  meaning.  Today the book's ethos - its emphasis on meaning and responsibility to something greater than self may seem to be at odds with today's culture of pursuit of individual happiness; however, I found Frankel's message to be powerful and also relevant to my life and development as a leader.         

Can you explain the impact the RLF has had on your life?  
RLF has had a significant impact on my life as a leader and also as a person.  As a CIO I discovered that RLF gave my team the best value of all the options we had for investing in the development of our high-potential people, with some of my team members who went through the program coming back to me and describing it as "transformational."  When I retired as a CIO I wanted to give something back to the profession that had been so good to me and I found that the best way to do that was to serve as an RLF facilitator in a program that has meant so much to me and the members of my teams.

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