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Reflecting on Leader Day

By Ramon Tancinco · DIRECTOR, IT and Cisco Krakov Site Leader · KRAKOW, POLAND

On September 12, a historic event occurred. I know some of you are recalling the amazing world record performance of Paavo Nurmi (a.k.a. the “Flying Finn”) in the 5,000-meter race in 1922, but I'm speaking about our second-ever Leader Day, a day in which every people leader across the world at Cisco gathered to raise the bar on leadership.

In our personal evolution as human beings, there is no such thing as reaching perfection and the same can be said of leadership: It's a journey, with many measurable milestones, but no end. And the stakes are high. Our success as a company and, very critically, the personal fulfillment of our employees is tightly tied to our leaders.

As I look back at the day, my two biggest takeaways were 1) Always start with the Why, and 2) Culture = Every Interaction.

Always Start with the Why. Why?

This was a theme that emerged several times throughout the day. To me, it means that if we organize every endeavor by defining why first (instead of beginning with who, what, where, or how), our teams will better understand the intent of what we are trying to achieve, will better help us to envision possible paths to success, and as a result of that personalized engagement, will have greater buy-in to the plan.

Ultimately, this results in an increased probability of success and more committed and fulfilled employees. A true win-win. This is a theme often echoed by one of my favorite leadership speakers, Simon Sinek, and Leader Day gave me an even deeper understanding of what executing on this means at Cisco.

Culture = Every Interaction. How?

Culture is often considered a very vague and ambiguous concept that individuals have marginal impact on. Certainly, we strive to highlight principles and key characteristics of Cisco’s culture, but how do we convey this to more than 70,000 employees?

Now I understand culture in a very new and simple way, defined by every single interaction that I have with every other human being. How I say hello in the morning, how we begin and run a meeting, how we manage an escalation, how we respond to a customer’s request. The sum of all these micro-interactions is our culture, just measured one person at a time. When I consider culture in that context, I have hundreds of possibilities every single day to build culture.

The Inspiration of an Indomitable Will

The most unexpected surprise from Leader Day was our guest speaker, Ellen MacArthur. Two words echo in my mind: "indomitable will."

From the age of 8, she wanted to be the best sailor that she could be, and from that moment she focused on that goal. Ellen's resulting world records show the result of that focus.

Today she is trying to change the world through her work on the Circular Economy. She conveyed a marvelous sense of vision combined with pragmatism, reiterating how she leads with the Why to get people on board.

My Why

My hopes and expectations are that as each of us begins our next working day, we will see our leaders begin planning discussions with the words “So why are we doing this?” or “Here’s why is this important”. And it’s not just our people leaders who should ask this – any one of us can ask this. Then, let’s stop to openly listen to everyone’s perspective, get sincere buy-in, and be fully engaged.

Let’s see ourselves not as an inchoate mass of 70,000 people but rather as deeply gifted individuals who actively choose to have hundreds of impacts a day to create our culture together.

So, let me end where I began the reflection and share why I choose to be a leader.

My favorite quote is, “If you are who you ought to be, you will set the world on fire." So it may not be surprising that my Why is to try and bring a little more light to the world, one humble match at a time.

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