Five Leadership Lessons from 25 years at Intel


Following my last post, my friend Dave Stitt requested I share my leadership lessons from my time at Intel.  Over my 25 years I experienced some of the best possible years and also some of the darkest with large lay offs.  I was lucky to join Intel in 1990.  I knew very little about the company and I had no expectation I would stay longer than a few years.  What followed was an education in how a great company operates and how difficult it is to stay relevant and maintain a top global leadership position.

I wish I understood these leadership lessons earlier in my career but I had to learn them from personal experience.

#1  My role is not to get a YES.  As a manager I spent most of my time trying to influence the people around me to say yes.  If I got a yes, I thought I was set.  They would deliver on the request and everything would turn out well.  I tried to be fair, asking for things I thought were reasonable. I subsequently learned by expecting a yes and leaving no room for a no, I missed the opportunity to understand what my team could and could not do.  If I had received a no, I would know they needed help or I needed to rethink what I was asking.  This would have served me very well and avoided some nasty surprises when promises were not fulfilled.

#2  Be very clear on what is required.  We moved very fast and didn’t take the time to slow down and ensure our requests were clear.  Instead, I would make cryptic requests and expect others to read my mind.  When I didn’t get what I was expecting I was disappointed, considering it their failure.  This becomes a big problem when everyone believes there isn’t enough time.  We aimed to go faster and instead we needed velocity, both speed and direction.

#3  The losing game of doing more.  The game goes like this, work long hours because that is what is required to advance your career.  Don’t get me wrong, working hard is important.  I didn’t realize I wasn’t at my best when working 12 hour days on a regular basis.  At the time I considered it a badge of honor, when instead it allowed me to be inefficient because I could simply work longer.  By constraining my time, I learned to focus on what was most important and be at my best more often.

#4 Take on unglamorous roles.  My most enjoyable roles were the ones I didn’t want but was ‘asked’ to take on.  These situations forced me to think hard about what I could get out of the position and that led me to challenge the status quo.  In hindsight, having someone come in who didn’t care much about the past was a great way to shake things up, and these organizations needed shaking up.  I also learned under-performing organizations provided a great opportunity show improvement.  That served me and the people in the organization very well.  The alternative was to resent the position and that would have led to a completely different outcome.

#5  Don’t stop learning.  I had some big failures in my time.  Each one provided the opportunity for me to learn about what happened and to learn how to avoid it in future.  I learned the importance of creating a good user experience and taught myself to be dangerous in this field.  Though it would have been painful, I wish I had pushed myself to take on more risk and fail more often.  I am doing this in my post-Intel life and I’ve learned so much over of the past 18 months.  Companies will be well served encouraging their people to push the envelope and fail more often.

Thank you Dave for encouraging me to reflect on my leadership learnings at Intel.  Fortunately I still have plenty of time to put them to good use.

Knowing that everyone is different, I hope you, the reader, will post comments sharing your lessons from your time at Intel.  In doing so, please don’t take the easy path and blame others.  Intel provided a tremendous opportunity to learn about ourselves.  Thank you!

Comments (1)

Andy, I have followed you in my career at Intel and in your new venture, and now as I am forced with the realization of another round of IT cuts your words continue to teach and inspire me. What does seem to be dark days only challenges me to find light. Thank you for the free lesson, yet once again… michael

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