Penny Herscher.jpgMegan Muir.jpgCONTRIBUTED BY
Megan Muir

Penny Herscher, President and CEO of FirstRain, a search-driven business and analytics research firm, has a recent blog post that summarizes a talk she gave to women leaders of a hardcore semiconductor company in the Valley.  She’s talking from what she knows – she started out as an R&D engineer at TI – and has held leadership positions in tech companies for nearly 20 years.

Her 5 keys to leadership as a woman in tech (although her ideas are not exclusive to women or tech) are excerpted below.  Read the full piece and other entries on her blog The Grassy Road.

1. Embrace making decisions

“Companies need people who are decisive and courageous.  A common issue with new entrepreneurs and young managers is that they hesitate to make decisions.  It’s tough when you don’t know what to do, but it’s better to make a decision quickly and decisively, and be ready to change it if you are wrong, than to hesitate, hash it over many times, or wait for someone else (your board, your team, your boss) – or even worse time and delay – to make it for you.”

Trust yourself and your judgment, and surround yourself with strong, smart people you trust who will challenge you when you are wrong.

2.  Don’t ask whether, ask when

“This is a mindset that many men are good at.  They come out of the womb asking when they’ll get that raise, when they’ll be promoted, when they’ll go kill that bear, not whether.  Women so often talk about whether.  Should I push for that promotion, should I ask for more money, will I get funded, will they promote a woman, will they like me?  Working with mostly men, and a few women, I see a pattern in the successful women.  They don’t ask whether they have a right to what they want, they assume they’ll get it.”

3.  Hire your betters

“The fastest way to build a great team is to hire people who are smarter and more experienced than you in their field.”

Brad Silverberg of Ignition Partners once made a similar point when talking about the weakness of those who fear being shown up by their own team members, saying:

“A people hire A people; B people hire C people.”

It’s simple, but it has stuck with me for over a decade.  I’ve seen it in startups – the confident CEO will hire the smartest, most capable people that can be found; the insecure CEO will not let the brilliant engineer or VP shine in front of the board for fear of looking inadequate by comparison.  Because it’s September, a simple football analogy comes to mind – even a great quarterback won’t make the play without an excellent offensive line giving him (her?) time and space to make it happen.  Your job is to build and motivate a great team, not to be the best at every task your company needs to accomplish.

 4.  Speak up and be sure you are heard

“I have often heard the complaint that a woman will say something in a meeting, not have her idea acknowledged and then a man will say the same thing and everyone will jump on and agree.”

Ms. Herscher suggests soliciting input on your comment, such as asking a direct question of the group or a specific co-worker at the end of your remark, to cause the others to engage with you on your idea.

5.  Put the company first and get results