Everyone is an Evangelist with Dan Steinman

In this episode of The B2B Leadership Podcast, best-selling author and leadership coach Nils Vinje sits down with Chief Evangelist at Gainsight, Dan Steinman.
In this episode...

1:14 - The first time we met in person - Nils and Dan share what the very first PULSE conference was like way back in 2013.
3:53 - Dan's role and focus at Gainsight - What does the Chief Evangelist role consist of, and how does it relate to customer success?
5:59 - From an individual contributor to a leadership position - A lot of people move into leadership roles without planning on it, asking for it, or preparing for it. How do you successfully navigate a territory you've never been in?
13:46 - Why some companies lack the proper structure to prepare workers for leadership roles - Dan outlines what companies often forget to include for people moving into management roles. A lot of it comes down to prioritization.
25:23 - Is curiosity about others something you have to develop, or is it innate? - Dan explains why curiosity is an important trait in almost every job you'll ever do, and why one meaningful conversation is preferred over 100 surface-level conversations.
33:40 - Perspective shift between leadership roles - How can you leverage relationships to get a better understanding of your role? Finding peers outside of your company with your role is a good start.
46:49 - What movie do you like most for leadership examples and techniques? - Apollo 13 is based on real events and high-running emotions.

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In this episode, we have Dan Steinman as our guest, the "Godfather of Customer Success" to share his leadership expertise and advice.

Keep reading to know more about his leadership journey and why he's called the godfather of customer success.

Dan's role and focus at Gainsight

Dan Steinman is called the Chief Evangelist at Gainsight. He finds people with whom he can talk about customer success, whether it's official Gainsight duties, or mentoring young people in the industry.

He works one day a week as chief evangelist at Gainsight. He also has chosen a few advisory roles where he either gets to coach companies on being a startup or talking about customer success.

His friend once told him that retirement is not stopping work, retirement is getting to choose who you want to work with and Dan is the living embodiment of that.

From an individual contributor to a leadership position

The first ten years of Dan's career were at IBM as an individual contributor. He never vaulted into a management position while he was there.

In IBM, managers are trained. They understand that a large company runs well, only if first-line management does a great job. Dan learned a lot by just watching how IBM leadership did their jobs.

Dan's second job was with Silicon Graphics working in marketing. During his time in Silicon Graphics, Dan got his first promotion as a manager.

He did not plan for this to happen. His director just came to him one day and told him to start managing some of his people. Dan was promoted into a leadership role he was not ready for. No one trained him on how to be a leader.

What helped him in his first leadership position was the experience he had at IBM. Dan may not have had proper leadership training, but he had observed and had experienced how to be led by a good leader.

It's sad that the most important job in every company is first-line management. And yet, some companies don't train their people to do that very well.

Why some companies lack the proper structure to prepare workers for leadership roles

It all comes down to prioritization.

When someone's doing their first management job, you have to spend more time with them to make sure they're successful in that role. You only take your hands off if they're on the right track and only if you trust them.

Dan said one of the reasons companies don't do as well as they can, is because they thrust people into management because they did their job well. This is the wrong criteria for selecting managers.

When they do that, they take their best person, their most valuable individual contributor, and they turn them into a bad manager. They lose their best individual contributor, and they end up with a bad manager out of it.

Dan recalled that he was ill-prepared and did everything on his own in his first leadership role. He learned by making mistakes and by doing some things right. He learned by reading some books and by always observing other leaders.

Over time, Dan became a student of leadership. He found out that leadership is not based on a certain personality or on your DNA.

Your personality or DNA doesn't define your capabilities as a leader. For instance, if you are an introvert, that doesn't mean you can't be a good manager.

It makes you a better manager because you have to rely on attention to detail and a real understanding of people as opposed to just inspiring them because you're a charismatic or fun person to be around.

People often misunderstand extroverts and introverts. They think extroverts love people, introverts hate people. That's not true.

Introverts like people as well. The difference is, extroverts get their energy from other people. Introverts have energy sucked out of them by other people, especially crowds.

As a manager, the most important thing you do is not the inspirational talks to your team, but the one-on-one conversations with each of your team members.

There are a million different ways that people get motivated and rewarded. And you don't figure that out unless you sit down and have one-on-one conversations with them.

To some people out there who know they're introverts and think that leadership isn't the right path for them, know that introversion can be a strength as opposed to a weakness.

Is curiosity about others something you have to develop, or is it innate?

Understanding what motivates people, how they tick, where they get satisfaction from, and where they get energy from requires genuine curiosity.

Dan learned over time that this was something that was going to make him better at his job. This is what makes him thrive and how he builds relationships.

Curiosity about other people is an important trait in almost every job that you'll ever do.

One conversation where you truly feel like someone else is genuinely interested and invested in learning about you can change the game entirely.

As a leader, one of the most important qualities is humility. You have to put your people first and be willing to thrive on how well they do, not on how well you do. Set yourself aside to try to help them and put them in the best position to succeed.

You're not managing people to build yourself up. You're managing people to build them up. And if you do that, you get pushed up as well.

The psychology of being a leader is it's not about you, it's about them. If they are successful, then you will be successful.

There are so many parallels between the world of customer success and leadership because it is about other people, but leadership and management are not the same things.

There are leaders who have not managed anybody but lead by example. They lead because they are passionate about things.

In the world of customer success, you're often leading your customers but not managing them.

It's easy to get people who work for you to do what you want them to do. But effective leadership at a senior level position is all about influence management. This is where you're getting people to follow you that don't work for you and are not incentivized to do the things that you want them to do.

You can be an effective leader without necessarily managing people. And at some point, you have to lead people who don't work for you. Otherwise, you will not be effective as a senior leader.

Perspective shift between leadership roles

Before joining Gainsight, Dan was a VP of Customer Success at Marketo.

One of the things he did was to act as the buffer for his team from other things that were going on in the company because he didn't want them to lose focus. Another thing was to help everyone in the company understand what this team's job was because a lot of people didn't know what customer success was.

These are some of the things that Dan didn't do much in his previous leadership roles. As the VP, he had to be an evangelist.

Evangelism is about doing something that no one has ever done before or doing it better than anyone has done it before.

Dan said everyone in the company is an evangelist. He leads the community to be evangelists for customer success.

You have to like your job, the company, and the industry you are in to evangelize. If you're not in a position where you feel empowered and excited about the work you're doing, or about the fact that you have a better way to do whatever solution is offered, then you're wasting time.

Find something that drives you and that you are going to be excited to talk to other people about and you can make a drastic difference very quickly.

As a leader, no matter how you're feeling, you have to be positive and look forward all the time. You have to put on your optimistic hat, paint the best possible picture, otherwise, no one's going to follow you.

The best leaders inspire people even during tough times.

As a leader, if you're going through a tough time, have a coaching session with your mentor where you can have a private outlet to release some of that pressure and know that you're not alone.

What movie do you like most for leadership examples and techniques?

One of Dan's favorite movies that demonstrates great leadership skills is a movie called Apollo 13. It's about the Apollo 13 mission to the moon which went wrong shortly into the mission. They had to pull all sorts of miracles just to get the astronauts back safely.

This movie showed how a leader should lead even in the toughest situation possible. Be calm in dealing with every situation. Failure should not be an option. Inspire people to go above and beyond their capabilities.

If you want to build and develop your leadership skills, Dan suggests reading a book entitled Leadership Is An Art by Max DePree.

The book talks about covenant leadership. The author explained in this book that the word covenant is tied to the word love.

When you have a leadership position, and you have people working for you, you need to approach them with an attitude of covenant. Build relationships with them based on trust.

We have this deep human desire to be known by other people. The only way to know somebody is to sit with them and listen to them to get to know them.

If you do that, then you can have a covenant relationship with them where they trust you, and you trust them. If somehow that trust is broken, there's an opportunity for forgiveness.

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