Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Interview with Steve Leicht: Entrepreneur and Co-Founder of ÜberResearch and 52inc

Incorporating emotional intelligence into fields such as human resources, assisted living, and customer service makes perfect sense.  But, what about in the fast-paced business realms of technology entrepreneurs?  Is there room for empathy?  Steve Leicht co-founder of ÜberResearch and 52inc joins us to explain the importance of EQ in all aspects of doing business in the twenty-first century. 

JS: In your opinion, what are the skills that executive leaders need today?

SL: The central characteristics have not changed significantly.  You need to be someone who is:

·  highly personally motivated
·  a great listener
·  an even better communicator 
·  a person with immense emotional intelligence
·  a decision maker - quickly seeing pros/cons and selecting paths forward
·  someone who has a concrete vision for the future and an executable plan to attain that vision

The difference over the past 15-20 years has largely been in the speed at which these skills need to be acquired, updated, and perfected.  Because, of the rate of change in many business landscapes, I think the old story from Intel's Founder, Andy Grove - "Only the Paranoid Survive" - has increasing resonance.  Levels of constant awareness (and enough fear to keep you ‘edgy’) are healthy characteristics for leaders in a modern business.  If you think you are in an industry which is stable, has been around forever, and cannot be disrupted by innovation - I encourage you to have a long conversation with a former newspaper executive or find the owner of a limo company in a market with significant Über penetration.

JS: You mention, "a person with immense emotional intelligence," what benefit does the combination of high IQ and high EQ bring, particularly when maneuvering through industry change?

SL: I consider emotional intelligence to be the hallmark of a great organization.  My experience, at an individual level, is that emotional intelligence is like having a talent for art or music - some people are born with an innate capability for it and other people really have to work at it to be successful.  With that said, everyone can reach a certain level of proficiency.  

For technology companies, a culture which actively recruits, hires, retains, educates, and promotes using EQ has an enormous advantage over their competitors.  I would encourage your readers to listen to Tim Ferriss's podcast with Chris Sacca (an early investor in Twitter, Uber, Instagram, and Kickstarter.)  Chris was asked about characteristics that he uses to decide whether or not he will invest/partner with a company founder/CEO. Chris talks extensively about emotional intelligence, and particularly about the ramifications in markets which are developing consumer solutions. 

In IT fields - someone who can empathize with a user will develop better solutions for that user - it is an enormous problem/challenge in software and mobile computing.  Most mobile applications are being built by brilliant young kids who have grown up in a completely digital age, but the products, services, and apps are often geared towards the general public.  The systems they design might work fine for 16-year-olds who already send 10+ text messages a minute and have profiles on dozens of social networks.  But for a 55-year-old who primarily uses their smartphone for email and cell functions, you have to think differently about usability and design.

JS:  How can tech companies leverage the utilization of EQ, particularly for those who work heavily with teams? 

SL: Everything works better.  The earlier topics were focused on the improvements in product design, but in highly changing environments, simple improvements in human and team dynamics have impact.  People with better emotional intelligence generally "play well with others" which leads to increased performance outcomes on team engagements.

Here is a challenge for the reader - find a project manager that you know from any industry.  Ask them this question:

"On your last project which fell behind schedule, what were the biggest challenges you faced to keep on track?  What percentages of those challenges were because of real operational roadblocks and what percentage of those challenges were because of the individuals/people involved in the engagement."  

Leave yourself at least 15 minutes after this question is asked - so that you can adequately prepare for the storm of complaining this project manager is about to do related to individuals working on their project.  People are almost ALWAYS the reason a project works well or fails.  We are rarely in a scenario which is being held up by real operational, technical, or legal roadblocks.  That doesn't mean it does not happen - but the bulk of the issues are individuals.

Every improvement that you make in emotional EQ and team dynamics is a positive benefit towards the cycle.

About Steve Leicht

Steve is a Managing Director and co-founder of ÜberResearch GmbH. He joins the company after a role as the CEO of 52apps Inc, a mobile software development company where he is a co-founder and investor.

Steve was previously the Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Collexis Holdings Inc., which was acquired by Reed Elsevier in June 2010. While at Collexis, Mr. Leicht had a leadership role in more than $18M in private operational fundraising, two company acquisitions, the public offering of the company in the US market, the expansion of Collexis into Latin America and Asia, and the reorganization of Collexis European operations.

Prior to joining Collexis, Mr. Leicht served in roles of continually increasing responsibility with IBM Corporation in sales, business development, emerging technology, and general management. Prior to IBM, Mr. Leicht started, ran, and sold International Telecommunications Distributors, Inc and served as Chairman and CEO of the company.

Mr. Leicht has a Master’s in Business Administration from The Pennsylvania State University’s Smeal College of Business, where he served as the President of his class. He received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Bucknell University. Mr. Leicht serves on boards and advisory committees for several companies and industry groups and is a regular speaker at industry events on the use of semantic and mobile technologies in discovery and social collaboration. He lives with his wife and two children in Lexington, South Carolina.

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