Leading From The C-Suite: Angela Roseboro On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive
Integrity: The best CEOS I know, I want to follow. I believe in them and I want to rally behind them. One of the reasons I joined Riot Games is because I believed in their vision and I wanted to be a part of their comeback story. I wanted it for them more than me. Even when we faced difficult hardships, I wanted to have an impact on them.
As part of our series called “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Angela Roseboro.
Angela Roseboro is an award-winning culture transformation leader and a dynamic changemaker, who has created lasting impact in the gaming and tech industries. As the former Chief Diversity Officer of leading gaming publisher, Riot Games, Angela created groundbreaking programs, including the Racial Equity Initiative, providing $10 million to underrepresented founders in the gaming startup community. Roseboro also served as the former Head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Dropbox, and Corporate Director of Diversity at Whirlpool Corporation, and more.
Angela is a highly sought after DEI strategist, advisor and lecturer, known for sharing her hard-won insights and forward-thinking approach with audiences across the globe through keynotes, such as her influential TEDx Talk entitled The Gaming Connection, where she discusses navigating corporations through cultural reckoning and harnessing the connective power of gaming to bring people together, build inclusivity, promote peace, and create community. Roseboro is also known for dynamic keynotes, including “Protecting Your Diamond — Leading with Authenticity and Purpose” and “Bro Culture to We Culture: Creating a Winning Workplace.” Angela’s impact has been recognized by Black Enterprise, which named her one of 150 Top D&I Executives, Los Angeles Business Journal’s Diversity Executive of the Year, and Diversity Global’s 100 Leaders in Diversity. Angela has also been featured in the Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Growing up, I didn’t exactly know what my path might be. I had always admired those who were so clear on what they wanted as a career. It is important to note that I was the first person in my family to obtain a post-secondary degree, so my role models were probably characters on TV and the strong work ethic of my grandparents. In the neighborhood I grew up in, we didn’t dream about what we could be. My dreams were limited to what I didn’t want in my life. I knew I didn’t want to worry about not having hot water, and I didn’t want shots to be my normal. Looking back, I wonder what path I would have taken if my dreams were not limited. In some weird way, my experience has led me to the work I do today. I didn’t dream of going to college, but my high school math teacher saw my potential instead of my limits and encouraged me to take a college preparatory test. The reading portion included dissecting two Shakespearian plays. In my high school, we did not study Shakespeare (I don’t think we even had any of the books), yet someone in college admissions was going to determine my qualifications based on something I had not had access to or the opportunity to learn — I was totally capable, and that didn’t seem equitable. I knew that I wanted my kids to live in a world where limits were not placed on them because of barriers projected by others. Diversity, equity and inclusion is not about creating advantages for some — it is about removing barriers so that each of us can reach our full potential.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was 28 years old, I had my first job and there was an issue that occurred at the company. When coming up with a solution, I was so focused on being right and I would debate and push back to prove that I was right. In the midst of that, I lost the people. Now, at the end of the day, I still was right. But they couldn’t hear me anymore. I was fighting them with the intention of getting them to make the right decisions that would help the company. But in the process, I lost credibility. I lost my ability to connect and I could not rebuild that relationship — ultimately, I left. I now look back on that and realize that although being right is great, leading others is more impactful. If I had thought about building relationships and trust versus being right, we could have gotten to a much better outcome.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“Whether you think you can or think you can’t — you’re right” — Henry Ford. For every positive thought, it seems like there are at least four negative thoughts to shut you down before you even attempt to try. To bypass that, I have to say nothing beats a failure, but a try — because what’s the worst that could happen? When I first got to the C-suite, I was the only woman of color in this game and I was afraid to speak up because I didn’t know if I would say the wrong thing and no longer be accepted. I decided to push myself in new directions and challenge myself until I got to the other side. I would remind myself that if I failed, I had learned so much.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
I’ve read and listened to a lot of books about leadership, but the one that comes to mind is Unleashed: The Unapologetic Leader’s Guide to Empowering Everyone Around You by Frances Frei and Anne Morriss. When you’re a leader, you may be inclined to think it’s about you and the way you show up, but it’s really about how you empower others to be their greatest and how you build trust. I used to think I was a great leader because I had great leadership skills and because everyone told me I was a leader. At the end of the day, you’re a great leader because of the people around you. I learned this in trying to be a good leader. Empowering people starts with hiring the right talent around you. I’m a better leader because I empower people to be great. I think one of my biggest successes is that I hired three chief diversity officers and I take such pride in that because they got to learn from being around me and I got to empower them to push them. And so I think it’s about building trust and empathy and building a sense of belonging in your team. And that’s something I’m still working on. But as you know now, leadership is not about me, it’s about others. People have to want to follow you, and I’m trying to be that.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I built this company on the premise that companies succeed because of their people, not in spite of them. And I think that’s what makes us unique. We’re not just coming at this from theory, we’ve lived it. So we have practical experience. I think every client has their own story. And we try to connect to that story and what they’re going through versus coming in with like, here’s the playbook of how you solve this. We want people to build companies that last forever. We want people to live up to the culture that they have in their minds. Some may think culture is about perks, but culture is a lived experience. I think what makes us stand out is we want to understand the culture you intend to create as well as understanding how people are experiencing your company environment. We provide each client with individual coaching and unique attention and we build trusting relationships.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Empathy is the most important character trait to truly understand another person’s point of view. During my time in the C-suite at Riot Games, the industry was going through a reckoning with the rise of the Me Too movement. Leaders were trying to find solutions, but they were missing key points of understanding. By being empathetic, leaders started listening for understanding instead of listening for a response.
Being disruptive is another good trait. A lot of companies start out as disruptors but get comfortable in their success. Take Blockbuster for instance, they were the go-to movie rental business for a very long time, but they underestimated the market shift around them and eventually couldn’t compete with Netflix. It’s very easy to get rooted in what you know instead of staying curious about what’s next.
Authentic connection is also vital. Earlier in my career, around the time when my daughter was young, I decided that I had to get some life insurance. There were two insurance agents that were trying to sell me plans. The first agent just went straight into sales tactics and the other asked me about my daughter and what I wanted for her. Although they were selling me the same thing, the second agent understood her customer. Around the same time, I was buying a car but the dealer was trying to sell it to my husband, even though I was the one buying the car. And I thought, in a world where the dynamics and the demographics were changing, you’ve got to know your customer better than anybody else. You have to anticipate others’ needs. And I wanted to help companies understand how to value and leverage, not only the diversity of ideas, but the diversity of knowing your customers. To reach them, you’ve got to understand them.
Leadership often entails making difficult decisions or hard choices between two apparently good paths. Can you share a story with us about a hard decision or choice you had to make as a leader?
There is the popular decision and there is the decision around the right path. There were instances where the popular decision was to lead by the same playbook that had always been used. After thirty years in corporate America, it feels like the same playbook is still being used, so it seems like it should be something that is a part of everyone’s DNA. I realized that often when founders are building something, they’re not CEOs quite yet. And so they believe their values and expectations are best based on the limited exposure they have to different schools of thought. My goal has been to help them gain perspective on how to reach an audience that they most likely haven’t even considered. My job is to widen their lens so that they can make the best decisions that help their companies win.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
C-Suite executives provide strategic direction for a company, which creates longevity and overall success. The executive role is different from the day-to-day responsibility of leading people — they have to be the ones that show the path. The C-Suite holistically and strategically assesses trends in the market to set the direction for the company and stay ahead of the curve. Outside of being an expert in their role, they are the biggest culture carriers of the company. People won’t go where you won’t lead, and they won’t follow just anybody — they are the rally cryers, they model the leadership set forth by the company.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a C-Suite executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I believe many think that C-Suite execs are disconnected, insular, and all about themselves. We’ve had our own experiences as we’ve grown through our careers and we share them collectively. People may also think that the C-Suite only cares about finances and makes decisions in vacuums, but this has not been my experience. A balanced C-Suite is making sure all of these things are in alignment.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I’ve seen leaders get comfortable with their leadership style, and not adjust to change. It’s important to adjust to new norms in how people work, not dismiss others’ experiences because it wasn’t ours. Some leaders expect people to be mirrors of them, only valuing one way of working instead of honoring collective experiences. The biggest mistake is only hiring “yes people” who agree with you — you will not get innovation and creativity this way. You want people who disagree with you and are smarter than you. When I hire someone, I have to give them space to be okay with failure and learning. My advice would be to celebrate failure and learn more. Sometimes you swing and miss, but there’s a lesson in it. We’re not going to hit it out of the park every single time. My biggest lessons happen when I am uncomfortable and in the unknown.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
When you’re running a company, you’re taught to stay high-level and lead from the balcony, not the floor. However, if you don’t know how your company operates, you are missing the most vital part of your business. You have to get in the weeds and make sure your floor is stable, which is vastly underrated. You have to see how it’s really happening. As a leader, we understand market conditions and landscape, because this is what we constantly hone in on. But you are successful because of people, not in spite of them, so you have to understand what’s really happening at all levels.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite Executive”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.
1 . Business acumen: You have to know your market conditions to understand your business better than anyone else. You have to be decisive to be able to see the future now, provide strategic vision, and remain agile when you need to navigate a shift
2 . Discernment: Make decisions that move you. Always think about impact while making outcome-based decisions. Everything I do is connected to my decisions. I am really focused on what I’m trying to do and the outcome I’m trying to achieve, and anything that doesn’t connect with that is a distraction.
3 . Integrity: The best CEOS I know, I want to follow. I believe in them and I want to rally behind them. One of the reasons I joined Riot Games is because I believed in their vision and I wanted to be a part of their comeback story. I wanted it for them more than me. Even when we faced difficult hardships, I wanted to have an impact on them.
4 . Transparency: Build trust even when you mess up. It’s my job as a leader to be transparent and allow space for everyone to exercise their individual agency and express how they feel. Listening with honesty and integrity is the best way to stay connected.
5 . Intention: Build culture intentionally and model it. Culture is the lived experience of the employees, who take on the traits of the leaders. Build cultures that the company can authentically live up to.
In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Don’t let the process get in the way of doing the right thing. For example, I experienced a situation where we had to make a shift, and many got stuck following the processes and procedures, which got in the way of them seeing what was right. The process is there for guidance, not for absolutes. Changing the process is sometimes necessary to ensure that executives are prioritizing listening, integrity, and transparency.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The humanity movement. Trying to get to the human emotion, especially in disagreement, creates bridges for mutual respect and understanding. In cancel culture, we don’t see humanity, we only see the opposing side. During the pandemic, co-workers were being nasty to each other. People needed a break, but they weren’t taking PTO because they would come back to 15,000 emails. We decided to take a companywide week off to recharge collectively. We were able to implement this as a balanced C suite, where we utilized our shared perspectives to help the company and grow.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
Leading From The C-Suite: Angela Roseboro On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective C-Suite… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.