Nathan Motyl of Solera On Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Uncertain & Turbulent Times
Be introspective. Being introspective refers to the practice of self-reflection and self-examination. It involves looking inward to gain a deeper understanding of oneself, including thoughts, emotions, motivations, and actions. Being introspective is an essential aspect of personal growth, self-awareness, and making informed decisions. It allows individuals to develop a greater understanding of themselves, their values, strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement for everything, including leadership.
As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times”, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nathan Motyl.
Nate is an accomplished executive with a diverse background in science, finance, and information technology. Starting his career in finance, he quickly transitioned to the IT department of a small engineering company, where he honed his technical skills across multiple disciplines. His expertise expanded to include Business Intelligence, Database performance, and enterprise workload management.
With a passion for driving digital transformations, Nate currently holds the position of SVP, Global Operations, Architecture, & PMO at Solera. His focus lies in optimizing product design to create new or optimize existing sales channels, increasing top-line revenue, and maximizing customer wallet. His track record of success in recent companies demonstrates his remarkable capability to identify strategic product changes that drive revenue growth and generate positive business outcomes.
Nate’s unique advantage stems from his multidisciplinary background in science, math, finance, and technology. This diverse skill set enables him to approach problems from a distinct frame of mind and filter, leading companies towards greater efficiency and profitability. His ability to restructure processes, streamline management, and leverage other modalities has consistently boosted EBITDA for the organizations he has worked with.
Additionally, Nate possesses expertise in driving business evolution with AI, making him a sought-after leader in the industry. His in-depth understanding of artificial intelligence and its applications enables him to leverage its power to propel businesses forward and capitalize on emerging opportunities. By incorporating AI-driven solutions into his strategies, Nate drives innovation, streamlines processes, and fosters sustainable growth for organizations.
As an innovative and strategic leader, Nate continues to make significant contributions to the industry. He is recognized for his outstanding performance in consolidating start-up companies into a cohesive entity, receiving numerous awards for his exceptional achievements in this field. Nate’s passion for driving revenue growth, coupled with his analytical mindset and deep understanding of technology, positions him as a valuable asset in achieving tangible business outcomes.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
My path is an interesting one. I started my college career in chemistry, only realizing I wasn’t a fan of labs my junior year, so I switched to finance my senior year where I received my B.S. Shortly into my first job, I joined the IT department and never looked back. For several years I had the opportunity to directly manage several IT disciplines, from network, infrastructure, and security to database, system engineering, and application support/development. Following that I concentrated on database and BI technologies for several years, with a special focus on performance tuning and workload management; then started moving into executive management, becoming a chief shortly after receiving my MBA. What I truly enjoy is digging in or going deep on technology, as well as other scientific disciplines. I’ve had many suggestions made to me over the years that being an effective manager means you must let go of the technology relationship. I can tell you that is absolutely untrue. In fact, I feel a strong leader, one that manages very high-end talent, must stay in touch with these concepts. I am a prime example of that. While I am an executive, I still can and do “get my hands dirty”. My background in science and math has given me very strong analytical roots, and I feel this gives me an edge when approaching problems of any sort.
It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Mistakes can be valuable teaching tools. While I’ve made many in my career, the funniest I’ve been involved in was from one of my staff. When I was starting out, we worked at a company with large database servers serving millions of people globally per day. As part of the SDLC, we would prep non-production environments for testing. Our performance environment was identical to production in size, so the two were very similar. One day he came up to my desk panicked and said “Nate! I just shut down production!” I looked at him for a second, and said, “Did you turn it back on?” He said “no” and proceeded to turn the production services back on. While this did cause an outage, it only lasted a minute or two. This person was a very seasoned engineer but had made the mistake of confusing production and performance environment remote console screens and shut down production by accident while prepping for a test. The lesson? Two really…first, stay calm. In this situation, you can see how my senior engineer panicked, and while properly reporting the problem didn’t think to do the simplest task first; turn the environment back on. Also, my reaction at the time, had it been anything other than calm and direct, would have cost our customers a longer outage. The second lesson, if a mistake can be made it will be made. Error prevention, that is, making the error impossible to occur, is the only way to prevent.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Excellent question; just one person? I’m so thankful for so many, from peers and employees to managers and mentors. Even those that aren’t so great give you incredibly valuable lessons in what “not to do”. There is one lesson that (thankfully) I haven’t had to learn “the hard way” but have witnessed other leaders do so. That lesson is, appreciate your Aces. If you’ve been a leader in technology for some time, hopefully you’ve been fortunate enough to manage an Ace. An Ace is what I call an individual that works on an entirely different plane than others. Their attitude, skill, and intellectual ability make them game changers in every scenario. Sometimes leaders conflate their ideas, successes, methodologies for their own. They take the productivity of the Ace for granted, to the point of creating toxic environments and inhibiting career growth of their staff for fear they may be surpassed or be without them. While that may work for a short period, long term it is a road to career destruction. I’ve seen this too often unfortunately, and it always results in Ace’s moving onto other opportunities while the leader crumbles without them. As a leader of elite personnel, you must always remain humble, listen intently, keep your skills current, and encourage the growth of your employees…especially your Aces. The resulting culture is one that attracts key talent because they know they will be allowed to grow and where their leaders believe in them. They will feel heard, and their ideas considered. Compensation, while important, only goes so far. To work at an elite level, there must be meaning behind what you do. Aces understand this, and so do I.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose-driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your organization started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
The power of belief is incredibly strong. Examples of this exist everywhere, from war to spirituality to corporate environments. For the last decade or more I’ve been working for a thematic private equity firm. Thematic firms invest in themes or macroeconomic trends that are expected to drive growth in the near future, such as renewable energy, e-commerce, or artificial intelligence. Investors typically invest in a basket of companies that operate in the chosen theme, rather than individual companies. My current company was the result of dozens of acquisitions in the software that supports the automotive lifecycle. From dealerships to auto shops, fleet management, and insurance carriers. By consolidating these companies, we can make unique product offerings and drive operational synergies with our “newly found” scale. That is effectively what my job is, to streamline our global operations, budget, and processes while driving top-line revenue via product strategy.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
I think many leaders, regardless of their tenure, have recent stories like this resulting from the COVID-19 timeline. That was definitely a challenging time, but I was a bit lucky also. January 2020 I was in China visiting 3 of our offices during Chinese New Year, all circling Wuhan. I took trains for domestic travel, and witnessed how the sheltering procedures were starting to take hold there. When I got back to the states, I initiated a mandatory work from home order for key personnel and operations; something all companies/governments started to adopt the following month. As we had a jump on operational preparation, we were able to make the home transition seamlessly. The bad part was, I worked at a company whose SaaS solutions involved some level of gathering in person, marathons, gyms, community centers, etc. Like many businesses at this time, our sales tied to personal gatherings declined sharply. Of course, there were some tough fiscal choices to make, and I made them with as much data as I could to target minimal impact to people and company. I also took the opportunity to refactor an already weakened product with an eCommerce strategy, that I thought had some potential. Not only did those bets pay off, it became the company’s most profitable product within two years, and helped them weather the COVID sales decline. The lesson? Stay productive. I tell my team, businesses of all types ebb and flow. In the flow, everyone is busy anyway. Either closing gaps, supporting sales, or some combination therein. In the ebb, take time to reflect, review data, and refocus work. Perhaps complete some automation or AI adoption that will make your team more efficient or refactor a product to create new revenue streams. Not only do you keep your team busy, and away from dwelling in negativity, you may just turn things around.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Yeah, I do. I’m of two minds when it comes to work, one tries his best to have a great work/life balance and spend as much time with family as possible. The other is addicted to challenging work. These two often collide, and I do struggle when I need to make choices with my time. That area is one I reflect on daily and try to keep getting better at. The good part of that is motivation is never a problem. I’m either motivated because I’m spending time with my family or motivated because I’m supporting them (while working on challenging problems). My drive is curiosity. I’m chuckling as I write this because I can be so obsessed about finding answers to problems, sometimes it’s tough to take myself seriously. It’s one of the reasons I like technology so much…there is an infinite depth, but ultimately everything boils down to a one or a zero, so there’s always an answer. I like many other sciences as well, such as quantum physics, robotics, kinesics, organic chemistry, etc., and I find that multimodal curiosity really sustains itself.
I’m an author and I believe that books have the power to change lives. Do you have a book in your life that impacted you and inspired you to be an effective leader? Can you share a story?
I totally agree. There’s one kind of “uncommon” book that really changed things for me. The first book of my first class in my MBA program, Organizational Behavior: Human Behavior at Work. Mind you, this wasn’t super fun reading. It was well done, but like any textbook, not really captivating. In this book, they broke down the communication process. When I say that I mean a very specific, step-by-step process that humans use to relay or exchange information between one another. From message assembly and transmission to receipt and decoding. In there the author demonstrated that the majority of the responsibility for receipt and understanding of the message is on the sender, not the recipient. This blew my mind. How many times have you thought the problem was on “their” end? Think again! If you are not encoding your message in a way that the recipient can efficiently interpret it, you should not expect a high success rate. In leadership, communication is key. Since reading that I’ve worked hard to understand differences between the communication styles of different cultures and generations, and encode my communications accordingly.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Being present. I’ve found that overcommunication, validation, and leadership presence are what many employees look for in challenging times. Being present helps to ensure that those needs are met. People will ask the same questions…repeat yourself. They will ask tough questions…be honest and forthcoming. They will need reassurance…tell them you’re behind them. These things matter in all aspects of life and leadership. Just being there, and doing your job, is sometimes enough.
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
It has been my experience, in times of uncertainty, the most angst comes from the unknown. Kind of a fearing “fear itself” thing. You read about situations all the time where corporations brush over or hide bad news for fear of repercussions, or simply the fear of being uncomfortable, that ultimately make the problems worse. Being transparent and direct with your communications can be very helpful in these situations. True professionals act professionally, whether delivering bad news or receiving it.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
In both scenarios, I treat them like I would want to be treated. If I have difficult news, I deliver it clearly, fully, and directly. If there is remediation to occur, I will map that out as well. We are all human, and businesses of any sort are an extension of that. There are ups and downs, problems occur, mistakes made, but how you respond is what truly matters.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
That’s a great question. What’s interesting is that the approach to uncertainty, and the approach to solving large problems are the same, staying nimble. Whether we are talking about elements of a strategic design or breaking down a large problem, both require you to break down the work into smaller, more deliverable, parts. As a leader you need to keep a close eye on those areas of unpredictability and make changes to direction as necessary. Because you’ve broken down deliveries into smaller parts your directional changes are much smaller and thus less impactful.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
Transparency is a big one for me. Getting the best out of your employees requires trust. I feel that a leader demonstrates their trustworthiness to staff largely by how they are communicated with. Being direct and clear with people about both successes and failures, good news and bad, goes a long way to building that trust. Transparency is in the DNA of excellence.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
I think the more common mistakes that make during challenging times aren’t really during those times, but before, when things were good. Ignoring operational efficiency, automation, R&D for next-generation, fiscal frugality can be found in many companies when sales are up. Only when they are down, and the company is struggling, are they reviewed. Unfortunately, at that point, much opportunity is diminished. By focusing on these areas “as a practice” can pay off short and long term, as well as make the company more durable and capable of weathering storms.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?
- Be humble & transparent. Humility and transparency are two interconnected qualities that work hand in hand, creating an environment where your team feels united and supported. By embodying these values, you communicate to your team that you are all part of the same journey, sharing both the successes and challenges that come your way. This fosters a sense of camaraderie and breaks down the barriers that often arise from internal politics and fears. When you demonstrate humility, you acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and that you value the diverse perspectives and expertise of your team members. This creates an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable sharing their ideas and opinions without the fear of judgment or retribution. Instead of a hierarchical structure, humility promotes a collaborative and egalitarian approach, where individuals feel empowered to contribute and actively participate. Transparency, on the other hand, involves open and honest communication. It means sharing information, updates, and decisions with your team members in a timely manner. By being transparent, you build trust and credibility, ensuring that your team members are well-informed and aware of the factors influencing the team’s direction and goals. This transparency allows for informed discussions and decision-making, as everyone has access to the same information and can contribute based on a shared understanding.
- Lead by example. Leading by example means setting a positive example through your own actions and behaviors. It involves embodying the values and principles you want to see in your team members and demonstrating those consistently. Performing at a high level requires not only the right people, but the right culture.
- Be curious. In all of my job descriptions for my hires, I include “intellectual curiosity” as one of the qualities I look for in candidates. If you hire dispassionate people, you will get the bare minimum.
- Be introspective. Being introspective refers to the practice of self-reflection and self-examination. It involves looking inward to gain a deeper understanding of oneself, including thoughts, emotions, motivations, and actions. Being introspective is an essential aspect of personal growth, self-awareness, and making informed decisions. It allows individuals to develop a greater understanding of themselves, their values, strengths, weaknesses, and areas for improvement for everything, including leadership.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Marcus Aurelius “You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” Every year, as I learn more and gain more experience, this quote becomes truer. Focus on mental clarity and health. Focus on what you can control and do your best to hedge against those elements outside of that.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
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