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Come Behind the Scenes of Tech Pioneer Cisco, Part 1

That's the first place I suggest business leaders start, connect with customers over what they are trying to do, not just what they are trying to buy. I would suggest this is a focus on execution and outcomes. This focus eliminates the selling, the winning and losing and that customer's purpose is to pay the bills.

Instead of thinking of my job as strictly sales, I reinforce with my team that our jobs are to ensure success for our customers in whatever mission they are working toward, by providing the best IT solution we can. It's very different when you think about your goal being focused on enabling a police officer to spend 20 percent more time patrolling for public safety (and not uploading administrative documents), versus selling a solution for mobility. It is clear that we need to sell to remain viable but we can also educate and solve customer problems.

I try to put myself in the customer's shoes and really understand the challenges they are facing. I spend time with our customers and partners to understand their real needs to simplify their complexities and determine what challenges they need to address. Before you talk about technology, products, services or solutions, you have to ask good questions and listen. Customer relationships are built over time and based on trust, respect, confidence and execution. These are just words if you don't understand the problem you are trying to solve. I was told once that it is easy to solve problems if you don't listen to what the customer is trying to do.

Our customers are in the business to protect, to serve and to educate. If technology doesn't help them do those important things for the citizens of the United States, customer relationships will always be out of reach. I am honored to serve these customers.

Question #4

Like countless businesses during the 2009 economic downturn, Cisco had to restructure its business to meet new demand levels in the marketplace. Part of that involved layoffs. Can you describe how an announcement of that kind impacts closely integrated teams, and how you sought to energize and motivate those remaining at the company? I am also curious what you learned about leadership during that downturn that you still employ today.

This is a tough but a good question. Honestly, one that I would always prefer to avoid because it is never easy to go through layoffs or lose members of your team. I have always prided myself on building high performance teams and have worked with some amazing, talented and intelligent professionals. These events and downturns require you to make some very tough but necessary decisions.

  1. It is not personal but you need to be human. Transparency and authenticity is critical and helps.
  2. It is important to focus on the mission of the team and make decisions for the good of the whole. Not everyone will see this during the downturn but it must be the rallying cry for the go forward plan.
  3. Determine the course of action and act quickly. Face the team to ensure they understand what is going on and the decisions that have been made while being respectful to the individuals impacted. There is no need for rumors, drama or defensiveness.
  4. Be visible, be clear, be respectful, be confident about the future and don't be negative. "Negativity travels around the world before good news gets up in the morning." Make sure you wake up with a positive outlook and a plan for the future. Hope Floats.

From a leadership perspective, it is clearly these times of adversity that you learn the most about yourself. If you can't answer the question for yourself, "Why am I here?" It will be impossible for you to lead others through the difficult times.

Failure is quitting when people are counting on you. You can lean on your hero's like Winston Churchill, Vince Lombardi or Franklin D. Roosevelt, who have all lead through adversity. You can come up with catchy phrases like..."don't give up the ship" or " as you see it, so be it." But it is at these times that you have to be present and have clarity of what your vision and mission is for yourself and your organization.

You have to make the words and the culture of "One team, one fight" real for your teams. During these times, your team becomes your customer where you need to demonstrate with actions what we talked about earlier. You have to bring the words: trust, respect, confidence and execution, to life for your team. My greatest leadership lessons during this time are the realization that it is not about me.

Check out Part 2 of this article to find out more about Cisco. 

-- By Brian Sozzi CEO of Belus Capital Advisors, analyst to TheStreet

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

At the time of publication, Sozzi held no position in the stocks mentioned.
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