Yes We Can
A recurring series presented by Cloudflare Co-founder, President & COO Michelle Zatlyn, featuring interviews with women entrepreneurs and tech leaders who clearly debunk the myth that there are no women in tech.
This week's guest is Lori Mazan.
Lori Mazan is the Co-Founder and Chief Coaching Officer of Sounding Board, the preeminent global leadership development enterprise platform changing the face of leadership development through innovative technology for leaders at all levels of an organization. Lori is a seasoned executive coach who has guided hundreds of corporate executives through 1:1 coaching focused on business outcomes and developing critical leadership skills. Client companies advanced by Lori’s expertise include Fortune titans such as Chevron and Sprint as well as high growth and public companies like Intellikine, and Tapjoy, plus 10XGenomics, which became a public company in 2019 while top executives worked with Lori and the Sounding Board team.
Lori has spent the last 25 years coaching C-Suite executives to leadership excellence. Many of those public and private company CEO’s expressed that they would have liked this caliber of coaching earlier in their careers. Inspired by these experiences, Lori joined with co-founder Christine Tao to launch Sounding Board as a feedback-driven, cloud-based leadership coaching platform that could maintain best-in-class leadership coaching while lowering costs to make it affordable and scalable for leaders at every level of their careers.
As an educator, Lori has spent over 10 years as a professor of social psychology and group dynamics while acting as the interim Dean of Students at Holy Names University. She is certified by the industry’s gold standard, the Coaches Training Institute, and is a founding member of the Genentech Preferred Network of Coaches.
Lori received her BS in Psychology from the University of Virginia and an MS in Adult Educational Psychology/Counseling from the University of San Francisco.
To watch more episodes of Yes We Can — and submit suggestions for future guests — visit cloudflare.com/yeswecan
Hi, everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of Yes We Can. I am so excited to have Lori Mazan here today.
Hi, Lori. Welcome. Hi, Michelle. So happy to be here.
Me too. We have so much to cover. Lori has had an amazing career. She's been an executive coach to Fortune 100 leaders for 20 years, as well as technology founders.
And so, Lori, let's just like jump right in. Maybe you can clarify, what are some topics that come up, common topics that come up with your, the executives that you coach?
Yeah, I think one of the biggest overarching themes is just for leaders to have a neutral sounding board to talk over things with, like when you're a leader in an organization, everybody wants something from you, your direct reports want something, the people above you, even if that those people are the board or shareholders, everybody, your colleagues want something from you.
So to just have somebody who's just neutral and can be a thinking partner to you is really useful.
And I think a couple of the themes are like being able to make decisions without all of the data, being able to have a future vision and really think far out there around what you're doing with your team and with your organization going forward.
And then how to kind of funnel that vision down to create a direction more specifically for the people that are following you as a leader.
That's great. That's great. I mean, that sounds like high functioning teams know where you're going, be able to make decisions, empowering the folks on the team to make sure they're in the right direction.
That's yeah, that is decision making without all the information is something that so many people struggle with.
And it's just out of a really nice sense of integrity and wanting to get it right.
But if you wait for all the information, it's really slow.
It takes a long time. And now you get behind the eight ball. So what do you do in that situation?
I mean, so if I find myself in a situation where I have to make a decision and I don't have all the information, and I feel a little bit paralyzed and paralyzed, what advice do you give to or how would you work with a client in that sort of situation?
Yeah, really two points of view. One is I like data plus gut feel and decision making.
So if you're only on one or the other, there's no way to validate.
But if you have data, but then you and gut feel is really just your collective experience, right?
So if you take the data and you validate that with your collective experience, or the other way around, suddenly you have like two ways to intersect the decision instead of just one.
And the other is just being okay to be wrong. There was a famous quote by Scott McNeely, who was the founder of Sun Microsystems, like a thousand years ago.
But I always love this.
He said, the best thing is to make the right decision. The second best thing is to make the wrong decision.
The worst thing is to make no decision, right?
Because no decision is actually a default decision. You're deciding to keep things as they are instead of making a change.
I love that. That's a good, that's a good reminder.
I think we can all relate to that, to that reminder.
So thanks for sharing that. So as someone who's had an amazing career, being an executive coach, and you were one of the first people to get this idea of a executive coach certification.
My understanding is you were one of the first 300 people ever to be certified as an executive coach.
So you were a pioneer of this industry.
I kind of was. I've seen it pretty much since the beginning. I love it.
I love it. So you've been there from the beginning. You're here today. You've coached again, Fortune 100 C-level executives.
I mean, lots of people would never have that opportunity.
And then also technology founders. I mean, you kind of started to work in the Valley back in 2006 when tech was just exploding.
And so you've really been a pioneer.
As you've worked with your clients, what's changed in those two decades?
Had the types of questions that people come to you change with?
I think the work environments changed fairly dramatically. Like Fortune 100 C-level in the 90s was old school.
Literally, I'd be on the executive floor and I'd be the only female that wasn't a secretary on the floor, on the whole floor, stuff like that.
So I think that environment's really changed. I think just information overload, there's so much more information available.
And then as a leader, how do you sort all that information and find what's useful to you and discard what's not?
And then speed, it's really picked up. Like you're probably way too young, but back in the early, like I told someone in my office, like, hey, we didn't even have email for the first half of my career.
Like imagine what that was like.
You actually had to phone somebody to get something done or talk to them in person.
So the pacings picked up dramatically. And then I think the ability to focus has gotten more and more challenging over time, like so much going on around you.
How do you just like keep your blinders on and work on what you need to be working on?
Yeah, that makes sense. Thanks for painting that picture. Yeah, I'm kind of like making myself so old, but.
No, you're experienced. Well, exactly.
And just being able to draw those trend lines of what's changed and what's different.
I mean, that's a real skill set. And back to what you said, makes a good leader, someone who can kind of paint a vision.
And so I think that this is a great demonstration of excellent leadership.
So thank you for sharing that with the audience, because I'm taking it through all of that.
How about the people? So when you worked with Fortune 100 executives, and then you start to work with technology founders, did you see the leadership styles the same or was it or is it very different?
I mean, the Fortune 100, especially in the 90s and early 2000s, you know, it was like the remnant of the old style of leading an organization, which was a lot more hierarchical command and control.
It was, you know, from the 50s to maybe 2000, there was this concept called in loco parentis, which means the company was there in place of the parents, right?
They even would hire people from high school or college and keep them all the way through retirement, and then, you know, kind of take care of them.
But in that there was a very hierarchical perspective behind that.
I think for startup founders, it's just much more collaborative, the age difference, sometimes those founders are much younger than even then some of their employees.
And so that sort of like, hierarchical approach gets really narrowed down, you still have management layers and things, but it's not like somehow I know way better than you know about something.
No, we all have our experience.
And, you know, it's all equally valid. So that's a very different point of view.
And I think the transparency as well, that old style, you know, was kind of like the company to manage everything.
So a lot was hidden behind the scenes.
And now sort of the doors have been thrown open, maybe a little too much sometimes, but maybe better a little too much than not enough.
I know, you know, it's interesting, even at Cloudflare, transparency is something we really value as an and it's something that when new people join our company, we're almost 2000 people now, they comment on it.
Oh, wow, Cloudflare is much more transparent than my last company.
And I kind of think really isn't every company like this.
But this is really resonating that no, not every company is like this. It's a good reminder.
Yeah. Well, that's much to Cloudflare's credit, actually. Well, thank you.
So how about how about women and men leaders that you work with? Do you are do do when you work with women leaders, do they have different set of questions or the similar set of questions than men?
Or is it all the same? Or are there some differences that you maybe can reflect on for the audience?
Yeah, there's some differences.
I just want to be careful not to create any stereotypes, because a lot of what people suggest is a gender difference is really a style difference.
Okay. But, you know, just to kind of try to separate those, I still think that men, generally speaking, so men don't get all upset with me on this, still need to develop empathy, and sort of that ability to put themselves in the shoes of another, like way back in college, when I was doing psych research, we did a study on Reese role taking behaviors of adolescence, it was what age could adolescents start to take on the perspective of a someone beside themselves, it actually is a combination of brain development, and then practice.
And women tend to have a lot more practice with that than men.
So men really still need to continue to practice that concept.
And not that you're going to take on that point of view, but you need to go over to that point of view.
So you understand it deeply.
And then you can, you know, have the opportunity to respond from your own point of view.
I think for women, it's still about taking a risk and being bold and owning women owning their own skills.
And there's still a stat where if there's a job available, if men have 60% of those skills needed for the job, they will think they're well qualified.
And women won't even think they're qualified if they have have 100% of the stated skills and experience.
So there's still this, you know, be bold, jump out there, do the things you haven't done before, trust that your experience and skills are going to carry you over any, you know, unknown period, and, and give it a shot.
I love that. And maybe a little bit like the decision making, best thing is to make a decision.
Second best thing is, is to make a bad decision.
It's almost like if you take a risk, and it doesn't work out, that's okay, because you've learned a lot along the way.
And it's where you kind of get up and you've evolved and, and you find you go kind of go to the next high from there.
And so it's yeah, it doesn't work out when you take that risk. 100%. Yeah, I like this.
I call it fail and learn. Like never take that risk and fail. Now you didn't test the limits of your ability.
So the key is not that you failed.
The key is that you learned and then now you learn you can go out and get it right the next time.
Right. That sounds so scary, though, Lori. I mean, who wants to who wants to fail?
I mean, that is that is I mean, it seems like one of those things where that's does anyone ever say to you, that sounds easier said than done?
Yes, it's really scary.
But you know, this is going to be a funny comment. But you know, I had to do this myself, of course.
And one reason I kind of got comfortable with it as I read an article in People magazine, I was my like guilty pleasure flying on planes all the time.
And it was some hairdresser to the celebrities and a celebrity had fired that person.
And then the next thing, you know, the next best celebrity now higher up celebrity pick them up the next time.
And and she said, like, hey, if I hadn't been fired, I wouldn't have the opportunity to work with this, you know, a levels celebrity.
And I was like, oh, yeah, like not taking a risk really limits your opportunities.
Yes, you might fail. But also you might have some amazing door that opens that you have no clue about from your safe place you're sitting in now.
I love that. I just have a mental version of opening doors and kind of leaning in.
So thank you. That's great. Yeah, I also think that, like I gave a talk to something like women executives in the Bay Area or something.
And I asked them to like, how many people went to Stanford or Harvard, you know, like 90% of the room, how many people work in Google or Facebook, 90% of the room, like, okay, so you're all the same, even though you think that's good, but you're all the same, what is going to make you stand out?
I doing something different, taking a risk, being bold, stepping out there.
That's what's going to make you stand out. That's great.
One of the themes that comes up often that I that I like to say is life is a collection of experiences, you want to collect a lot of experiences, but yes, maybe they'll say take risks, and it's okay to fail.
So it's a good I'm going to, I'm going to combine the two.
I'm going to Yeah, I like that. Collect those up those experiences.
Yeah. Yeah, it's good. Um, you know, as a leader, we have a large team, one of the things I see among senior leaders, especially as they develop in their in their career is communication, you just talk a little bit about it, the ability to kind of communicate, especially during tense situations, is this something that you see with your practice?
And if there's someone listening, saying, Oh, wow, I want to get become a better effective communicator help paint visions of where we're going, or why we have to make a decision?
Maybe? How would you encourage the audience to think about that?
Yeah, I'll actually go to those two parts.
So I kind of think of communication is needing to be the translator for people.
So if you think of yourself, speaking in one language, and the other person speaking another language, and somehow you're trying to make the translation, to make that translation, you have to talk more than just the definition of the word, you have to give like the cultural context that you're using that word in.
And once you do that, now, the whatever you're trying to communicate, the picture of it gets filled out for the other party.
So their, their understanding is deeper.
And I have my partner's is English as a second language. And he's amazing translator.
And he has to translate the meaning of the word like it could be here's how you say it in Spanish, but the meaning is that is not the same.
Here's what the meaning is.
And and so I think that translation concept is really useful.
It keeps you from thinking like, why isn't this other person getting it? You know, this is too totally clear to me what's wrong with them?
No, you have to help them understand the picture that's in your head by translating that the language into a language they understand.
I love that. I mean, just painting the picture, giving them the context, explaining the why this is so important, I think is really resonates with me too.
And I love this translator, I feel like we need like a little emoji emoji, like be a better translator.
It's a good or we need like Google Translate only.
It's not just like the word translation, right? Yeah, right. It has pictures with it, too, or something.
Yeah, yeah. The other part of where when people are tense, they lose their ability to translate or to communicate.
I have found that to be universally true. Literally, when your fight or flight system kicks in, it drains the blood away from your head, because it's putting it all out to your limbs so you can fight or flight, whichever you're going to do.
And so literally, your brain is not functioning as well as it normally does.
And so what happens is we tend to revert back to our more nonverbal approaches to conflict.
And those all originated in our original families, and our childhood.
So that's why you see people like, what, how that person's reacting like that, like throwing a tantrum, or, you know, being like, stubborn.
No, I'm not going to do that. Don't wanna or something else. It's, it's really a throwback to something so long ago, because the brain's not fully online at that moment.
Wow. So then in that case, what should the leader do? I mean, in addition?
Well, yes, two things. One, take a breath. And just remember, no matter how tense this is, if you're in the same company, you're all on the same team.
So this person is not a combatant to me.
They're not my opponent. We're on the same team.
And even if we disagree, we're still on the same team. So try to move it out of that fight or flight point of view.
And then also for yourself, just notice when you start, you know, doing those things you just do when you're a kid.
It's really funny, because everyone has this.
And when I ask people like, Oh, what did you do when you're a kid, they they know, they're like, oh, I was the tantrum thrower, I was the one that punched everybody, or I was the one who ran away and hit or, you know, that everybody knows what they did.
And then they just now do an adult version of that.
So when you see that happening to yourself, you have to be like, whoops, hey, let's take a break, or let me catch my breath or something here.
So you can get back to your, you know, confident adult functioning.
It's good. The only thing that maybe is comforting what you just said, Lori, is that it's universal.
We all do it us too. I'm sure my coworkers can tell you what my pattern is.
Yeah. Opportunity for everyone to grow and improve. It's good. Yeah. So what, and then I want to start, and then I want to move to sounding board, but before we get sounding board, one last, you know, as somebody who's been coaching executives, obviously, you're just so wealth of information.
Where do you think, what do you think lies in the future?
You kind of told us where things have changed. I mean, do you have any predictions for where you think leadership is going over the next five years, 10 years?
Um, I think the pacing is going to just continue to increase as well as the information.
Um, I, I also think that that's kind of spotlight on leaders is getting brighter and increasing.
And I don't think people are going to be putting up with poor leadership, um, the way they did in the past, uh, and maybe partially transparency, but also really a push for more fairness and, um, equitableness among folks in an organization.
And so I think leaders are going to have to pick up their game, um, as the light brightens on them and not that you can't fail and make mistakes, but you're going to have to like own up to those and learn and grow, um, in that spotlight.
That's good. Well, this is a good segue to Sounding Board, which is a company that you founded.
It's about four years old.
You're one of the co-founders and the president. Why don't you tell the audience what, what, what is Sounding Board?
Um, well, Sounding Board helps leaders, uh, accelerate their development, uh, with a managed network of world-class coaches and an integrated technology platform that's designed to make professional coaching, uh, easier to manage, to measure and to scale.
So it's a combination of technology and people together that, uh, helps leaders really increase the impact that they're having in the organization.
Well, I love this. I mean, I, I really believe that this investment in people's self, and especially if you believe leaders are going to become more in the spotlight, you're going to have to work at it and you need a coach to work on it, or maybe the best leaders will get coaches to work on it.
And that's, that's wonderful. But how do you bring that to more people?
How do you make it not just for C-level executives?
How do you make it for more people in the organization? Cause you think a big company, there are a lot of leaders that, that show up every day to make that, that company go.
And so that, I just think the idea behind Sounding Board just sounds, seems so important in this moment.
And so how are things going so far?
Yeah, it's going great. Um, you know, prior to the pandemic, we were still in the education mode, like educating organizations, why this style of coaching is so valuable and the development is so rapid.
Uh, but since the pandemic, we were always fully remote.
And because one of the ways to bring down the cost is not have any travel costs.
So going from in -person to video coaching, um, has, makes a big difference in the cost.
And of course, everyone found out that that actually works and it's viable.
So business has really skyrocketed in the last, you know, six, nine months, particularly.
That's great. And so when, so a company's would engage Sounding Board and then they offer it to their leadership teams as a benefit to help them become leaders.
How often does a coach usually work with leaders?
This is something where you kind of work once and you're done, or is it a month or is it three months?
It's generally six, six months to a year with a twice a month cadence.
And what's important about that is you have an opportunity to change your thinking, to change your mindset on things, have new behaviors surface related to your, you know, change in your mindset.
And then you have an opportunity to try those things out right away, immediately following your coaching session, and then come back and talk about like how that work, how do I fine tune it?
What can I add to that? And so within that month cycle, you have an opportunity to really change something very tangible that normally we don't see that kind of tangible change in that short period of time.
I love, I love this idea. Again, I just feel like there was just such a trend for people investing in themselves.
And we always think of physical wellbeing, which is really important.
And then I just think that there's this huge growing trend of mental wellbeing and leadership and coaching and being your best and handling test situations in a graceful way.
So you're not throwing tantrums because those things make a big difference.
Yeah, they really do. And it's really great to have this kind of neutral partner who's only invested in your development.
You know, they will push you beyond your own self -perceived limits.
And they will also point out to you the things that no one else has wanted to, or had the nerve to tell you.
So because of that trusted relationship, they can move you farther than you can actually move yourself.
Really? So you, to your executives, you've coached or leaders you've worked with, you tell them things that you think that they don't want to hear or haven't heard before?
Oh, a hundred percent. And especially as leaders get higher up in the organization, you know, speaking of power, a lot of people don't want to do that.
So we used to call it CEO disease. Like when you got up to that level, you really were not very self-aware because no one would tell you.
Wow. No one would tell you your jokes are not funny or don't touch that person that way, or, you know, let the other person talk, don't dominate the scene.
No one's going to tell you that because their job's in jeopardy, but that's the great thing about having a coach because it's not about the coach.
It's about that individual.
The coach is willing to tell that person anything that they think would help them be a better leader.
So not everyone likes that of course.
Right. Well, I was about to say like, if you're on the receiving end of someone telling you some feedback, a coach, a manager, that's hard to hear, what's the right way to, what's the best way to receive that feedback?
Curious. Oh, for receiving it, the best way is just to assume the other has your best interest at heart and let it in.
But remember, feedback is just information. It's not the truth with a big T.
It's just information. So just take in the information and sort that for yourself.
And I find often feedback, the whole package is not true, but inside that package is a little kernel of something that is true.
And if you get that little kernel, then that you can apply that across a broad range of other situations.
I love that. That's good advice for both leaders and founders because you get a lot of advice when you're building a company and do it this way.
You ask 10 smart people, you get 10 different ways. And so it's just information.
At the end of the day, you have to make the decision of what you're going to do.
That's right. Based on it. That's right. And remember that other parties always giving information based through like kind of running through their own perception.
Their perception may not be the same as yours. Love that. That's good.
That's a good reminder. So let's say there's somebody listening and saying, oh my goodness, I want to find out more about sounding board.
I want to bring it to someone in my company to see if we should adopt this.
Or maybe they're a leader and they're saying, what's the best way to pursue learning more about sounding board and how they can work with your new organization?
Yeah, probably the best way is just go to the website, soundingboarding.com.
You're also welcome to always just ping me on LinkedIn or at my email, Lori, at soundingboarding.com.
And I can direct you to the right place.
And I think it's great if leaders themselves suggest for companies to start to offer this.
We rely a lot on HR programs or someone in those roles to try to bring every new program in, but coming more from a need of leaders in the organization, I think that actually has weight.
That's great. That's great. Okay. So we have about three minutes left. And so I have two questions.
The last one is about coaching. The second one is just what I ask every guest who comes on Yes We Can.
So the leaders that are listening, whether they're early in their career leaders or somebody late in their career, the leaders that are listening to this conversation right now, what two pieces of advice do you have for them given all your years of experience and all the leaders that you've worked with and knowing that leadership is going to become more important and be under the spotlight going forward, not less important?
What two pieces of advice do you have for them?
Well, aside from get a coach, we'll say get a coach.
I would say one of the big pieces of advice, remember, you are not a leader if you don't have followers.
So if you have to force people to follow you or make them fear you to follow you, that's actually not the real leadership.
Leadership is when you are visionary and inspiring and people want to follow you.
Yes, you still have to provide direction and alignment.
But if you're having to force people to follow you, that's actually not leadership.
It's a good, good reminder.
All right, perfect. Thank you. And then and then get a coach. You're a big, oh, yeah, 100% get a coach.
Do you think anybody who is a leader should have a coach?
I do. Okay. Yeah. Let me say it this way. Anybody who is a leader should have a coach periodically during their career.
You don't need to have a coach all the time.
You have cycles of development. But when you're in that cycle, having this coach partner with you will rapidly increase that development you're seeking.
I love it.
Great. Okay, perfect. Last question. And I ask every guest who comes on.
Yes, we can. So I'm really curious what your answer is going to be as a woman in technology.
Where is the industry lived up to your expectations? And where has it fallen short?
I think where it's lived up to my expectation is all the customers.
I think we had just not felt any bias or anything from the customer segment.
Everybody just seems very available and open.
And even if they aren't purchasing sounding board, you know, we can have a very interesting conversation.
I think where maybe it hasn't lived up so much is more in the investor venture capital realm.
Although I have to say we have the most amazing investors and all female board at this point.
But in the fundraising cycles, like sometimes we weren't treated very respectfully.
Or you could just see the bias so visible that we are, you know, young, white, 20 year old guys from Harvard.
And that, you know, whatever that bias is, is still pretty strong for a lot of people.
I hope you told them, you know what, we really need to sign you up on sounding board.
Exactly. Let us help you with that.
All right. We're out of time. Lori, this was a pleasure. Thanks so much for everyone for tuning in.
Yes, we can. Thank you so much.