By: Nina Simosko, CEO NTT i3

I’ve spent most of my career in major enterprise technology companies in Silicon Valley. That fact would lead many people to believe that the most important leadership learnings that I use everyday are about technology trends, agile product development, new business models, and innovation practices. I’ll be honest with you – while those are definitely useful, the understanding I have acquired over the years about the subtleties and motivations of human behavior (including my own) have proven to be far more valuable.

Where did these insights come from? They weren’t part of my inherited DNA, and I didn’t read about them in a book. They came from life experiences and a journey that led to some powerful encounters with people you might call my mentors and coaches – both official and unofficial. Some of them may not even know of the profound impact that they have had upon my life.

I’m sharing a few chapters of my journey with you here, as you are embarking on your own search for the coaches, mentors and guidance that you need as an emerging executive leader in the hyper-growth organizations of today. Here’s the short story of four individuals and the lessons they taught me that have shaped my professional life: Edie, Bill, Stan, and Irene.

Edie – Make sure that you understand the facts.

Edie was my first boss at Tandem and my first unofficial coach. A former manufacturing executive, her tough-minded and direct approach to business and business communication was firmly based around a deep and unbiased understanding of the facts at hand. I get where this comes from. In a production environment, products are either correctly created and assembled, or they are not. There’s a direct and measurable impact to the business. When there is a problem at the end of the run, it’s clear what it is, but the root causes may be complex and interwoven.   Without ‘the facts’ there is no hope of solving the problem. Being direct and focusing on the facts was Edie’s gift.

What I learned was not to be the same as Edie, but to learn from observing her behavior that if a great manager and leader is faced with untangling a complicated web of relationships (business or inter-personal) than being able to sort out the facts is an essential skill. That’s equally valuable on the manufacturing line or in the office.

Without ‘the facts’ there is no hope of solving the problem. Being direct and focusing on the facts was Edie’s gift.

Bill – Believe it. Achieve it.

Bill McDermott, the CEO of SAP is an iconic self-made technology executive. What I learned from watching Bill was the leadership value in instilling self-belief in others while also building empathy between team members as two necessary conditions for achieving business goals. And with Bill, those goals weren’t about tiny incremental changes. They were generally bold and audacious, along with a well-articulated value. With those kinds of goals, a leader can’t just spend their day watching what other people do. If the success of a business vision is based on the achievement of many individual team members’ goals, a real leader has to be out there on the field with the team to help them not only believe in their individual ability, but actually achieve those goals.

For me, Bill combined the practical with the almost metaphysical. That’s summed up in a statement he made:

The most important part of you is you. I think when you’re not trying to be somebody else and you’re standing tall based upon what you believe is possible, other people start to believe it, and before you know it, you all can achieve it.

Stan – Be human first and a manager second.

Stan Slap is an author and business consultant, and the person from whom I first learned about emotional intelligence when I was at Siebel Systems (now part of Oracle). In the often conservative world of enterprise business, Stan was a true gift to me and many of my colleagues with the unfiltered and often very provocative conversations he led. His unconventional approach helped me break through my own preconceptions about business and begin to learn about the importance of emotional resonance and to put it on a more equal footing with pure left-brain intellect.

Stan has a very unique take on the ‘good to great’ paradigm to which I can only hope to achieve someday as a business leader. He says:

The soul of your company is found in the souls of the people in it. So if you’re focused on building great products to make money, that’s a good thing. If you want to build a legacy that impacts the human beings who helped you, that’s a great thing. And to get to that great thing, be human first and a manager second.

Irene – The best of Edie, Bill, and Stan. Confidence builder.

When I found Irene as my first official ‘coach’ at SAP, I knew that I had access to the best of what had resonated for me in Edie, Bill, and Stan – plus more – all in one person. Irene was (and is) about both the facts and emotions of the human condition in business. With unparalleled observational skills, she can easily go beneath the ‘business veneer’ of a person in order to help them discover and build the inner confidence and honesty that a real leader needs to bring every day. That is what she helped me learn.

Now I am excited and honored to be able to work with her in a new way and give back to the community of emerging women executives about which she cares so deeply. I’m excited that the company of which I am the CEO, NTT i3, is hosting the convening of these women over the next several months. I carry the hope that my story and experiences, as well as those of the other executives that Irene has curated, will provide inspiration and practical lessons to enable these women to influence, engage and drive results in new ways in their companies.