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How Billionaire Marc Benioff Becomes ‘Yoda’ To His Employees (And You Can, Too)

How Billionaire Marc Benioff Becomes ‘Yoda’ To His Employees (And You Can, Too)

JULIE BORT ENTERPRISE  JUN. 21, 2014, 6:15 PM

Apple cofounder Steve Jobs isn’t the only person with a “reality distortion field” able to charm people into doing things they thought were impossible.

His dear friend, Marc Benioff, cofounder and CEO of Salesforce.com, has a similar trait, one of his direct reports, Leyla Seka, tells Business Insider.

Seka took over as senior vice president and GM of one of Salesforce.com’s business units, Desk.com, in February. Originally called Assistly, it was acquired by Salesforce.com in 2011, reportedly for $80 million.

Desk.com helps small businesses manage their help desk/customer service needs and names companies like Yelp, Snapchat, Fitbit, Bonobos, and Disqus as customers.

Prior to leading Desk, Seka was a vice president responsible the Salesforce AppExchange platform, an app store forSalesforce.com customers. She‘s been at Salesforce.com since 2008.

Leyla Seka

This promotion was a big deal because it was the first time the Desk.com unit was being led by someone other than its cofounder, Alex Bard.

Bard came to Salesforce.com with the acquisition, and wound up taking on two divisions, Desk.com and ServiceCloud. When running both businesses became unwieldy for Bard, Seka was picked to take over his baby, Desk.com, while he focused on the bigger unit,ServiceCloud, he recently told Business Insider.

It was a big promotion for Seka and she was new to the unit, so she went to Benioff for marching orders.

And he didn’t give her any. “You run Desk,” he told her. “It’s your decision and you need to figure it out.”

But he didn’t just push her in the deep end and let her sink or swim. He turned into her guru, Seka describes.

“It’s like ‘Star Wars.’ I kind of feel like I’m hanging out with Yoda,” she told us. “He just asks me a series of questions. He doesn’t baby food answers to me.”

For instance, she says, he might ask …

Why do you think [the situation] is happening that way?

What do you think the impact of your idea would be?

Do you think people would like it?

Would the idea be well recieved?

How would you feel if the situation was reversed?

How would your team feel about the idea?

If those questions sound obvious, that’s because they are.

The secret isn’t the questions, it’s the fact that Benioff isn’t directing the answers, isn’t even interested in having an opinion and getting his way. He’s also not interested in solving the problem for his employee, she says.

And that’s the magic of it. Instead of approving a specific idea, this process validates that the person has good judgement.

“I felt empowered,” Seka describes.

It’s a management technique that can work under many circumstances: with your staff, kids, friends, spouse. Ask the obvious questions. Listen to the answers. And leave your ego out of it.

 

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About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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