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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
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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