• Intelligent Shift

They Walked Away: The Right Skills in Silicon Valley and Aerospace

In this series, I am writing about my interviews with managers/leaders that walked away from the job spanning different fields and backgrounds. If you haven’t read the lead in to this blog series, please start there or this won't make much sense.

“Mike, in Silicon Valley, it’s far less about people leadership than the ability to motivate and lead an organization to get something specific done.”


This might be my favorite quote from these interviews so it’s where we’ll begin. We will get to why people walked away in the series, but the similarities and differences in what leadership skills mattered is step one. As most of our readers work in the aerospace industry, you are likely to be aware of some common focus areas in our business: Integrity/Honesty, Motivate Others, Innovate/Vision, and Execute/Deliver.

Back to the quote, I think he is wrong, at least partially. While the west coast folks talked the most (by far) about delivery and vision, size definitely matters. In startups like Intelligent Shift or any in Silicon Valley, the energy and motivation are inherent. It doesn’t take much to draw it out. For instance, we are developing the 2019 Intel Shift strategy and 40% of the company volunteered to help. How did I get such an amazing response? A single email, and I’m bad at email.

None of the interviewees discounted the ability to motivate as an important skill, but it was “far less important” in the smaller companies. Another quote from a startup: “we look for leaders who have a sense of what to achieve and how. . . .If you can come in and deliver, chances are you have enough raw leadership ability to be able to motivate a team with some assistance . . ” Did you catch that? Hopefully you did, since I bolded and underlined it.


Compare that now to a comment from a large, well-established commercial company: the key attribute of an effective leader is to motivate/influence “people up, down and around to get the job done in a positive way.”


Or compare that to the military interviews when asked how they think leaders should be selected, “experience,” “integrity,” “cares about people,” and “can handle pressure.”


Most people I talked to were first or second line leaders when they walked away. I suspect talking directors and VPs would be much more about Vision. That was certainly true as I moved up. I did less execution and much more on setting direction. I’ll admit the differences surprised me, but of course, it makes perfect sense when you think about culture and process differences. Combining the differences with the stronger need for vision at senior levels, it reminds us that selecting where we lead should be carefully considered against our skill set.


Many leaders jump into the first opportunity for fear that another chance won’t come. What if your skill set is misaligned, will you get some assistance? Also, how will the company help you build skills so you can move up or so you can be effective as the startup matures?


Leadership is clearly a set of skills, not one amorphous aptitude. Some of the interviewees walked away because they were misaligned or simply needed help growing. They got little to no assistance. “I had to fail to learn how to do things properly.”


The takeaway- Are you going into a leader job? Is your company serious about getting you lots of assistance and how will that come?


Do you need help answering that question? Last November, I wrote a blog about interview questions the candidate should ask. You should steal the first question here.

Come back in a month for more from my interviews on leaders that walked away.