Strive For Results, Not The Accolades…

Source: NY Times – An Interview with John Donovan, Chief Technology Officer of AT&T

Great interview.  John Donovan certainly exemplifies the 7 mindsets of the most trusted professionals in this interview (See prior post: “Are You A Professional?”).  The article also did grab my attention early when he mentioned he was a former hockey player.  🙂  A few of my favorite excerpts below.

Q. What were some early leadership lessons for you?
A. “…if there’s a situation where someone else needs to lead, and it’s working, that is A-O.K. I don’t feel a burning need to be in charge, and I don’t feel that it’s a bad thing to follow when the right things are getting done. So in some respects, I don’t have the innate drive that certain people have about control and ownership and leadership.”

“…The first thing I noticed very quickly early on was that hard work is central to what you do, and that’s not any magic or science. I said, “Well, if I start today, and I outwork everybody, then the only question is the starting point.” So I figured that if I work really hard I can be in the top 5 percent in any field. It just gave me some comfort to say, O.K., I’m going to do fine financially, so I shouldn’t make decisions based on money. My objective should be to gain the broadest set of experiences I can, and just try to drill deep everywhere I can. And so I played the game for breadth. Early in my career, I bought businesses, fixed them and sold them. Some went well; some didn’t. I did some home development. I was in sales. I went back to business school. A lot of people work hard to get ahead, and I recognized early on that it’s a differentiator. I just figured that there was a certain amount of this that’s just raw tonnage.”

“…I worked at Deloitte, and became a partner there. That’s probably where a lot of my development occurred as a leader. There were simple things around teams. I developed team skills because I started to engage in deliberate deflection of credit in an environment where it was all about credits. What I started realizing is that people appreciated when you played for the result, and not for your role on the team. So I learned there that giving credit away, deflecting credit, was an effective thing to do. I think I learned a lot of subtleties about teams and how you assemble teams.”

“…If you figure there’s a karma pool out there floating around for credits, you have to stop playing for credits. I remember the day I realized that, and that I probably never again needed to involve scorekeeping in anything that I did.”

“Q. What are some questions you ask when you’re interviewing job candidates?  
A.  I always ask questions about what words people would want on their tombstone. So I’ll ask, “If your professional colleagues were going to put three words on your tombstone — I mean literally three — what would those three words be?” And then the follow-up question is always the one that surprises people. I will then ask, “Instead of three, what’s the one word?”

I’ve tried to assemble teams with people who were grounded enough, and comfortable enough, to be able to have these kinds of conversations. When you find people who have that sort of grounding, then it can be about the problem you’re working to solve together, and not about the person.

The leadership part for me now is so much more about game planning than about the role that I play in the game plan. I love the opportunity to take a role that I had and give it away to another team member, and the team result is as good or better. I sort of see myself over time as needing to play the game less, but I’m becoming better at getting even better results by that combination of the right framework and the right people in the right positions.”


  1. I love Mr. Donovan’s words about being able to follow in some situations as well as delfecting credit. Two thoughts drilled in my mind during my military career come to mind. 1 – In order to lead, you must first learn how to follow (how many of today’s leaders really know how to follow or would be comfortable doing so? 2 – George Patton once said “There is no limit to the good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” A wonderful quality for every leader or team member to have.


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