Stephen D’Angelo

    We Spoke to Stephen D’Angelo on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

    As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Stephen D’Angelo.

    Stephen is a Silicon Valley veteran with 30 years experience in the software technology industry leading high-performing global organizations. He has served companies in various positions including, CRO, CEO, and President. For over six years, Stephen has led D’Angelo Advisors, an advisory/consulting business which provides go-to-market and fundraising consulting to CEO’s and leadership teams. He has trained thousands of sales and marketing professionals throughout the US and Europe. For over ten years, Steve was a member of the board of trustees for Garden Academy, a school for children with Autism that he helped start in 2004, he also served on the board of advisors at Montclair University Business School. Steve currently serves on the board for various early stage companies. Stephen lives in NJ, has been married for 25 years and has two adult children. He is a sports enthusiast who enjoys golf, exercise and yoga. He also enjoys endurance sports having participated in several half marathons, two marathons, and a half iron man. Stephen is a strong proponent of the power of the mind and how great things are possible for all who blend the power of their mind with faith, hard work, meditation, positive inspiration and good will.

    Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

    I grew up in a middle class predominantly blue color city (Paterson, NJ) and attended a small local college (Montclair University). Work ethic is something my parents instilled in me from an early age. I have worked a variety of jobs since I was 15. Having a desire to earn a great living, I began studying the profession of selling at the age of 16. When I was 17 I convinced the NY Yankees to hire me as a ball boy/bat boy and spent two years working with the Yankees. Through this very unique experience I learned the secrets of high performing athletes. I took this experience with me through college and my career. Beginning my career with the technology company ADP, I quickly became one of the leading sales people in my division. Through various promotions I soon led a large team of sales professionals. I then was introduced to the venture capital community and was hired to start a new company which grew to become a successful publicly traded company. From here, I entered executive positions and was a key part of two company IPO’s and sold three other companies. From all the learnings I acquired over 30 years as a software professional/executive, I documented the principles of success and authored the book A Single Day of Peace. The book is an inspirational novel guiding people to live a more happy and successful life. My goal is to help make the world a better place by helping people find THEIR better place.

    Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

    Early in my career I thought selling and leading others was about telling everyone how much I knew. One day when I was talking too much during a sales call, an executive of a company I was selling to shared with me that if I was going to be a success, I had better use what God gave me. He said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth so use them in that proportion!” I understood what he meant and from then on, I learned selling and leading others is about listening and learning the motivations my customers and employees have.

    None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

    Early in my career an executive by the name of Ken Avia mentored me. As the story goes, upon graduating college I was offered a sales position with ADP and Ken was the executive of the division that wanted to hire me. I turned down the offer for another offer that would pay me twice as much as ADP. That company was in the advertising business. When Ken learned I turned him down, he called my home to speak with me. He told me that the technology industry was going to grow significantly and that I would have a great career in that industry. He told me I was going to work for ADP at the pay they offered. I was impressed that he had an interest in me so I accepted. To this day I owe him a great deal of gratitude for convincing me to enter the technology industry. From there I have been fortunate to have many great mentors who helped make me successful.

    Extensive[research **]({: rel=”noopener nofollow”}suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?**

    This is very true. I made sure all the companies I worked for identified with purpose/value propositions and we made sure we promoted this purpose to the world through our work. We became category kings in our markets. The purpose of one company in particular, IMI, was to help consumer packaged goods companies eliminate costly accounting deductions and hence greatly improve their bottom line. Through this purpose, we grew to over $100M and went public.

    Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

    To achieve success, there are always difficult times an individual and company must face and overcome. Adversity is part of the victory! Each time a company I was involved with faced a difficulty, it was the foundation and culture that got us through it. I implement something I call “Spiritual Leadership” that creates a culture where everyone is committed and everyone wins. While the term “spiritual” has a religious connotation, that is not what is meant in this scenario. Spiritual Leadership is when a leader or group of leaders execute specific principles that create trust and commitment by all. With this, together we fight through and overcome difficult times. The specific tenants of Spiritual Leadership are:

    • Winning — We are committed to winning as a business.
    • Accountability — Everyone is equally held accountable to execute and deliver results.
    • Enablement — If we are going to hold people accountable, we must enable them (training, skill enhancement, mentoring, etc.)
    • Transparency — There is 100% transparency throughout the organization. Together we face the brutal facts. This positively enhances an environment of trust.
    • Process, Data, Metrics — We all work within a playbook and we all know the data/metrics we are using to measure our progress.
    • Customer/Market Driven — The market provides significant guidance as to our strategic and tactical direction.
    • Diversity — Diversity in thinking drives faster progress.
    • Caring & Recognition — When people know you really care about THEM and provide appropriate recognition, they will do great things.
    • Have Fun — Business success takes a significant amount of personal sacrifice. While we are striving to win, we must take time to have responsible fun together.

    Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

    Desire and motivation is what sustains a person’s drive when things get tough. This is how you finally achieve success. Divine dissatisfaction is a positive thing to inspire you to set new and bigger goals. Be appreciative of what you have achieved, reflect on it, and then move forward to the next goal.

    A big part of business success is being open to the signals you receive from the universe and the market you serve. Sometimes those signals are clear that you should stop what you are doing and alter your direction. I don’t see it as “quitting.” It is being street smart and having courage to admit that you were wrong with your thesis and make necessary adjustments. Sometimes in a large way like shutting down the company. Change and pivoting are not the same as quitting or giving up. We learn from our mistakes and misjudgments, we don’t walk away when things get tough or don’t go as planned.

    What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

    Transparency and confidence. A leader must be transparent and honest with the team as to when things are not in their favor. What mistakes were made, where the ugliness lies, and where the good things can be found. People will stick by you during tough times if they know you are being honest and transparent with them. Confidence is equally important because the team needs to see your positive “can do” energy. This inspires them to charge forward.

    When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?

    Here is what a leader must do during uncertain times:

    • Transparency — Be honest about the uncertainty. Face the brutal facts with the team.
    • Present a Plan — The team needs to know you have a plan to deal with and overcome the uncertainty. How are we going to overcome the issue at hand?
    • Collaboration — Get the team to participate in the plan. Often, the employees come up with some of the best ideas to transform the company to overcome the issues you face.
    • Regular Communication — The team needs to be updated as you execute the plan so they know what is working and what is not.
    • Admit you Need Them — Leaders must communicate that they need the team…business is a team sport and everyone must move in the same direction.
    • What’s In It For Them — Never ignore the personal/financial gain people want from their business life. Tell them how they will be better off by helping the company overcome the uncertain times.

    What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?

    A leader must communicate directly, with confidence and with a plan. People appreciate directness. No beating around the bush. When people feel you are leveling with them, they trust you and will work with you. Listen to them, they will be upset and the best thing you can do is to let them vent. Ask for ideas to resolve the issue. Finally, present your well-thought-out plan to resolve the issue as a team.

    How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?

    A leader must present a long term strategic plan and as they do so, they must admit that they will adjust based on market dynamics. With the long term strategy set, then a series of short (3 to 6 months) term plans are put in place to support the long term vision. It is in the short term plans where everyone executes aggressively and based on that, they know how they are doing in comparison to the long term strategic plan.

    Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?

    Unity — Unity is created by executing the Spiritual Leadership principles outlined above. With togetherness and unity, people can achieve what once seemed impossible.

    Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?

    1. Lack of transparency and sharing the brutal facts with employees. They think they can “sugar coat” the situation and give “ra-ra” pep talks to keep employees inspired. However, employees can’t be fooled. They know there are difficult times going on and they lose trust and faith in leaders who don’t keep them informed.

    2. “Desperate people do desperate things” — Poor leaders make too many rapid decisions to try to quickly fix the situation. They think they will get ahead of the situation but what they are actually doing is prolonging the difficult times by making too many “fast fix decisions” that don’t work.

    3. Constant change in direction. Poor leaders often chase the “shiny new object” and too frequently change the direction of the company. One day they want to go in one direction and another day they go in a new direction. Employees lose faith in them when they do this.

    4. They don’t listen to their market voices. The market and customers will guide you if you let them and if you listen attentively. A great executive once told me that it is very easy to be a successful company, just listen to your customers and give them more than they expect.

    Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

    What has worked for me several times during a difficult economy was going back to my existing clients and increasing the amount of solutions they use with us (up-selling). Clients are very loyal if you have done right by them and they will help you when you need it. Since the challenging economy also hurts them, I have often offered to slightly reduce their existing fees if they would acquire more solutions from us AND extend the existing agreements they have with us. This “add-on” business creates growth for the company while making the solutions more economical for the client.

    Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

    1. Transparency — As I have said, transparent leaders achieve trust within their companies. Here is a story of where this principle was not executed. I was advising a company that had a huge culture issue. I was coaching the CEO and leadership team that their lack of transparency was significantly hurting them. They hired a VP of People and this woman did a great job improving this. During covid, everyone worked from home and we launched a policy that we would not open our offices after Covid and we would be 100% remote work driven. The CEO decided to move his family to an exotic location and work from there but he was reluctant to tell the employees. He feared that they would think he was “checking out” so he said he wanted to wait a while before he told everyone. I strongly recommended that he tell everyone early on, because they would find out eventually. They did, and they felt he was being dishonest and all the work the VP of People did to build morale and a culture of support was diminished. Trust was once again an issue.

    2. Frequent communication — I was president of a publicly-traded software company and we had to completely re-engineer our technology. Our sales had been hurt due to our outdated technology. One of the things I promised our employees was that I would give them frequent updates on our re-development efforts. We had bi-weekly all hands meetings and I openly shared both where things were going well, and not too well. The team rallied and performed fantastically. We then finished the re-development and were soon acquired by another company. Success!

    3. Ask for and confirm commitment — When things are difficult, leaders must be sure to communicate that everyone is a critical component to the company’s success. Then they must require everyone to decide if they are “in the boat or off the boat.” If they commit to be “in ‘’ then we all commit to each other that we will do what it takes to overcome the challenges that lie ahead. I had a situation where I was the CEO of a company and the market dynamics changed which made our products somewhat obsolete. I needed everyone’s commitment to stay with the company as we pivoted to new solutions. Some did not and they voluntarily left the company, but 95% of the people stayed and were committed. We developed new products and had great success before we sold the company.

    4. Have fun — During difficult times, leaders need to create events where everyone has fun together. It requires significant hard work to get through difficult times so there needs to be some down time where everyone has fun together. I have had many dinners, wine tasting events, indoor golf challenges, etc where we all bonded through having fun.

    5. Give more value to clients — When you over deliver, clients become 100% loyal. When I was CRO of a company, the economy was hurting and business was slowing down. I made sure that all our service employees went the extra mile with all our clients and when we needed some extra business during a particular quarter, I approached some of our largest clients (NY Life, Morgan Stanley, Prudential, etc.) and asked them for larger commitments. Many of them agreed to multi-million dollar commitments.

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    There are several that I have lived by. One is Winston Churchill’s quote of “Never, Never, Never Quit” and the other is Mark Twain’s quote “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.” This quote was one of the things that motivated me to write my book A Single Day of Peace which is now available and selling well.

    How can our readers further follow your work?

    They can purchase my book *A Single Day of Peace *and follow my 50 principles for a happier and more successful life. They can visit my and follow me on LinkedIn