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A Great Leader Must Also Know How to Execute

A Great Leader Must Also Know How to Execute



By Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop
International New York Times

Adena T. Friedman is president and chief operating officer of Nasdaq, the stock exchange operator.

Q. You started as an intern with Nasdaq in 1993. What advice would you give to a young intern now?

A. Don’t sit in your office and simply do what you’re told. Be intellectually curious, ask questions, walk around; try to learn as much about the business as you can. That’s No. 1.

No. 2, own your career. Don’t assume that opportunity will come to you. Put yourself forward when there is an opportunity. You have to stay hungry. Every time you feel entitled, you’re making a mistake. I come to work every day thinking I have to earn my job, and I really believe that. I don’t have a given right to my job, I need to prove my value in my role every single day.

Q. Your career developed quickly at Nasdaq. Why do you think that was?

A. I came in at Nasdaq with a pretty undefined role: “Can you just help us write business plans, help us understand and define how to manage these products?” But early on in my career, whatever came my way, I would say, “Yes.” I became known as the go-to person to ask anything, however random, and I got an early reputation as a doer, someone who was getting things done and someone who people liked to work with. And as the company grew and became more structured, I was given a lot of opportunities to grow my career at the same time.

I got lucky, too. In 1998, Nasdaq started a project called Next Nasdaq — or what Nasdaq was going to become — and they decided to handpick some of the up-and-comers. I was chosen as one of the people. It was a great opportunity for me and I guess a reflection of the fact that I was seen as someone who was developing her career pretty well.

My big break came in 2000 when Nasdaq reorganized, on the back of the Next Nasdaq project, and offered me the position to run the data division. They took a risk, because I was just 30 and yet they were putting me in charge of one of the three major divisions of the company at the time. I was going from managing products that might generate $10 million to $15 million to managing a group that manages over $100 million.

Q. You had children early on in your career. How did you manage to balance career and family life?

A. I worked part-time for five years: three days a week for the first three years and four days a week for the following two years. My first manager was an amazing person and he accommodated my need to have that balance at the time, while still giving me managerial opportunities.

And I have to say modern technologies also helped. Right at the same time, the BlackBerry came into existence, and I really believe it transformed the ability of being a working parent. It gave me the ability to be connected, be accessible, while still being there for my kids — and I needed those first five years when they were little.

And just as my job was starting to rise again, my husband decided he had had enough of the rat race at a law firm and decided to go part time three days a week, and he did that for 10 years. So we found the balance within each other. It shouldn’t all be on one person to balance — you should be working in a partnership.

Q. What are your views, now as a senior manager, on part-time work arrangements?

A. I’m generally very supportive of making it work, as long as at the end of the day the company and the person can be successful. I think it really depends on the job and how big is the team that the person manages. Do they need to be in the office every day? How accessible will they be when they are working remotely? The person also has to decide if they are willing to slow down their career progression if necessary. I was very lucky that I didn’t have to make that choice because it was so early in my career, but you may have to agree to be off the fast track for a while.

Q. You left Nasdaq in 2001, when you were chief financial officer, to join the Carlyle Group, and returned in 2014 as president. How did you manage your reintegration?

A. I think the key is not to bring back with you any old bias and memories of the company, but come back with a fresh view, realizing that business has changed.

Q. At 46, you’re only at the midpoint of your career and you’ve just been named chief operating officer. How do you plan the next career move?

A. I try not to focus on where I see myself in 10 years. I try to focus on making sure I execute well, and things will take care of themselves. Throughout my entire career I’ve always been focused on execution, trying to do the best job that I could in the role that I was in.

Q. What’s the difference between a good and a great leader?

A great leader is inspirational and motivational, but is also driven to great execution. A great leader focuses not only on strategy and vision but also on making sure the organization is executing as well as it possibly can and doing it in a way everyone wants to come along and is excited about the journey. It’s easy to say but really hard to do. You see a lot of good leaders who might be great at strategy but challenged at executing.

Q. What’s the secret?

A. Communication is really important, but so are data and metrics. You can communicate a great strategy but still fail if you don’t show people how that strategy can turn into execution and if you don’t involve them along the way, or keep communicating about progress. We are a very data-metric company — everything we do is being measured — and that helps us prioritize. You also need to be ready to constantly react to the metrics.

Q. What is the biggest difficulty you face as a leader?

A. Complacency is the enemy of all great companies, and fighting complacency is the biggest challenge of any leader. If you’re No. 1 or No. 2 in your market, it’s very easy to become complacent. I think that being a great leader is making sure people are competitively paranoid all the time and that they feel driven to improve and enhance the offering to clients. At any point, a competitor can come and eat your lunch.


This article was written by SONIA KOLESNIKOV-JESSOP from International New York Times and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.



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