An avid traveler since a young age, Gregory Wade considers himself a “citizen of the world.” He’s applied his passion for understanding global perspectives to his career, leading teams and driving growth at BlackBerry in Asia Pacific, Canada and the United States along with Samsung on a worldwide scale. Most recently, Wade established a Vancouver- and Sydney-based management consulting partnership as Chief Strategy Officer.
Wade has also dedicated his career to supporting advancing leaders and C-level executives. As a mentor for Everwise, Wade uses his experience as a citizen of the world to push his proteges to challenge their perspectives and the status quo. Read on to see just how Wade approaches his career, mentoring, and his own development.
You’ve had a global career. Can you speak to what drew you to that? What specific skills have you tapped into to be successful managing around the world?
I’ve always had a passion for travel, to see other parts of the world and experience different perspectives. As I studied, traveled, and matured, I developed a really strong interest in global markets and differing international approaches. That interest translated in many ways to business. Given the opportunity to be able to establish both myself and a brand on an international scale has brought me full circle.
In many cases, you need to establish yourself within a domestic or regional market first. Then, leverage your experience into an international marketplace. But don’t assume you can carbon copy the experience; what works in Denver doesn’t work in Delhi. Expand into new markets with an open mind on how you can adapt what you’ve learned for international markets.
For example, I was once focused on a U.S. business that was enterprise heavy and focused on regulated markets. Technological security was incredibly important. But I took that security message to Asia Pacific, where it fell on deaf ears. The industry was, instead, largely focused on new features rather than data security. That was surprising to me. I had to recognize that industry issues that were relevant in the U.S. and the West were very different from those in Asia Pacific. And I learned to adapt based on those perspectives.
You’ve spent a lot of time coaching and mentoring others both outside and within organizations where you work. What themes do you see emerging?
Within the global corporate space, companies that walk the walk on how they nurture talent are few and far between. Some of that stems from the fact that there’s a gap in leadership capabilities relating to the incorporation of people and their ties to company performance. We haven’t seen a massive shift — many organizations haven’t yet figured out the correlation between people and performance.
That’s a generalization, of course. You see firms led by Richard Branson, for example, and they stand out in terms of interactions with the people and the organization. Google is constantly ranked as a top employer for that relation between people and their output and contribution to the business.
Sadly, the vast majority of organizations do not have a sophisticated and disciplined structure in place to truly support the growth of the individuals within their companies.
So the responsibility falls on mentors and things like the Everwise platform to support people looking for guidance. I find most individuals are looking to stimulate their personal and professional growth. But it’s difficult for them to have those conversations with their immediate manager about it. So often, the manager or leader is already in a fearful position themselves; they’ll try and hinder that kind of discussion.
As a mentor, you want to have those ‘step up’ conversations so the mentee feels comfortable having an open dialogue. Mentees are often looking for a sounding board from someone with an objective opinion — someone who hasn’t been through the ringer at the organization. They’re looking for trusted advisors.
You’ve written about learning from those you mentor. How do you recommend others learn from their mentoring relationships?
There’s a quote I love from JFK: “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” I firmly believe that. No matter how mature you are in your career, your experience — you should always be learning.
Every single opportunity we’re presented with gives us with an opportunity to learn, grow, be inspired, and share that with others. But taking advantage of that requires having an open mind. It also requires checking your ego at the door. You may be a CEO, but check your ego at the door. Can you truly do that?
I also recommend that leaders and mentors be present and aware regarding what they’re hearing from their mentees. We often wait to provide our next point in discussions. Instead, we should listen and absorb what the person is saying. If you do that, you can provide a conscious perspective that’s tailored to the person.
For example, I’m a firm believer in the fact that there are young people within organizations who aren’t heard because of their age and tenure within the organization. But they’re often more in tune with the marketplace, with innovative processes, new applications. As executives, we rarely take advantage. We rarely take the time to sit down and listen to a 20-something’s feedback.
So I try to establish what I call ‘youth councils’ within organizations, an approach I learned from Hiroshi Mikitani, the CEO of Rakuten. He’s from Japan, which is an intensely hierarchical society. He stated that he needed to hear from young people within his organization about what the company is doing right, wrong, and differently. That was really telling to me. If the CEO of Rakuten can break down traditional barriers and listen well in a hierarchical society, I can do this in a Western one.
It sounds like you’ve been able to help people get unstuck and provide an objective perspective, but one that challenges their point of view. How do you approach mentoring others?
I start with a recognition and appreciation that everyone has their own story. We all have different circumstances in which we find ourselves, whether it’s career or family or education or location or experiences. It’s important that I absorb people’s stories without judgement.
I also tailor my response and input to the individual. People in leadership are accustomed to employees coming into their offices and asking for guidance. But so often, those leaders don’t take the time to think through the individual context. They just give canned responses based on their cumulative years of experience. That guidance may not be applicable for that individual’s needs. Getting to know each other is so important in the scheme of things.
And I like to have an objective ear that challenges the status quo. When I hear people struggling with things that remind me of traditional businesses, I go ‘Wait a minute, you can challenge that.’ Challenge your environment, even if you’re in a legacy company. Don’t stand for the status quo. Instead, find the areas within your control, your area of influence, so you can help make a difference.
Doing this helps my mentees move out from their comfort zone. From there, I say ‘Here are some thoughts and ideas. Here is some material. Take a look at it. Go back and do some homework. And come back to me with your perspective as to how you will challenge the situation, so you can achieve what you want to achieve.’ This ‘homework’ of sorts opens them up to new ideas. Once they’re providing you with their homework findings, you can go in and ask the tough questions.
This process gets the thought juices flowing. My mentees often find the answers themselves through discussions framed this way. They own their development. They feel empowered. They feel positive about the direction in which they’re going. And they know they have a sounding board if they run into challenges.
What are you looking to do next?
I get excited about building businesses from scratch or from a small presence to a stellar one. It’s not just about noticeable growth, it’s about meaningful growth. I love bridging the need for an integrated strategy and an infrastructure that drives execution. Effectively, I transform organizations so they can succeed for the long term. So while I love strategy, I also want to help organizations make sure they can implement. And the more I look at successful organizations, I see a COO that’s capable of helping the organization stay aligned to the strategies they’ve rolled out. That’s an area that I see myself helping to contribute to down the road.
There are so many internal and external pressures for organizations large and small. Stakeholders, shareholders, employees, quarterly results… you name it. The patience of the market and of shareholders continues to diminish as technology improves. And so organizations need people who can span strategy and implementation at the leadership level.