Jean Anne Booth | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Jean Anne Booth

Background:  

UnaliWear’s Kanega watch provides voice-first support for falls, medication reminders, and a guard against wandering with guide-me-home assistance, in conjunction with artificial intelligence that learns the wearer’s lifestyle (like a “NEST for People”). Prior to starting UnaliWear to extend independence with dignity for her mom and millions of other independent but vulnerable people, Booth founded Luminary Micro (acquired by Texas Instruments), and previously she co-founded Intrinsity (acquired by Apple), in addition to holding a number of leadership positions at semiconductor companies over the course of a 30-year career.

The Mistake:

I took action too quickly.

I’m a take-action, high-energy engineer and entrepreneur. I’m naturally a fixer and leader that operates with a high sense of urgency – especially if my team comes to me and ask me to help in taking actions they can’t take.

I consider myself to be a very transparent leader, which is great for entrepreneurship. But that trait made me an easy target in a highly charged political atmosphere at a large corporation I once worked in a senior leadership role. While the team appreciated my leadership style, it wasn’t the norm for the company. That made me a maverick in a culture that valued conformity.

At one point, a peer leader who was very well-schooled in corporate Machiavellian politics used my natural sense of urgency against me to suggest that I pressed for an action that the company would actually never go for. But since that action was congruent with my value system, I advocated away and that unfortunately resulted in my termination.

The real issue was that there was no agreement between my values and that of the corporate entity. But the experience helped shape a more healthy leadership response from me.

I now first take feedback and suggestions from others, make a plan, talk to advisors, mentors and the leadership team.

The Lesson:

Looking back, I would have handled the situation much differently. I wouldn’t have advocated to that extent. Even if I believed I was correct, it wasn’t something that was part of the corporate culture in that entity. Even though I likely wouldn’t have been there much longer anyway because we weren’t aligned, I would have preferred to come to that conclusion on my own.

On the other hand, having that experience helped shape the way I now respond to any big decision – whether it be related to strategy, vision, funding, hiring or terminating. I follow a process now.

Now it helps to sit back and calmly take in feedback. Although I’m a highly actionable person I now first take feedback and suggestions from others, make a plan, talk to advisors, mentors and the leadership team. I then sleep on it before executing. Before I would just execute.

I always wonder if I could have learned that lesson without quite that much pain. But having such a process forces me to take the time to actually consider and get feedback. This way, my team also feels they have more of a say in decisions as well.

The business operates more smoothly and the process has helped ensure that the big decisions are intentional big decisions. That of course also helps the bottom line ultimately. Wherever we are going, it’s intentional because we chose to go there.

 

Follow UnaliWear on Twitter at @UnaliWear.

Pictured: Jean Anne Booth | Photo courtesy of UnaliWear.

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