Real Self Image


This week on the Full Stack Leader we’re interviewing Ward Vuillemot the CPrO/CTO of RealSelf

Ward oversees product, design, engineering, data science & analytics, IT, and consumer marketing.  As a high-functioning autistic person, he is more surprised than anyone that he’s found his vocational calling leading others remotely. He has successfully worked 100% remotely from his home in central Washington since 2015.

Previous employment includes Boeing, Amazon, Xbox and other companies in a variety of roles spanning aerospace engineering to technical Japanese interpreter to software engineering to product management to technology leader.

Ward’s Top Leadership Tips:

Below is a summary of the Top 5 Leadership tips shared during the interview this week. Take a listen to the episode to learn more about the thoughts behind these tips.

  1. Be Kind
  2. You Have To Try
  3. Find Your People
  4. Nothing Is Forever
  5. EQ Over IQ

We hope you enjoy the episode. You can find even more Full Stack Leader episodes here:



Show Transcript

Ryan: Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s episode of the Full Stack Leader Podcast This week I’m here with Ward Vuillemot. He is the C P O of RealSelf. We’re excited to have you here, Ward. Welcome.

Ward: Thank you very much, Ryan.

Ryan: So maybe you can give us a little perspective of how you became A C P O, and maybe before we even do that, explain to our audience who may not know this right now, what a C P O is.

Ward: Yeah, absolutely. Cprs technically stands for Chief Product Officer. Oftentimes the chief Product Officer, as in my case, spans both sort of the traditional chief product officer and chief technology Officer. So underneath me from an organizational standpoint, I have what most people would assume is engineering, but I also have UX design, product, data science and analytics.

IT and security, and even currently consumer marketing all roll up to me as the chief product officer.

Ryan: It’s a lot of responsibility. It must have taken years of building to get to that

Ward: point. Yes, I would say so. I mean, if I look back at my career, I’ve probably done almost every single role within my organization at some point in my career.

Sans maybe consumer marketing. I, so I have, I have a good understanding of how the organization operates and, and what the individual roles.

Ryan: That’s great. Maybe we can take a look back at your career a little bit and offer the audience a little perspective on how you got to where you’re at.

Ward: Where’d, where’d you start? I started at Boeing as an aerospace engineer, and I worked there for quite a few years, both as aerospace software engineer, and I even worked as a technical Japanese interpreter with Boeing and their lead manufacturing initiative. So I was there and then I moved over to Amazon where I helped as an engineer and also that’s where I transitioned into program and product management.

For the Amazon Fresh Pilot program. So before Amazon Fresh went national, I was a part of that initial startup group. That’s a great program. Yeah. Yeah. I love Amazon Fresh. Unfortunately, they don’t deliver where I live right now. I live in the middle of nowhere. So one of the sad things in my life, but Moving away from the city.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly. And then I, I, I did a few other things at Amazon, but also helped launch Amazon Tote, which was a pilot program inside of Seattle which I’m very fond of. That was a really small, tight group. And then, you know, eventually I ended up at Xbox and helped launch Xbox One. And helped bring together the console, the editorial and the services teams to create a cloud powered ux, which to date still powers the home experience.

The depends in the store. So that was an amazing experience. And then at some point I was at Azure, an incubation group actually. Running interviews with parents at malls with a clipboard to sort of creating a dummy company and. Designing my own logos and printing out business cards and t-shirts and going to conferences disguised as a fake company to sort of do customer development.

Wow. And that lean str up way. And uh, yeah, that was a, that was a great, had a lot, a lot of fun with that. And uh, and then at some point I, I ended up moving remotely. And started really moving away from being individual contributor using a lot of influence in all my previous roles to taking on sort of direct technology leadership roles.

Starting with growing out for Sears Home Services. We started a, an office in Seattle and grew that team to about 30 engineers and a little over 12. And that’s when I transitioned to being a hundred percent remote. And then since then, I went to Varsity Tutors, which has since iPod. But I was there as senior director, then vp, then cto, Chief Technology Officer before I left.

And then I find myself at Real Software. I’ve been for the last three and a half years as his chief product officer.

Ryan: What an amazing path. Maybe tell us a little bit about RealSelf and and what it is and what you do there.

Ward: Yeah. If you think about RealSelf and you visit the website, it’s really about helping consumers educate and determine the best options for themselves around their aesthetic journey.

So, In the elective surgery space, there are options for whether it’s rhinoplasty or br, breast augmentation even non procedural like Botox. There is a lot of options out there just depending on what your concerns that you wanna address. And so we really focus on educating consumers and then also bringing ’em together with the amazing providers that we have on our platform.

So in a lot of senses, we are a marketplace that brings those two, those two pieces. So we’re very much about giving people choice and educating them on what is a very important decision that a lot of people go through in their lives. And in arguably, you can, you can sadly maybe find more information out on the internet on how to buy an automobile than you can necessarily to have a procedure done on your body.

So we think it’s really important as a, as a mission for our company to help educate and inform

Ryan: consumer. I really think it’s one of the things that most people out there are confused by in the consumer culture, which is we can, we know the specs on almost everything we buy except these things, which are probably some of the most important things we ever purchase.

Yeah. So it’s, it’s a, it’s a great problem to solve.

Ward: Absolutely.

Ryan: Absolutely. So, I, I have some interesting questions that came out of uh, you just sharing some of your history. some really like amazing projects, some of which we are very familiar with, like the fresh program. And, and obviously dealing with big companies like Sears and then, and then some it sounds like you’re really experimenting a lot.

Where do you feel the most comfortable in your, in your working environment?

Ward: I, regardless of the size of the company, most of my career has been with maybe the exception of Xbox, where in arguably I was a part of a very large program. I’ve always worked on very small teams, sort of in that early stage startup, zero to one stage of development.

So most of my career, even at Boeing, I would argue, when I transitioned over to software engineer, basically wrote a white paper. Described software that I wanted us to go develop and then sort of formed a team around that and built that and shipped it. So have really been focused. I was, I’d say it’s around the zero to one problem space.

And so I really enjoy that sort of scrappy, go figure out what the customer wants and then go build it.

Ryan: That’s great. And I know zero to one is an, an amazing methodology and, and thought process. How do you, how do you approach things to create really kind of super startups versus just you know, iterative type development things that you’re working on?

Ward: Wow, that is a, that is a very big question. And there there’s a lot of moving pieces to that. So much of that is predicated on . Absolutely. So much of that is predicated on, I think a combination of things is recognizing that fundamentally you need to solve a customer problem first and foremost. And that might seem commonsensical, but especially as technology, I think sometimes as.

It does happen probably more often than it ought to. We’ve sort of fall in love with the solution and you know, the proverbial hammer looking for a nail. And so you really have to have a sense of curiosity around what does a customer really need, and then be open to the possible solution space. And so that’s, that’s first and foremost, I think, both as an individual and as a leader is to cultivate that culture.

The other piece too, You have to get really comfortable with your, your ignorance. Fundamentally, it’s an innovative space. And so if you think about, you know, the combination of, I know and I don’t know, right? There’s four quadrants to that box, which is I know what I know, I know what I don’t know. I don’t know what I know and I don’t know what I don’t know.

And. Those boxes again, sort of, I know. What I know is stuff you’ve learned generally procedural, mostly declarative knowledge, things that you’ve picked up at a university. I know. I don’t know. That’s just stuff you decided not to learn. I don’t know. I know probably stuff you’ve, you’ve learned in the past but forgotten, but are still there, sort of deep in your subconscious is pattern recognition.

And in that last piece, I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s actually where innovation comes from. Like fundamentally what you’re trying to do is something that no one. Done before. And so the, that, that quadrant of, I don’t know, I don’t know, is where innovation comes from and that’s where your ignorance lies.

And so if you’re not comfortable being ignorant, if you’re not comfortable saying, I don’t know, if you’re not comfortable shining a light and stepping in through curiosity inquisitiveness, if you’re not comfortable through making a ton of mistakes, You’ll never actually be innovative. And so how do you build a team and a culture around that, That joy of exploration, that joy of saying, I don’t know, and being comfortable with that because so much of our professional career is as we get more senior in our careers, you know, we oftentimes say, You know, I already know the answer.

I’ve been there, I’ve done that. And that fundamentally is counter to what you need. To imbue and embody in your team as a leader in that zero to one space, which is, I don’t know. My job isn’t to have the right answer. My job is to help the team find the right answer. So I have a very different role I think as a technology leader in that zero to one space.

And then, you know, you focus a lot on building a culture around collaboration because that’s the hardest part. Like I said, I’ve done all the rules at my, in, in my organizations to. Been UX design. I’ve been an engineer. I’ve been a product product manager and a program manager. I’ve been a data analyst.

Big science done analytics. Those jobs are hard, don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to downplay the, the difficulty of any one of those professional roles, but getting everyone to work together collaboratively and making sure they have a singular vision, which is the customer, is the hardest part, right?

That requires a lot of people to leave their egos at the door and come open and willing to listen and talk to.

Ryan: that’s a great assessment of how to bring people together in terms of solving real problems. And I really liked what you said too about you’re, you’re there to help people solve.

Or help a team actually come to a solution on something that you don’t know. And that can be really daunting and scary for some people. How did you learn how to do that? Was there a particular moment like maybe. Place where you were going undercover to do research that allowed you to see better how to, how to respond to the customer and how to guide a team towards that.

Ward: There’s a couple pieces to it. A lot of it is you know, I think as an artist there’s positive and negative space.

So did I have positive examples of that kind of leadership? I would actually argue I had more of the counter positive or the negative examples of that kind of leadership. And so, you know, which. And unfortunate reality in a lot of technology is it’s a, it can be at times a very, and we’ll sort of get into this a, you are squeezing or you’re being squeezed kind of environment.

And so I’ve always wondered, you know, as a person who loves to create things, why we oftentimes created environments that are very much pressure cookers in ways that I thought were counterproductive. So at, at some point in my career, I was sitting on a bus and I was taking a commute. My commute was like an hour and a half one way.

So three hours a day. And I looked down at my feet and I saw this ant crawling around and I had this, this moment that this ant no matter what happens, even if I, you know, I was like, you know, should I kill it? Should I not kill it? Should I pick it? You know, I realize this ant’s gonna die, right? It’s a, it’s away from wherever the nest was, right?

It came on someone’s clothing, or now probably 40 minutes away from wherever that was. There’s nothing I can do, right? This ant is, is dead and it just doesn’t know it. And then I, then I had a further realization based on where I was working at the time. I’m the ant, right? I’m lie, but I don’t even know it.

This place is gonna kill me. It’s just a matter of time before this place kills me. And, and I started to have it. That epiphany led to me. Truly crying on the bus. I had a moment where I just started breaking down and crying and realizing that I needed, I needed a different approach to my career and a different approach to where I worked.

And so the short of it is I ended up going into work the next day and I just changed my behavior. I changed how I approached it, and instead of acting in a manner that was congruent to everyone else, I just acted in a way that was consistent with my own values. Which frankly meant that occasionally I turned around and I would tell people I love them and I would, I would turn around and I would look at them in the eye and say, I appreciate you cause that’s how I want to behave at home and that’s how I want to behave at work.

And it went about as well as you can imagine. There was a lot of people who didn’t understand what I was trying to accomplish, but for a small subset of people, it did resonate with them. That did appreciate me creating a space for them to feel safe, to be seen, to be recognized. And that was sort of, The thing that finally gave me the courage to recognize that there is many ways up the, the proverbial mountain to success.

And I can’t say that a pressure cooker environment is inherently wrong. I, I know people who like that kind of environment of squeezing others to sort of extract value, but I have sort of dedicated my career since then to create a different way up the mountain to prove that you can create amazing experiences for your customers and amazing teams around.

By taking a more holistic more integrated approach to your leadership.

Ryan: Wow. What a great story. I’m really impacted by thinking about the, the reflection that an an can give you and, and, and how much it can affect your career. But I, I understand there are those moments where you really come to a great sense of awareness.

How do you think. Implement that now with your teams.

Ward: We, that’s a, there’s mechanisms to put in place and then there’s sort of the underlying philosophy I can say that we just went through four sessions, hour long each on what we call leading the RealSelf way. It’s a learning development kit that we’ve put together, and it focuses really on the pillars.

Creating a psychologically safe environment to engender a learning and growth mindset to deliver results that matter. So if you go to the show notes, you’ll find a link to Bitly, which includes a slide deck and a bunch of YouTube videos on leading the RealSelf.

So highly recommend uh, your audience listen to that, but the sort of, the short version of it is you really have to focus on. A combination of things. One of them is mechanisms to put in place. One of the first things I did when I joined RealSelf is something that I call a coe. A lot of your audience might think I know what that is, especially if they worked at Amazon.

It’s called a correction of error, and I would say you under, you know it, but you don’t understand it because we don’t call it a correction of error. We call that celebration of air RealSelf, and that naming is really intentional because what I’m trying to do, And if you, if you look at a coe, a lot of people go, Oh, well it’s a root cause analysis document.

I go, No, it’s actually more than a root cause analysis document. Oh, it’s a impact and communications document. It’s that, and it’s more, it’s what you’re actually trying to achieve is a really establishing a culture on psychological safety. And the best way to create a culture of psychological safety is to not talk about it, but to do it.

And I think that’s what a lot of people. In management and leadership is talk is cheap. Behaviors come, and so the COEs was for me, the first year, I didn’t really talk about psychological safety with anyone, but I wanted to demonstrate it, and we use the COEs as that mechanism to instill that sense of, it’s okay if you make a mistake, it’s okay if something breaks, no one’s gonna get upset.

What I care about is that people are aware of the mistake people. Fixing the mistake, people are communicating out the impact of the business and that they understand the impact of the business and that ultimately that the root cause is driving to not only solving this symptom, but truly the root cause.

Like, can we make sure this problem doesn’t happen again? And I always challenge my team. I want you to strive to make. Bigger and better PhD level kinds of mistakes, right? Because when I joined, a lot of our mistakes were, Oh, someone forgot about this and hadn’t been monitoring for three years, and a customer had to tell us about that.

I don’t have a problem with making the mistake or having the mistake, but if we made the mistake, we should be the first ones to know about it. I wanna be the first ones on the scene. But we saw the smoke, we identified the fire, we told the rest of the company something is not working, and then we’ve put it, By the time they read this message, we’ve probably put it out and we’ve also put in place making sure this particular problem will never happen again.

So that drives a whole bunch of trust and accountability. It drives a whole bunch of feeling of it’s okay to make mistakes, no one’s gonna lose their job over it. And so that, that mechanism, the correction of error or the celebration of error, right, is truly a, a means to creating and fostering a a culture.

And then you have to look at other mechanisms that you put in place to cultivate that. But that’s probably singularly one of the biggest ones that I put in place in the beginning, and that’s one that I recommend anyone if you’re not, and I, again, I can talk for hours on celebration of errors.

Ryan: No, it sounds like it.

I, We should probably just do an entire episode on this alone, cuz it sounds like a great program and, and really thoughtfully put together over the years. I really like the idea though, that you’re consciously celebrating these errors and you’re consciously giving people the chance to voice. Something that’s usually uncomfortable.

And, and even in what you were saying earlier, earlier around the way that you learn to recommunicate within the organization you’re working in with even uncomfortable things that you were letting people know. Allowing people to have that level of vulnerability with each other, does engender team, team, you know, support for each

Ward: other.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ryan: So, I know, I know one of the interesting parts about your career in our earlier conversation is that you’ve had all of the success. You’ve gone through all of these different types of experiences that have led to a really thoughtful leadership approach, and you’ve done all of.

While being on the spectrum, and I know this is a thing that you’d like to share and talk about a little bit, I, if maybe you could give us some perspective on how that’s affected

Ward: you? Yeah. To, to be clear, I am a, a, what I identify with and have been identified as is a high functioning autistic person.

Great. Early in my life I was identified as being, they didn’t have the words for it, so we used a different word, which would have been, and I apologize if this is a trigger to the audience, but mentally retarded, quote unquote, that that was a terms used. And so I went through a battery of tests very early in my life to try to understand why it was different or more specifically what was wrong with me.

Ultimately, no one really had a good diagnosis until later in my life. And so I spent a good portion of my life trying to figure out what was wrong with me. And I would, I would argue earlier in my life, I had a very negative view, a very toxic view of myself, and it took me a long time to be comfortable with myself.

Another reason why I’m very outspoken about being autistic is I think we have it over. Toxic view of it? Certainly depending on where you sit on the spectrum, there are challenges, but I also think it can be a superhero or superpower, and I certainly view it that way. You know, the other, the other bit too is, I don’t think I could have been nearly as successful as a leader without recognizing the importance of working from home for myself as a, as a person who is autistic.

The working from home, and I’ve been doing that since 2015, so long before it was sort of in vogue as a consequence of Covid. I took this route and I took this route, actually not because I thought it was going to help my career. I actually thought I was committing career suicide to be specific, but as I was getting married to my now partner, We talked about what was most important and we decided family was the most important.

And I sort of believe that you always follow your priorities. And if, if my family is the most important thing, then we talked about what that looked like and that that involved moving near to the rest of her family for support group amongst, among other things. And so I actually thought I was committing career suicide at the time, which was tough for me.

I have, we didn’t mention, but I, I have, I spent most of my life building my career both professionally and even academically. Right. I’ve earned five degrees. I have three of them in, in advanced, you know, advanced degrees in engineering, which is just more as sort of say I’ve invested a lot in me over the years and the decades.

And so feeling like I was walking away from my career was not a, a, a trivial decision to make. But what was interesting in it is it, it allowed me to actually step into leadership in a way that I don’t think I could have had the capacity to do had I been an in person. In its sort of traditional office environment that I had been before, it actually allowed me to actually grow and accelerate as a, as a people leader at, at a, both at first line and in leader leaders and into an organizational executive leader in, just a few years, relatively speaking.

Ryan: that’s pretty amazing. And it is amazing that you were able to leverage those tools at a time that they weren’t even really readily used or is certainly not talked.

Ward: Yeah, it’s definitely, it’s definitely been a learning curve for me to understand that, you know, And so I’ve had the benefit of like, as people have gone through covid, and of course if you wanna put in the show notes, I have written articles on working from home remotely and what that looks like and even the culture, right?

So even when I joined RealSelf, Tom, the founder of RealSelf, asked me to guide the company to a remote first posture. And so one of the first things that I help co-author along with Jim Nita our chief people officer and, and our CFO is our work from home and our remote policies. And so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through not only how do I individually, From a real position, but also organizationally, how do you work in that situation where most of your team is distributed and in our case, is a hundred percent distributed, even though we do have office?

I’m sorry. How?

Ryan: No, I was gonna say, how important do you think it is to actually document these policies as a concept for the people who are using

Ward: them? I’m a big fan of setting clear expectations to what success looks like for folks. So I think having some amount of policy is important. Mm-hmm. , you know, from an executive standpoint, you know, I think policies are a means for you to ensure that at least you have clear, clear, bright lines that you.

If you feel like there’s being abuse you can guide to, and it removes a lot of the subjectivity of things. I think it’s really important that, generally speaking, we treat everyone at the employee with the same guidelines. So I think policies are really important. Our policies are only I would argue, I haven’t looked at ’em recently, but they’re probably like two pages long and a lot of that is like, you know, what states we were in, et cetera.

They’re not particularly long documents. They’re meant not to be hard documents for someone to follow, but they really set someone up for success to understand their expectations of themselves. I think when you don’t have that, you leave it into a lot of interpretation, and I’ve seen that where employees and leaders having different expectations.

The leaders really want one thing, but they refuse to ask for it, and then they sort of set employees up for failure, and that’s a big thing for me. Leadership is all about setting your people up for success, and that that requires you to have clear expectations and to communicate what those expectations are Otherwise.

You can’t be upset with them when they don’t meet your expectations. You only have yourself to blame in those situations. Yeah.

Ryan: Yep. So, So it sounds like, it sounds like really pioneering how to work from home has been a useful part of your career. Both. As somebody. Who is worked at companies, but also is taking on bigger and bigger roles in leadership.

How do you actually work with some of your team members? Do you do Zoom? Do you have specific ways of meeting up once in a while? What are some of your approaches on it?

Ward: I mean, since Covid we haven’t really been able to meet face to face except for the executive team, and I think that’s unfortunate.

To be clear, when I say remote first, I’m not advocating necessarily remote only, but what I am advocating for is. A biased position towards remote for some really interesting cultural reasons. One of them being is I think as a company you need to know whether you’re gonna be office first or remote first.

You cannot be in between. You can have an office first posture and allow for distributed work, but what is gonna happen and it does happen Good examples are Disney, apple, and I’m not denigrating them at all, but they are office first cultures. And what I really respect about Disney for an example, is for a lot of my friends that worked in Seattle, they were told quite point blank, if you wanted to move forward in the company, you needed to move to California or Florida to become VP or better because you needed to be visible to the rest of the leadership.

They really value that in person office centric. Environment, especially for their, their top HIANA leadership. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that you have to recognize that because without that, if you don’t recognize that and you bring in a VP for an example, and they’re remote, And you’re not cognizant of that bias towards, Oh, because I just saw you at lunch over coffee, then it’s really hard for that VP who’s working remotely to ha do their job and be influential out throughout the organization.

Right? So understanding that distinction is really important. So that’s why I always say focus on remote first in terms of like the mechanisms though, You know, I think what’s challenging about remote work is you got a lot of stuff for free when you’re in the office, right? Like if you and me, Ryan, were in the office.

We could just have conversations over coffee or in between meetings as we’re going to the bathroom. You and I could have a chat. It could be a personal chat about family, it could be a chat about a project that we’re working on. It could be a chat about an interesting, amazing idea. So that spontaneity is missing in remote work.

And that’s definitely one of the, the, the downsides. That’s why remote only, I think is, is just as dangerous as office only in my, for me, in my mind. Right? Like you need to have, you need to have a, a, a. Both of those

Ryan: in terms of, Yeah, I think, I think just, just to build on that really quick too. Yeah. I think that going back to your earlier point around the, the celebrating of errors, right?

It’s really easy to hide when you’re remote as well, and not let the team be able to collaborate in, in those moments of growth. And so I, I imagine there has to be some collaboration or, or some emphasis on, on being open and, and being even more collaborative when remote as.

Ward: More collaborative and less transactional would be like the way, Yeah, like the big note from that is I think in an office environment, you know, I’ve been in places where they would say, you know, this meeting costs X amount of dollars per person in the meeting kind of thing.

And if you don’t have an agenda, you don’t have a meeting, which is actually sort of valid in an office centric environment because all that ad hoc spontaneous conversation can happen outside of the meeting. So why have it in the meeting? So it makes sense to separate those out, but the reality is, When you’re working remote, you don’t have that.

So you actually have to bookend your meetings with, Hey, how you doing? And you know, How’s the family? What did you do this weekend? I hope everyone has a great day because this is your time for also spontaneity. So you can have, you know, 80% of that meeting, 90% of that meeting agenda filled, but you still gotta have the bookends around.

Connecting. Having that connective tissue on top of it, it means that you have to be way more proactive as a leader to make sure you’re setting up meetings with your folks throughout your organization. So I use some tools that sort of randomly select individuals throughout my organization so we can have donut time.

We sit down for 30 minutes and we just chat like, No agenda, It’s just me just getting to know them, them to getting to know me. I do, you know, so I, I am very disciplined about my schedule to make sure, not only do I have agenda, you know, group meetings, but I’m also just having one on ones with. People throughout the organization and the company just to get to know them.

Cuz I don’t get that right now because I’m, I don’t have that, you know, walking to go get coffee and, Hey, how you doing, Ryan? How are you doing? You know, How was your weekend? Oh, did you go see that baseball game? I’ll never have that conversation right now with my employees unless I proactively mentally, Take the time to do it.

So remote first is cognitively harder for leaders. There’s no doubt about it. But I think it’s worth it for myself, right? The, the, the benefits outweigh the, the, the cons for for myself.

Ryan: Yeah. Well, it sounds like you’ve got a great approach to it and, and bringing the employees together in, in virtual environment is one of the big topics of the day.

So, it’s really excited to hear you working on it like you are. I think I have one kind of last question that I wanted to run through before we move on to the next segment. In your top five tips what, what do you think is kind of, one thing that you would want people to know about?

Creating a great product that you’re gonna launch, and how do you bring your team together to get it into a launch ready state? Because you’ve really pushed forward some big projects over the course of time, and I wanted to kind of get a, a feeling for like what that launch process is like for you

Ward: nailing the customer experience.

First and foremost, if you don’t understand the problem you’re solving, Yes. And then how your, your solution or your approach is gonna solve that. It doesn’t really matter. That’s first and foremost. And, you know, that was a great lesson at, at, at Amazon when I was working. Doug Harrington at the time was VP for Amazon Fresh and Consumables, and I remember I was working with him on launching Amazon Tote and we did a really, really, Off the shelf mvp, minimal viable product of trying to sort of prove out the ux.

And so we, the idea of Amazon tote real briefly was that you would get your items delivered from Amazon on a given day of the week as a, based on your zip code. And it would come in a, just a tote back with a normal tote bank. So it’s more like, Hey, Ryan, you called me up and said, Hey, Ward, could you pick me up an iPod?

And, you know, I drove down to the mall and put it in a tote bag and dropped it off at your door, you know? Right. That would be more of the experience. And so we were trying to figure out what that looked like, and we learned very quickly that we didn’t have enough friction in the ux. So I, I had hacked out Doug’s browser to show a a a click button.

So anytime he went to Cheezits, as I recall, he had to go to cheeses on the Amazon Web website. A little thing would pop up on his, in, in his, on his webpage, and he could click on it and, you know, then I would get a little email and I know that Doug had clicked on the button and I would go put the cheeses in a bag and I walked down the hall and I would deliver to him

And the idea was, Hey, how would that the first, first

Ryan: tote Experie? The first tote experience? On the third floor?

Ward: Yeah. On the third floor? Yeah. I think it would’ve been the 50th, but yes. Yes. Okay. 50th floor. Yeah. So, but you know, very, very minimal. Like I was like literally hacking his web browser to get this all work.

And, you know, the first insight we had was like, I clicked the button, Lord, and all of a sudden the cheese is arrived. I wasn’t expecting that, you know? And so that was like a, Oh yeah, yeah. A massive insight. Like you can learn so much by being scrappy and really just working on the customer. Like, we weren’t worrying about like, how are we gonna get that, that buy button up on the page?

We weren’t worried about how, like, how the, the delivery was gonna happen, right? Like, we’re just worrying about the touch points with the customer. And I, I’ve always taken that to heart. Like, if you don’t understand that piece, if you don’t. If you over focus on, well, we’re gonna have this many servers and we’re gonna have to figure out, you know, like this many drivers and the rest of it, like you’re solving the wrong problem.

At that point, you gotta understand and work. And that’s what I mean by working back from the customer. You truly, truly need to work back from the customer in that instance. And so, you know, I think great product is really to me, I see a great product experience is writing love notes or little missive to your customers.

It’s how you tell them you love them by creating a great experience. So if you, if you take it in that mind, I’m telling you, I loved you, Ryan, so when you click on this button, you’re gonna have a great experience. Like that’s me telling you at, you know, As a customer that I love you and I care about you.

And I think if you have that mindset, then you’re, you’re bound to make a great product experience. If you don’t have that, if you’re focused more on the implementation, then you are gonna have a disastrous customer experience and you need someone else to be sitting in front of you, thinking about the customer and loving them the way they, they ought to, to be loved.


Ryan: is great, great inspiration and a great way to, to sign off that part of the conversation. Thank you so much for all of your feedback and your insight. We really appreciate.

Ward: Thank you.

Break One

Ryan: Ward reminded me that leadership can work in unexpected ways. He laid out how it can be strengthened when you observe and act on counterproductive practices in a team or a company. Additionally, he talks about the tension that is generated from pressure cooker environments and how simple changes in the approach to a team dynamics can lower the intensity and positively change the trajectory.

In fact, simply working with the team to create a culture of, I don’t know, allows the strained lesson and calls forth true innovation.

All right. Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Ward Mont, and we’re excited to hear what his top five tips today are. So Ward, maybe let’s jump in with your number one.

Tip One (Be Kind)

Ward: I think first and foremost, as a leader, our job as leaders is to be kind. Our obligation as a human being is to be nice, and the distinction between those two things is leadership is a form of love.

My job is to set up everyone around me for success, and the only way I can do that is by telling them the truth and ensuring I’m being clear about the expectations.

Ryan: Yes. I think that’s amazing and I appreciate that high level perspective on the way that we work with other people as leaders. A lot of times people forget that it is a way to bring people together, and you have to do that through love. You have to care about it. So yeah, thank you for that amazing first hit.

All right. How about tip number two? What do you have? Tip


Tip Two ( You Have To Try ) 

Ward: number two? I would say I would combine in grit, determination, and getting up to bat and swinging. One thing I’m always reminded, there really are no guarantees in life, except maybe three things, death, taxes. And the third one being is if you don’t get up and try, then you will never succeed.

Success. Another way to say it, success is not guaranteed, but if you don’t, Then you’ll guarantee to fail. And I think as leaders, we have to remember, it’s just so important to never give up and just constantly getting back up the bat, no matter. Sometimes it can be very discouraging in our careers. Things don’t seem to be going the way we want them.

We’re not having the impact we want, but they can guarantee if you walk away from it. You will fail. But if you try, you at least have a chance of success. And really, that’s all we can ever ask of ourselves, both in our professional lives, but in our personal lives. And for the people around us that we love is that they try that’s the best chance we have at having success.

And that last note is really, as leaders, a deeper piece is just really focus on the things you have control over and for the things you don’t have control. Have some wisdom and some, and some compassion and grace with yourself that you don’t have control over them, and that’s okay. Focus on the things you do have control over and just try, try and try again.


Ryan: so appreciate that. I spend a lot of time teaching my kids that same thing. Just keep getting back up. Keep showing back up to the game. You know how whatever it is that you’re participating in, you showing up means that you position yourself for an opportunity of success. It’s a great, it’s a great tip for leaders as well.

All right. How about tip number three? What do you got?

Tip Three ( Find Your People )

Ward: Tip number three said, succinctly find your people. You, your team, your company. A lot like a community. Maybe even a family. I know some people don’t like the word family, conflating that with work, but there’s a sense of community, right? There’s a sense of belonging, there’s a sense of purpose.

You’re gonna have your updates and you’re gonna have your down days. And the reality is, is not everyone belongs in every, every other person’s community. I. I’ve been married. I’m on my third marriage. I’ve had two starter marriages and one of the most important things I learned through that, that I apply to my job too or my career is, you know, there is two beautiful individuals out there in the world.

Who are horrible to be around me and I’m horrible to be around them. We’re not a good mix. Does it make them a horrible person? No. And same thing with companies and teams that you can be on. There are times when you’re just not the right fit. And that’s what I discovered, you know, with that ant together on that bus was.

There were people within that company that were a good fit, but overall I was not a good fit for the that culture and for that community. And I needed to go find my own people. And once I recognized that, I was able to sort of let go of the sort of even hate or animosity I had towards that and just recognize it’s not you.

It’s not me, it’s just us. And I let go, and I’ve moved on and, and that’s been a really important lesson in my life. It’s allowed me to move and through my jobs and my careers in a positive way versus it oftentimes being a negative experience. I just see it as a learning experience. So find your people.

That’s a

Ryan: great tip. All right, How about tip number four? What do you got? . \

Tip Four (Nothing Is Forever)

Ward: I think the other one sort of corollary to this is nothing is forever work a lot like relationships is more like dating than marriages. I think at least in today’s day and age, maybe in a previous generation they were more like marriage, you know, to death to his part.

But the reality is, is you’re gonna leave a company and people are gonna leave you. And I think as managers, I’ve seen managers take that very poorly. They take it personally, they take it vindictively. I think that’s a horrible way to treat people on their way out. We should all be adults, Celebrate the people moving on, be excited for the next stage in their career, the next stages in their life, you know?

And the last bit of that is if you are departing, I always recommend don’t leave a bad situation. Don’t run away from a bad situation. That sort of gets back to that grit and determination. But if an opportunity presents itself and is truly the right one for any, then walk towards. Head held proud and as a leader, celebrate when people leave like that.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s, that’s a, an amazing tip. And there is just a lot more fluidity in the way that people work with organizations these days. So just working that in, whether you’re an employee or you’re somebody who’s actually working with hiring or managing employees, it’s a great thing to keep in mind.

All right. And finally, tip number five.

Tip Five ( EQ over IQ)

Ward: Tip number five for me is EQ over iq, which is to say emotional intelligence is more important than your raw intelligence.

IQ might get you in the door, but EQ is what keeps you in the room. And I will say as an autistic person, that EQ is not a talent. You’re not just born with it. It’s actually a skill and it’s a skill you have to invest in, not in weeks or months or even years. It probably takes decades to truly, truly develop your emotional intelligence.

The upper echelons. Remember though that EQ in itself is insufficient if you don’t apply compassion. So before I get into unpacking that for a second, the definition of EQ is first to know thy self, right? Then to moderate thy self, and in taking those lessons learned, right? If you think, if you know that those two things, that’s a hint towards mass life hierarchy and self-awareness.

And further more self-actualization. Once you’ve mastered those two things, you’re ready to actually lead other people, which means you start to understand and know others and help moderate others by giving them good, explicit feedback and setting expectations. Mm-hmm. , if you think about EQ in and of itself, a sociopath can have in high eq, right?

Because the difference is they’re influencing through manipulation and what you as a leader need to. Influence through motivation, and that’s where that compassion piece comes in. So it’s just really important to understand emotional intelligence is key. Coupled with compassion will allow you to influence through motivation and truly, truly inspire your, your people.

Ryan: Wow, that was an amazing down and I feel like an entire nother episode on its own.

I really, really like the way that you succinctly broke down eq. I thought it was an excellent take on it. Thank you. Well, we appreciate all you brought today, such incredible insight. I have a feeling we’ve only tapped into the beginning of it actually. And I hope that we get a chance to talk again in the future.

You, you really have so much out there for leaders to take and, and think about both in terms of product and technology side of things, but also definitely in the way that you work with people. It sounds really,

Ward: Absolutely, I’d love to talk more, and like I said in the show notes there’s a Bitly link to leading the real Self way.

There is probably about eight hours worth of video that talks about mass life hierarchy, psychological safety. There’s even a deep dive on celebration of errors, lean thinking, highly recommend people get out there and view it and reach out to me. I’m available@wardrealself.com to anyone and.

Ryan: Wow.

Thanks so much, Ward. It was great to have you here today and we look forward to talking in the future.

Ward: Thank you, Ryan.

Ryan: Ward is without a doubt, a wealth of knowledge on emotional intelligence. While there are several ways to achieve success, ward brings the conversation back to the fundamentals of leadership with kindness, effort, and support for your people. Being a leader isn’t always about the success you find in a team.

People move on and no matter how successful the team is, your leadership needs to extend to everyone that has. I really appreciated the reminder to strive to help peer transitions with grace and always celebrate success created together.