Operate with humor, and grace

Teresa Carlson—Amazon Web Services, VP, Worldwide Public Sector
“There’s enough stress already, said Carlson, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Allow your team some time to decompress, remind them they don’t always need to be in the work zone. We are trying to be flexible and make sure we’re taking care of our employees, and customers, every day. If you’re on a video conference and your cat walks across the table or your children want to sit on your lap—fine. Let them come in. We have to operate with grace.”

Remember that time is of the essence 

Shellye Archambeau—Former MetricStream CEO, Verizon Board Member, author of ‘Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms’
“What makes a decision bold is the level of risk you feel at the time you take it,” said Archambeau. “Risk and opportunity are two sides of the same coin, which is why--when making any big decision--time is of the essence. Archambeau recalls working in sales, when she wanted to impress a prospective client. A week after meeting them, she put together a proposal, but then worked on it for another week to get it just right. When she finally got back to the company, they loved it, but told her their budget had been cut three days earlier. What did this teach her? “Doing something 80% good and fast, beats 100% perfect and slow. Getting it right all the time is not the goal. I tell my team that if we’re not making mistakes, we’re not pushing ourselves hard enough. The key is to learn--act with speed, make the best decision you can, and course correct as you go forward.”

Believe in the solution and you’ll find the courage

Eva Chen—CEO of Trend Micro, a leading provider of cyber security services
“The first time I saw cloud computing, it was a real ‘wow’ moment for me”, said Chen, who co-founded cyber security firm TrendMicro in 1988, and took on the role of CEO in 2005. Chen says that while she understood that moving to the cloud would best position her company to help its customers protect themselves against new and sophisticated security threats, many took a lot of convincing. “I had to explain something that was very difficult for them to accept,” she said. “But when you believe it’s the right solution for solving the problem, you find the courage to take through any tough decision.”

Think of yourself as a change maker and a trailblazer

Casey Coleman—Salesforce, Senior Vice President, Global Public Sector, and former CIO of the US General Services Administration
“You don’t have to wait until you’re in an official capacity with a charter or a mandate to make a difference,” said Coleman, who served as CIO of the U.S. General Services Administration, where she led the first government agency-wide move to the cloud, prior to joining Salesforce. “Change doesn’t need a big team or a formal authorization.” Coleman’s customers are making amazing changes in response to the pandemic--launching, for example, new systems to support people in quarantine or isolation, or to speed unemployment benefit. “Teams of two, five, or six people have rolled these services out in a matter of days or weeks,” she said. “These are cases of what can be accomplished when you try something you’re not 100% sure is going to work. Think of yourself as a change maker, a trailblazer, a leader--wherever you are. You always have an opportunity to make an impact.”

Know that everyone else is figuring it out as they go

Julie Cordua—CEO of Thorn, an organization that builds tool to defend children from online sexual abuse
“One sign that you’re making a tough call, is being met with lots of opposing opinions,” said Cordua. “If everyone is aligning with you, it’s not a bold decision.” Under her leadership, Thorn has grown from a non-profit organization with seven employees and a few hundred thousand dollars in income, to builders of software that is now used by 10,000 law enforcement agencies in 55 countries. Thorn’s software has helped to identify more than 16,000 child victims of online abuse. Thorn built these systems for private sector companies to detect and remove abuse images at scale. “When we started, people were saying to us, ‘tech companies already do that, they’re the experts, how are you going to pay for it?’” In the face of this “fear and failure,” Cordua pushed ahead. Although she knew they were creating something of value, at the beginning she wasn’t sure what they should charge for it. “Going into those conversations,” she said, “You realize that what you think everyone else in the world already knows—they are also figuring out as they go.”

Put the experts out in front, show you’re confident in them

Indra Nooyi—Amazon Board Member and former PepsiCo Chairman and CEO
“The best thing you can do is learn as you go when data is scarce,” said Indra Nooyi, who noted this is particularly true when managing a crisis. “You need to be honest when communicating information, without creating a sense of panic. Form a team of experts and bring them with you.” As Co-Chair of the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group--a panel of local health, business, workforce, and education experts consulting on the reopening of the state’s economy and education–Nooyi has been playing a pivotal role in Connecticut’s COVID-19 response. “It’s been more than 100 years since the last pandemic,” Nooyi said. “There’s no one with the knowledge base, it was never really codified. It’s not as if you can pull out Volume One or Two marked ‘pandemic’ and know exactly what to do. You have to make up the rules as you go.”

Be willing to step up—again and again

Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec—Amazon Web Services VP, Block and Object Storage
“It’s been a whole year of critical moments globally—from COVID-19, to the fight for racial justice, to the U.S. election,” said Tomsen Bukovec. “That’s also true for our customers, who continue to push ahead with reinventing their industries. The difference between success and failure often comes down to how those at the top choose to meet these challenges and make those hard calls, and how frequently they are prepared to do it. It’s not just about making one bold decision, it’s about being willing to step forward and make more and more decisions over time, as the situation warrants it.”

Shellye Archambeau, Eva Chen, Casey Coleman, and Julie Cordua were speaking to Mai-Lan Tomsen Bukovec in the AWS re:Invent session “When Boldness Matters in Critical Moments.” Indra Nooyi and Teresa Carlson spoke during the “Women in Leadership” feature conversation at the event.

AWS Re:Invent 2020 is a free, three-week virtual cloud computing conference and learning event, open to anyone, anywhere in the world. Learn more.