Charlene Li is the Founder of Altimeter Group, a research strategy consulting firm focused on trends in disruptive technology, and she served as CEO until Altimeter was acquired by Prophet in 2015. She continues to lead the Altimeter Team TISI +%, and considers the decision to start her own company (in 2008, despite the economic downturn) the pivotal moment in her career. She is also the author of five books touching on leadership, social technologies, marketing, and business strategy, including her NY Times bestseller Open Leadership. Her goals as a thought leader are to produce and publicize research that creates greater clarity for, and ‘inspires audacious actions’ by, decision makers.
Li’s leadership style and life-style offer great insights on both career achievement and the pursuit of the oft-illusive work-life balance. Like many high-performers, who pursue a multi-faceted career of research, writing, consulting, and speaking engagements, Li acknowledges the constant struggle to find the time to write—a sixth book is on the drawing board—or even time to think. This is one of the great paradoxes—how to be a thought leader, when there is so little free space to actually think. Ideas require, as Li expresses it, “time and space to grow and develop.” An insight that gives pause—how do we rise to our potential if we do not allow ourselves time to do so?
Like many business leaders (not all) with whom I speak, Li leans on the early morning hours. She is usually up at 5:30 a.m. and listening to NPR in the kitchen by 6:15 a.m., as she makes breakfast for her two teenagers, and gets a jump start on dinner prep. In the evening she focuses on family connections, even while traveling, when phone calls or texting ‘marathons’ are the next best thing to being there. On weekends she likes to bake bread—sourdough, no yeast—“ There’s no better counterpoint to my digital, real-time life than waiting for bread to rise. ” It is a curious and meaningful activity: bread takes time, as do ideas, books, careers, relationships, and people.
The time has been well-spent; her first book Groundswell, on the use of social media in business was named one of the 3 best Web books of 2008 by Fortune Magazine and by BusinessWeek as one of the Best Innovation & Design Books of 2008. It was followed by the bestselling, Open Leadership, and most recently, The Engaged Leader, exploring next-level leadership transparency through engagement in digital and social media channels. Li herself has been named to multiple lists of the ‘most influential’ in her field.
From her experience as a participant in a Young President’s Organization (YPO) forum group, she offers these tips on the advantages of mentoring, useful either to those seeking a mentor or offering their services: first, a mentor helps with the thought process surrounding difficult decisions; second, a mentor offers support, ideally unconditional support through both ups and downs; third, a good mentor holds us accountable.
Also in common with others I have spoken with, Li shares a commitment to increasing diversity in tech. As a woman of color, she works toward an industry comfortably engaged in a conversation about ethnic as well as gender diversity, not merely on principle, but also because of the many advantages gained by bringing as many eyes and creative minds to bear on the challenges and opportunities that the unfolding tech revolution entail. “I made an effort to make sure that women and minority voices were heard [in my latest book]—not because they were women, but because they were fantastic leaders. By highlighting them, I’m bringing more unique voices to the conversation.”
This post originally published at Forbes