Christine Comaford has been a serial entrepreneur, software engineer, author, investor and, for a brief stint in her early life, a model and a monk. Now, she is teaching other leaders how to use neuroscience to get the most out of their employees – a mission that recently brought her to Central Pennsylvania.
Comaford led a day-long seminar March 29 in York County at the Mid-Atlantic Regional meeting of the Women Presidents’ Organization’s.
There, she shared information gathered from a career that covers a varied list of job titles: software engineer for Microsoft and Apple, founder of several tech and finance companies, venture capitalist, New York Times bestselling author and contributor to several government policies under the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations.
She “retired” at age 40 and now works as a leadership coach, most recently for a California-based group called the SmartTribes Institute.
During a lunch break at the Women Presidents’ Organization meeting, she shared a few leadership insights and some of her hopes for the future of the modern workplace.
Guide your employees out of ‘critter state’
Comaford believes too many bosses accidentally drive their teams into “critter state”: a state of mind where they survive the workday in fight, fright or freeze mode – where “the best part of being human isn’t available to us” – instead of thinking creatively, feeling engaged and being the most effective collaborators they can be.
“We send people unintentionally into critter state with unclear directions, unclear priorities, excessive work, mixed messages,” she said.
The opposite of a workplace full of people in critter state is a smart tribe: the topic of Comaford’s workshop in the midstate, as well as the focus of her 2013 book “SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.”
Managers can take their teams to this state through clear communication, transparent accountability structures and empowering their employees to create and act on their own insights, she said.
Make time to lead – and change
A team’s journey out of critter state might not always feel comfortable, Comaford said. Leaders might feel less important or need to resist the urge to jump in and micromanage.
They also need to take the time to work with their teams on new strategies – something Comaford admits is not always easy as managers take on increasing workloads.
Lunch-and-learns can prove helpful for people who feel they don’t have enough hours in the day for team collaboration, she said. This kind of training can prove especially effective when managers frame it as something they are doing to make themselves better leaders and reduce stress for their teams.
Some managers might hesitate to change the ways things have always been done, Comaford acknowledged. But today’s leaders generally seem more willing than ever to try new strategies.
“The world keeps changing,” she said. “And change is fast and relentless and constant.”
Comaford’s leadership strategy includes setting tangible goals to measure progress. Her goal personally is to create 1 million smart tribes.
Based on feedback she has heard from clients, their families and their coworkers, she figures she has reached about 650,000 so far. That includes participants at last month’s WPO gathering, which drew about 100 women from the organization’s chapters in Northern Virginia; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Wilmington; Baltimore; Greensburg; Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
She is also working on another book, which will discuss strategies to take the smart-tribes mentality to the next level, in part through encouraging increased awareness of the meanings and emotions people ascribe to situations in the workplace.
Comaford doesn’t envision returning to her previous role as a serial entrepreneur. She’s already made her millions, she said; now, she is content to help other people make theirs.