The Happy Engineer Podcast

131: Secrets of Being a CEO Revealed with Deborah Coviello | The CEO Whisperer | Author | Podcast Host

Let’s discuss ways to level up your C-Suite Leadership skills, even if you haven’t reached the engineering executive level yet, and how to set your career plan in that direction.

In this episode, we meet the CEO Whisperer herself, Deborah Coviello.

If you have ever hoped to make it to the top, or you are already there, this is an important conversation.

She is the author of the top book, “CEO’s Compass: Your Guide to Get Back on Track.” The journey begins where she tells the CEO’s Hero Journey through the unknown and how to guide them to Peace of Mind and C-Suite leadership.

We talk about the transformation from firefighting to true leadership, how working harder and complexity can burn you out, and the reality that an obsession with results may not be what CEOs really want.

Deb is an advisor, host of “The Drop-In CEO” podcast with over 300 episodes, and Founder of Illumination Partners, a consulting firm for C-Suite Leadership to navigate challenges with confidence.

So press play and let’s chat… we are about to drop in and whisper the secrets to C-Suite leadership!

Join us in a live workshop for deeper training, career coaching 1:1, and an amazing community!  HAPPY HOUR Workshop Live with Zach!


The Happy Engineer Podcast

WATCH EPISODE 131: Level up your C-Suite Engineering Executive Leadership Skills with Deb Coviello


[00:02:41] Curious client wants to try curling once.

[00:05:56] Two shifts: from individual contributor to leader.

[00:07:21] Questioning why I wanted to leave, adjusting C-Suite leadership. Clouded but powerful presentation, insufficient tactical focus. Deflated by senior criticism, uplifted by colleagues. Realized need to change leadership approach. Celebration!

[00:09:59] Trusting the process yields sustainable results.

[00:14:41] Dropping into crisis, guiding leaders through chaos.

[00:17:06] Choosing slow helps find clarity and direction.

[00:20:09] Impact, vision, message, equal, share, break through

[00:26:36] Engineers: specialize for job security or equip teams for success?

[00:27:59] Strategic view and breadth: key for success.

[00:34:01] Love that. Peace is the new prophet.

[00:34:58] Results come from understanding and process gaps.

[00:38:22] Results or peace of mind? Consider both.




LISTEN TO EPISODE 131: Secrets of Being a CEO Revealed with Deborah Coviello

Previous Episode 130: Leading with Vulnerability Superpowers – the Future of Leadership with Jacob Morgan


C-Suite Engineering Executive Leadership: Focusing on People, Process, and Strategy

In this episode of The Happy Engineer Podcast, Deborah Coviello and I dive deep into the world of C-Suite leadership and discuss how engineers can lead differently to achieve remarkable results.

Here are the top three insights:

1. Focus on the human aspect of leadership: While senior leadership may prioritize detailed strategies and tactical results, it’s important not to lose sight of the human side. Colleagues value leaders who can empathize and inspire their teams. Don’t forget to connect with your team on a personal level and make space for their growth and development.

2. Embrace ‘slow’ for profound insights: In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in the chaos and push for rapid growth. However, true clarity and profound insights often come after embracing the slow. Take the time to reflect, practice emotional mastery, and embrace the peace and clarity that slowness can bring.

3. Break free from the “indispensable” mindset: As engineers, we tend to believe that being highly specialized and indispensable in our field ensures job security. However, to truly advance our careers, we must shift our focus from being the sole expert to becoming leaders who equip, enable, and empower our teams. Embrace a strategic view and develop a broad knowledge base to add value and position yourself for long-term success.

To go deeper and build an action plan around these points and why all this matters, click the podcast links on this page and listen to the entire conversation.



Deb Coviello is an advisor, author, podcast host, and the Founder of Illumination Partners, a consulting firm helping you conquer challenges with confidence and set yourself down the path of C-Suite leadership. With 30+ years of experience in Quality and Operational Excellence roles, combined with two decades in the Flavors and Fragrance industry, Deb is a trusted partner to C-Suite Leaders.

She holds certifications as a Lean and Six Sigma Blackbelt in Process Improvement and has developed programs to help CEOs identify emerging leaders. Deb is also a board member of Women in Flavor & Fragrance Commerce (WFFC), an avid Curler with the Cincinnati Curling Club, and a proud mother of three, residing in Cincinnati, Ohio, with her husband Dan of 33 years.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: All right. Happy engineer. Welcome back. And Deb, so good to see you again. It’s been a few weeks. Welcome to the happy engineer podcast. So glad you’re here. 

[00:00:08] Deb Coviello: I am so glad to be here. Zach as well. Again, as engineers, we have a lot to tell and share with your audience. I’m just grateful for the opportunity to connect and share some of my stories.

Expand to Read Full Transcript

[00:00:19] Zach White: It’s going to be fun. There’s so many directions we can go. And Deb, you are known as the drop in CEO or the CEO whisperer. And we’re going to talk about that today, but there’s a different C word I have in mind for us to begin with. And I told you before we hit record today, I cannot let this conversation pass without talking about Curling and yes, I’m talking about the weird sport on the Olympics where like, I don’t understand what’s happening and there’s brooms involved and you’re a curler.

[00:00:49] That’s so cool. what do you love about curling? Tell me about that. How’d you get into it? Why do you love it? 

[00:00:55] Deb Coviello: I will just start by saying I am a silver medalist in curling in 2017. I and some three other amazing women were at Notre Dame and we were in the arena curling national championship.

[00:01:06] We got the silver medal, but it was the most amazing feeling, just a testament to all those years of practicing, yelling, throwing stones, sweeping my brains to finally say, I got a medal. And. I am so proud of it, but, it was an interesting start. It all started. Oh my, well, my boss, she was actually a curler as well.

[00:01:26] She says, Deb, I’d like you to try this sport. I said, no, I’m trying to get my son into engineering college right now. I don’t have time following year. I got started in about 15 years later. I am proud to say that I absolutely love the sportsmanship of it. I love the athletic ability. And the fact is that there are a lot of engineers and scientists in this sport because it’s amazing when it comes to trying to figure out strategy and all the variables in it.

[00:01:51] So I 

[00:01:52] Zach White: could keep going. Interesting. Why do you think engineers and scientists are drawn to curling? Is it, is it more complex than it looks on the surface? And, and like, what is it about it that draws the engineer’s mind? 

[00:02:04] Deb Coviello: Okay, so if you like design of experiments, oh my, there are so many variables. You have to play with the ice conditions, the stone conditions, the ability of your team, the changing conditions, and also what is the other team doing?

[00:02:17] There are so many variables. So as a skip or the captain, you stand in the house and you say, Oh my God, how am I going to get to that button there? You have to constantly be thinking two or three steps ahead of time, like chess. They call it sometimes chess on ice. It is such a mind tease and so mentally.

[00:02:33] stimulating for the engineers and scientists that are out there. That’s why I’d say about 40 or 50 percent are that, in our 

[00:02:39] Zach White: club. I I’ve never played and, and I got to pause and shout out Alexa, my client, she got me into the idea of, curling being awesome when she was going through our coaching program and, lives in Canada, she, she curls and I was like, Oh, this is really.

[00:02:57] Interesting. And I got curious and watched a bunch of videos and thought, eh, maybe, but I didn’t do anything with it. Now, Deb, hearing your passion for this, I think between you and Alexa, I’m putting it on my bucket list. I need to go curling at least once and see what it’s all about. So you said athletic ability, and I’m just going to be.

[00:03:18] I’ve never thought of curling asa super athletic activity. What is the biggest demand on your body physically in curling? 

[00:03:27] Deb Coviello: It’s the aerobic part, because if you have to, for 30 seconds while walking on ice, be able to sweep the ice so fast that you able to micro melt it such that the stone actually glides.

[00:03:40] farther and actually curls. And then you come back, you get your pulse up to 120. You walk back for 10 seconds and have to do the freaking thing all over again. It is high intensity aerobics over and over again. And you do about two miles of walking in a two hour session. It requires a slightly athletic ability to be on ice on ice, too.

[00:04:02] Yeah, 

[00:04:03] Zach White: well, I’m sold First of all, just to be able to say I was sweeping my brains out. I think that’s what you said earlier. I wrote that that phrase makes me incredibly happy just to hear that. And so by itself, I want to curl just so I can go home and tell my wife, I was sweeping my brains out.

[00:04:19] That just sounds awesome. All right. I could talk about curling all day. I know it’s not why we’re here, Deb. Why don’t you take me back? And you know, you relate as an engineer yourself, you’ve been there, you’ve done the work. Where were you before your experience with burnout and leaving corporate? What was going on in your world at that time?

[00:04:38] Deb Coviello: Hmm. You know, so I have the good graces of being in amazing companies from defense systems, chemical industry, electronics, manufacturing, honing my craft and quality and operational excellence. Love, love, love the work that I did, but I got to the point after I was technically always promoted for my capability, I got into a leadership role (C-Suite leadership) where I finally had command and control over multi plant responsibility with high targets and it’s great, but.

[00:05:07] Being a firefighter. That’s what engineers sometimes do. We are credited for our individual performance. I had to first change my leadership style to realize I can’t do it alone. I have to leverage the capability of my people. And so my leadership changed to elevating people, providing C-Suite leadership development.

[00:05:25] But sometimes I got to the point where sometimes the pressure to get results, changing conditions, things constantly happening and pressure from up above you. Got to get the results versus just touch the process. It started burning me out to the point where I realized something’s got to change. I have to do something different.

[00:05:45] Working harder was not getting me ahead. The playbook had to change. That’s when I realized, I either needed to change myself or change the environment that I was in. So 

[00:05:55] Zach White: two really important shifts that we need to unpack here. The first is that individual contributor, firefighter, hero mentality. That’s so many technical leaders.

[00:06:07] Engineers, scientists, people who are rewarded for solving problems and using their intelligence, their IQ fall into that trap of always wanting to go do the work themselves. And when you get that first manager role or, or even maybe it’s that senior manager, that second level, it becomes really about C-Suite leadership.

[00:06:27] That’s a tough transition for so many. So tell us, Deb, for you, what was the. Most important discoveries about yourself and how to be successful at that, or maybe it’s the opposite. Where did you miss the mark and fail on that in ways that helped you to make that pivot? 

[00:06:46] Deb Coviello: I think they’re one in the same and I’ll explain why because there was a pivotal moment whereby my, my area of jurisdiction was number four out of four regions.

[00:06:54] It was not a nice. to place to be in terms of quality performance. And so one year we had to go to a global meeting for which I had to say, here’s what I’m going to be doing in the following year. And most people will say, I’m going to do a, B, C, and D. And you talk about that for an hour. I realized I had to do something different in order to get a different result.

[00:07:15] When I was writing my presentation, I was highly reflective and I said, what has to change is not the technical work, but , why did I want to lead was the first question I had to answer. And then two was how would I want to lead differently in order to get a different result? Fast forward, I gave the presentation and spent two thirds of the time talking about my journey and what needed to change in order to get my team to a different result and only spent maybe one third of the time going over the tactical work.

[00:07:44] The thing that came as I fail because the senior leadership (C-Suite leadership) told me after that presentation, Deb, it was very nice. All that self discovery. I said, but you didn’t spend enough time on the tactical results that you were going to achieve. And I was deflated, feeling depleted. But then during lunch, I met with some colleagues and I was still kind of quiet and reflecting on what the feedback I just received.

[00:08:05] And when they came to me, they said, Deb, we loved your presentation because you were thinking differently as a leader and we need more leaders to think like you on how you were going to change your leadership (C-Suite leadership). Otherwise, we’re going to continue to get the same result. So I knew at that moment I was on to something to stop being that firefighter, but lead differently in order to get a different result.

[00:08:26] And I was celebrated and that was the beginning of the transition for me. 

[00:08:30] Zach White: It’s interesting that. The two perspectives to hear from the senior team. Hey, we love what you shared, but you are missing on detailed strategies and tactics and deliverables and commitments around the results. But to hear from the peer group or the, the lower on the hierarchy folks.

[00:08:48] Hey, we really love what you’re sharing and it actually sounds different. You’re drawing us into the vision of that. And I like how John Maxwell says, you know, everything rises and falls on leadership (C-Suite leadership). So why the disconnect? Do you think, Deb, why do senior people at times? I won’t say it’s all, but if I’m painting with a broad brush, perhaps this is still true where most cases they’re really focused on that metric, that deliverable, that result, just driving people to.

[00:09:19] to those outcomes, whereas what we often need the most or what people who are working for you want to hear is this human aspect in the C-Suite leadership piece. what’s going on 

[00:09:30] Deb Coviello: there? So the disconnect was a little bit and I, one minor knit. It’s a knit because I was going to do a completely different presentation.

[00:09:38] I failed to meet with my leader ahead of time to give them a pre read of what it was going to be. That was different. That potentially They could have at least maybe enriched it and been part of it and an advocate for what I was doing. That was a quick lesson learned. Lesson learned to engineers. Yeah, absolutely.

[00:09:54] If you’re going to do something different, vet it with a few people that can be your advocate. However, this is the big learning is that what I realized is so many senior leaders miss the mark because they’re always in search of the results, but in reality they are in pursuit of peace of mind. And to do that, you have to trust the process of elevating people capability, removing barriers, how you message things.

[00:10:19] I had to lead differently, not to do the work and be the firefighter, but to remove the barriers and elevate the confidence of the people and fend off. The people saying, where’s my result? Where’s my result? I had to say, trust the process and what eventually happened in this happens with all my clients.

[00:10:36] Ultimately you will get to those results, but you’ve closed the gaps and people performance. And ultimately you start seeing the teams perform, you know that they can act without you being the firefighter. When you start getting uh, sustainable results after you trust the process, ultimately you get peace of mind because you say, okay, the team, the team can.

[00:10:57] Run things without me. Let me move on to the next team and see how I can help them. That was the big learning and all 

[00:11:03] video1794544489: of 

[00:11:04] Zach White: this. Yeah. So fast forward then here. You get the opportunity. you’re in charge of this huge scope of work and team and things are going great and you’re learning and it’s all, it’s all good.

[00:11:15] You’re, you’re living the dream, Deb. And then suddenly things start spiraling toward burnout. What happened that created the downward inflection? So burnout 

[00:11:27] Deb Coviello: started happening, the business started getting complex. We started having a few issues based on legacy issues. It just got to the point where a couple of things were happening.

[00:11:39] I actually started feeling unsupported. I was not supported in getting all the advocates. And then, there was just. Too many issues happening under my leadership (C-Suite leadership). And I don’t think the leaders that were there responsive for taking care of me, never asked me the right questions. What help do you need?

[00:11:56] What support do you need? What gaps do you have that maybe I can help you with? It was always just on the results. And so they never really worked with me to close any of my C-Suite leadership gaps. I’m still evolving. I was still learning. And without that coaching. Without that coaching on those blind spots that I still had, I was in a state of spiraling down and getting very frustrated.

[00:12:17] And ultimately I and they took the decision to move in a different direction, which was the best thing that ever happened. But what I find is sometimes even at our level, that senior leader technical thing, they’re only talking about the results and the project work and they don’t ask questions like, well, Help me to understand what is your background in this area?

[00:12:36] Do you have any knowledge gaps? Never asked me that question. You know, what are your concerns, et cetera. They’d never asked me how I felt. It was always about the tactical work. And I think they missed the mark on asking me, you know, Hey, how do you, how are you doing with prioritization? What is your decision logic?

[00:12:51] Let’s look about this and see what all the things that you have on your plate. They never, ever, ever asked me that. And I may not have had the mindset to raise those things because it’s always about 

[00:13:01] Zach White: the results. Sure. Yeah. We, we are. Product of the environment that were raised up in at times. It’s so interesting to hear you describe this because if I was going to.

[00:13:09] Outline the most common themes of engineering executive leaders who I coach when we meet on day one, I would have said almost the identical list of things that you just described that they don’t have the support they need. They don’t understand how critical it is to have a community and the coaching and the people around you to put that wind in your sails when it’s tough.

[00:13:29] And if you’re not getting that at work, you’ve got to get it somewhere. They’re asking the wrong questions. Yeah, we need to aim things at the right questions, and then they’re overwhelmed. And you mentioned complexity. It’s like everything just gets piled on, piled on, bolted on, added on, and everything gets extremely complex in their world, and they need a simple approach and to start doing less so they can actually move the needle.

[00:13:52] in a way, It’s just interesting how these themes are the same and then you, do burn out, you exit this world. And now today, Deb, CEOs are coming to you for help and advice and coaching and counseling, consulting to solve these problems. How did that transition from you experiencing the pain of this and burning out yourself to now being that voice of hope and encouragement to CEOs all around the world?

[00:14:19] where did that? Transition happened, 

[00:14:22] Deb Coviello: taking some time out and reflecting about what did I love about the work and what did I not like? I eventually came to the conclusion outta the gate, and then I evolved it since I wanted to help the C-Suite leaders. Now, those people that are in those high level positions that are highly successful mm-hmm.

[00:14:41] but then all of a sudden get off track. And often in a smaller medium sized business, which is where I like to focus new customer requirements, loss of business, potentially acquisition of a, an entity, et cetera. Something’s different that they’ve never been exposed to before. I have a knack for dropping into crisis or chaos and being able to have a clear mind and see the treatment that’s needed because the C suite leader just can’t see it sometimes.

[00:15:06] And it could be with them or it could be with the environment. I bolt myself onto them to help guide them. Technically, as well as the C-Suite leadership coaching. But I will say that I had one other moment of clarity is that I also like you want to help the C suite leader tomorrow in your arena. It is that technical engineering leader because lack of a support system.

[00:15:27] I have seen so many talented leaders show up at my doorstep. They’re stuck and they can’t see what those skill gaps are that are not nurtured in their environment. So help the C suite leader today. Dropping into their business and I am also like you helping that C suite leader or aspiring professional of tomorrow break open those barriers so they can get into those roles and have peace of mind.

[00:15:50] Zach White: I love that. You mentioned you took some time off, Deb, and I’m curious, what did that look like for you? I mean, in terms of a sabbatical or a stretch of recovery from burnout, was there anything that you did during that time that was really healing or transformational for you? 

[00:16:06] Deb Coviello: So I gave myself the gift of time to not race and look for the next opportunity.

[00:16:11] I see so many engineers, they will just start hitting the pavement, going on LinkedIn, updating their resume. That’s technically all important. You need to slow down and it was fortunate around the Christmas holidays. So obviously spending time with family and friends was very motivating. But I returned back to a few things that gave me peace.

[00:16:29] I used to read a lot. I used to write a lot, love to walk, listen to podcasts. And when I gave my mind just that time to just have free creativity and just think. Versus do, because as engineers were always doing, taking time to think or absolutely nothing was what gave me that clarity. And then starting to read a few books and things about what do I want to do?

[00:16:51] What are my gifts? What are my strengths? What do I want to do? What do I not want to do? I started getting clarity about what the next steps were for me. 

[00:16:59] Zach White: Slowing down can be hard. 

[00:17:03] Deb Coviello: I heard it and I’m still fighting that today. 

[00:17:06] Zach White: Yeah, me too. Me too. I actually, I don’t think I’ve talked about this much on the podcast before, but my coach and I routinely have this conversation around for me, what is kind of a trigger word.

[00:17:19] If I feel that things are slow. In my business, if I’m going slow, if the business is growing at a slow rate, if we’re missing on growth objective, and I feel like we’re just not going fast enough, this idea of slow, it’s still, and here’s like, I mean, I can’t tell you how much I’ve done in terms of emotional mastery and self coaching.

[00:17:40] And I have multiple coaches and I take this really seriously. And still I get triggered by this sense, this feeling that things are going slow. And so I, I regularly lean in. To choosing slow to help me be at peace in that, in that world. And to your point, the most profound things in terms of clarity and direction and insight always come on the other side of that decision, never during the storm or the chaos or the rapid ascent to the next level.

[00:18:12] And so I really appreciate that. I think it’s important. We talk about CEO life then, we can’t have the drop in CEO and the author of the CEO’s compass in the room and not talk about what it really means and looks like to be a successful CEO. And Deb, I know you can relate to this.

[00:18:30] There’s so many engineering executive leaders who have the skillset and the background to be great in the C suite, but they get to that middle management level, or maybe that director position. And they start to wonder. Do I really want to keep going and keep growing into the c suite or even be a CEO of one of these smaller mid sized companies or maybe in a fortune 500 company?

[00:18:55] Because I look around at that level and I don’t like the trade offs. I don’t like the lifestyle that I see or maybe there’s some imposter syndrome. I’m not really sure if I have what it takes. So could you Start with the basics for us. What is it that makes up the DNA of the successful CEOs that you work with?

[00:19:15] And maybe where are the places that you see the biggest gaps for an engineer? If that’s something that you would want to pursue as a, as a technical leader. 

[00:19:23] Deb Coviello: I think when we become a highly achieving technical leader, we lose sight of what is our vision and what are our own thoughts and what a CEO does is they will paint a clear vision of what the future looks like and then put forth their thought C-Suite leadership and what do they stand for.

[00:19:40] We as technical leaders sometimes don’t do that ourselves. And I think one of the steps forward into getting into the C suite is you’re smart. You can look around, you could look at like. at the technology and say, what does the future look like? What do you see in five years from now? You’ve got to see it, feel it, smell it the whole bit and be able to start shopping that around, sharing it with others, getting by and get other people to evolve it and then start leading from that place and not just saying we’re going to get this platform, that platform and gain this particular efficiency.

[00:20:09] No, it’s the. Impact or outcome that you are looking for, not the technical details because people can relate to outcome and the better that you can see that vision and paint that picture and message and articulate it. You will start bringing people along and people will start seeing you in the C suite long before you’re actually there.

[00:20:28] And third, last thing you have to already see yourself there. Don’t change to be like others, but already see yourself as an equal there as an equal thought leader to share your thoughts because they are worth sharing. Don’t be risk averse, share those thoughts. Those three things of having the vision, being able to message what you stand for and seeing yourself in that role is what’s going to break through that imposter syndrome or whatever 

[00:20:52] Zach White: else you want to call it.

[00:20:53] Yeah. Okay. This is super good. And, and it’s exactly aligned with how All of our coaching is done at Oasis of Courage, because we could look at it from a lot of lenses, but the simplest way that I think we can articulate it is that life flows from being, then doing, then having, then giving. can’t give something that you don’t have.

[00:21:18] You don’t just get to have things without doing something first. And what you do is an outflow of who you are, this being, this identity. And the way you described that, you need to see yourself in the C suite first. This is being a C suite level leader. Before you have the C suite title and position, and that’s always the order, even if someone got there and didn’t necessarily have an awareness of what I’m talking about.

[00:21:46] The fact is they saw themselves there before it happened. It’s always that way. and so Deb, if you were going to coach someone who said, I like the sound of this, be the C suite leader, identify as one before I am one, but I don’t really know what that means, or like, how do I. How do I do that?

[00:22:07] What, what would you encourage somebody as a place to begin shifting that identity into a C suite mindset? 

[00:22:17] Deb Coviello: One of the things that I started doing was when I was in that place of wanting to be a different kind of leader, use your good old friendly whiteboard in your office or in the common area and just start throwing ideas up there and don’t worry if they don’t make sense.

[00:22:30] Just start putting up those thoughts and start. Circling them and seeing what resonates. You know, this is what’s missing. This is where I see the future is and then bring over a colleague and shop it around and say, Hey, what do you think? And get them to enrich the idea. And maybe after a couple, 3 colleagues, look at all your crazy, strange ideas.

[00:22:47] You’re throwing up there. Ultimately, you’re going to get a collective vision of what the future looks like with advocates and people supporting you along the way. By the way, in that process, that is what a C suite leader does. Collaborate with others based on some thoughts or crazy ideas or vision for the future.

[00:23:03] That was pretty easy. I bet you could do that 

[00:23:06] Zach White: right now. So good. The CEO of the private equity firm that I’m a managing partner in, he’s one of my good friends. His name is Dave. I’m going to make sure he listens to what you just said, because he and I, the majority of the value we create.

[00:23:19] Together and with our partners in our private equity firm is just sitting around whiteboards doing exactly that. That you just described, just throwing ideas up and it’s always a beautiful arc, it starts with randomness and then we’re not sure where it’s headed. And somehow over the course of 90 minutes or two hours, we’ll converge on some really important decision or principle or idea and then lock and execute and the execution goes so quickly, but it takes.

[00:23:43] sometimes hours and hours of time around the whiteboard to get to that, to get to that place. 

[00:23:48] Deb Coviello: Smiling right now. Cause I am looking at this huge four by six whiteboard in front of me. It has stuff on it that’s six to nine months old, but now I’m looking at it. It’s I’m already doing that or, wow, you know what?

[00:23:58] I’m going to take that idea into 2024. It’s just a beautiful place to throw your thoughts up against the wall and don’t worry if they don’t make sense now they will in the future. Yeah, 

[00:24:06] Zach White: that’s really good. So Thank you. Deb, one of the common misconceptions of being a C-suite leader is I’ve gotta be on call 24 7.

[00:24:17] it’s more work. Deb, you burned out and you didn’t even do the c e o job, and, and so now you’re coaching CEOs, so this can’t, it can’t be done right. I have to be on call all the time. Is it true that to be successful in a smaller, midsize company or even the, Fortune 500 for that matter, but especially where you’re coaching and leading these CEOs right now, do we have to give up our whole life?

[00:24:39] to do that job? Or is it possible to find another way? 

[00:24:43] Deb Coviello: It is possible to find another way, but it comes down to engineer it, engineer it, what are your hours of availability? And what can you do within that time? And then if you cannot get everything done, you have to have a well designed framework of that, who are those people deputize when you’re not there that have the right decision criteria and logic as.

[00:25:03] If you were there, you just got to break it down like an engineering problem. When you’re not available, who is on call or who can answer in lieu of you? Because if everything revolves around you, you have not done a good enough job in creating the standards and business rules for people to operate without you.

[00:25:19] It’s an engineering problem. It’s operational excellence. You need to systematize your life to be able to not always 

[00:25:26] Zach White: be on. So that answer, I feel like we should just copy and paste that. Into every layer of the org chart, all the way down, like, is it any different if you’re an engineering manager than when you’re a CEO, when it comes to that principle you just described?

[00:25:46] I mean, I’m curious, Deb, would you say no, it’s exactly the same or is there something nuanced we need to understand 

[00:25:51] Deb Coviello: there? I mean, it’s a matter of keeping your sanity and discipline. It’s called leader’s standard work. When you go into the lean world, if you don’t have those standards established, all that intellectual property that sits in your head stays there and you’re the only one that can operate.

[00:26:05] We need to celebrate your intellectual property, but ultimately write it down and sustain it because, even when you’re not there. Your business processes have to be able to perpetuate without you, you no longer could be a firefighter. If you want the business to be sustainable, if you wind up in the hospital, you want the whole business to break down.

[00:26:24] No, you have to be able to groom the next set of leaders. And it’s just a matter of just cascading that knowledge and building up other people’s capabilities. So you don’t have to always be on, you don’t need to. 

[00:26:36] Zach White: So here’s an interesting dichotomy that I noticed, and I’d be curious your perspective, Deb, that when you’re an engineer starting in technical work as an individual contributor, there’s a lot of people who believe that it’s a good thing for me to become extremely specialized and capable within my space and ideally become the only person who can do what I do to create job security.

[00:27:04] Because if I’m the only one who knows how to do it, and if everybody depends on me, then I have this niche that I’ve carved out that I’ll always have a job. But what you just said is the exact opposite of that. That a C suite leader’s value is not created by all of the things that they do that only they can do, but in fact, the exact opposite.

[00:27:25] Better they get at equipping and enabling and leading their team. So that whether I’m here or not, the whole organization can be successful. That’s what we really, really want. And so what do we do to break out of this belief system? Me being the only one who can do it is actually a good thing, but also is there a right balance between the two as we build our career and maybe allaying the fears of, well, I’m just a commodity or anybody can do my job that may come in for somebody who’s at a lower level.

[00:27:57] What are your thoughts around that tension? 

[00:27:59] Deb Coviello: So there’s a few things I want you to think about. The 1st 1 is, if you want to get into the C suite and have that influence and impact, you’re better serving your your domain. If you’re more of a generalist, and you have a strategic view, and you have great breadth.

[00:28:13] That is what’s going to make you stronger. Know a little bit about everything. Now, you may have come up through the ranks in your area of technical expertise, but you will be of greater value. If you know a little bit about everything else. Now, let’s go to that individual contributor there. You will When we think about all I am responsible for is to protect this intellectual property.

[00:28:32] So I can deliver the best design. So I have job security. I propose to that person. If you’re thinking that way, that may be the greater outcome or greater good of what you are doing is about leaving a legacy. Leaving a legacy of your intellectual property for the next generation and I’ll, the reason why I’ll tell you this is I was in a manufacturing environment dealing with a 45 plus year veteran who knew his craft in the manufacturing environment, but as soon as we recognized and paid respect to their intellectual property and said, you would be a great teacher of others so that your legacy could last on and we’ll continue to make good product.

[00:29:09] Their pride came up. And I think we as leaders have to celebrate those technical leaders, but say the greater impact is taking your knowledge and standardize it, create design manuals, whatever it is, and teach the next generation. That’s what we’re really trying to achieve so we can sustain those great designs, products or services that they produce.

[00:29:30] Zach White: I love that. A legacy mindset. So Deb, if there was one, skill set or, thing that an engineering executive leader in particular may need to focus on, that’s a blind spot. if you want to make it to the C suite, this is an area to watch out for that you’ve noticed. It’s either a common challenge or can derail someone’s progress to make it to that level and be successful there.

[00:29:55] Is there anything that comes to mind? 

[00:29:57] Deb Coviello: So I’m really glad you asked me this because this is one of my talking points and I even do a webinar on this. it’s around powerful words for influence and messaging. We as technical leaders are celebrated for the technical work to make sure we dot our eyes and cross our T’s on our proposal, but the ultimate outcome is.

[00:30:14] Influence, creating conversation around your proposal, your design, or what have you. And when we deliver just information, we fail to connect with the minds and hearts of those people that we’re trying to influence. When we as technical leaders learn how to message. Message, what the information is trying to tell us.

[00:30:33] That’s when we get people to start engaging in conversation. Even if people disagree, you get people to start a conversation and that’s what those leaders miss. It’s about creating conversation or influencing people’s decision making. So it’s not about, I got to buy this piece of equipment because the sky is falling.

[00:30:49] It’s no, it’s, I need to buy this piece of equipment because if we don’t change this negative trend, we’re going to ruin our brand and. and negatively impact customer perception. That means dollars and cents and you’re starting to create something that’s a little bit uncomfortable, but you are delivering a message versus information, a huge, huge blind spot for technical leaders.

[00:31:09] I agree 

[00:31:10] Zach White: with this and related to this topic is a really common behavior. I see with technical leadership because engineers are very careful not to make a statement that isn’t completely true. And as such, there’s always a qualifier. Right? Oh, well, you know, this is the best thing we know of, but it could still fail in this way, this way, this way, this way, and this way, or I cannot promise you that we’re going to hit the schedule because there’s this unknown, that unknown, this thing and this thing.

[00:31:43] And so they’re always conditioning their message around all of the unknowns and the potential failure modes. And while it’s true. It seeds uncertainty and the lack of confidence and doubt in everybody who’s hearing them. And so this is something I always tell clients. there’s a time and a place to talk about the failure modes and the uncertainty and the risk planning and all these like, do that.

[00:32:08] But there’s also a time for you to just step up and say, this is the best path forward. This is the direction we need to go. Here’s our commitment to deliver. Let’s rock and roll and get people. Sold influenced on your conviction, on your confidence, you’re going to be wrong sometimes. So is everybody. But if nobody ever trusts you that you know what you’re doing and you can move forward, then we’re always in this place of.

[00:32:35] You know, a lack of energy, a lack of motivation, and we’re not, you know, people don’t want to follow you if you don’t have that confidence. And so I’m, I’m curious, Dev, what would you say, what’s the balance or how do we know when it’s the right time to be candid about all the unknowns versus confident and just say, here’s the best we know to do.

[00:32:55] Let’s rock and roll, you know, follow me. Do you have any. Any wisdom for us there? 

[00:33:00] Deb Coviello: Yes, I do. And I can thank a personal trainer of mine for shedding light on being risk averse, lack of confidence or conviction over a presentation I had to do once because you’re thinking about all the what ifs I haven’t presented to this group before.

[00:33:13] It’s new information. I’m not sure if it’s going to fly. And then he looked at me and says, I understand. I said, but what if you actually are successful? I said, think about what you’re going to do as what is the chance you actually will be successful and think about it that way. And I will tell you every time I adopted the mindset of, Ooh, I’m not sure this is going to fly.

[00:33:32] I’m not a hundred percent certain of what the outcome is, but if I am. Certain, or I am thinking about the possibility of success. I will tell you everything that I have put forth a proposal 80 percent or more of the time I am successful at getting the message across. So we need to go from a risk averse mindset to one that has the courage to say, I might actually be successful.

[00:33:53] That’s going to start flipping or changing the outcome for you. 

[00:33:56] Zach White: Yeah. Instead of I might be wrong or I might fail, I might actually be right and be successful. I love that. Yeah. I love that. Deb, I want to circle back to one more thing and then we’ll wrap for today. But you mentioned that a couple of points in this conversation, a really powerful word, the word peace.

[00:34:16] And one of my mentors uses the phrase, All the time now that peace is the new profit. And one of the contexts you mentioned was how senior leaders are badgering us and pushing us for results and outcomes when what they’re really looking for under the hood is peace of mind. And then it came up in another context.

[00:34:40] I didn’t actually capture it in our chat. And I’m, I’m really inspired by this and I just want to know. What have you learned in your own personal journey about the importance of peace and how to get it in this crazy thing we call life? 

[00:34:57] Deb Coviello: So it’s not a matter of getting it because we like to think about everything has an action item that we have to check the box on.

[00:35:04] And if we get that, we are going to get the result. It’s more about the process and the journey. So if we start removing our mindset, I’m after results, I’m after results, but change it to the mindset of what process gaps do I have to close? Where do my team members not have the confidence or the technical knowledge?

[00:35:21] where do they not have knowledge about the overall strategy? That’ll help them with making decision logic. When people start having a deep understanding of not only the role is and the interaction with others, they will come together and they will get the results. And when I step back and I look at an operator in the manufacturing environment, they step into a training video because they wanted to tell us why this quality issue can be error proofed.

[00:35:45] And when they were behind the camera, I remember this distinctly was a training video. He says, I need to do a, B and C because if I don’t do it this way, I am going to have a negative impact to my customer. And this is what the outcome is. when I saw that, I said, Oh my God. I don’t have to worry about the quality of what we’re shipping because the frontline people closest to my customers understand deeply the meaning of their work.

[00:36:09] And I felt peace of mind. You almost get goosebumps when you see that, you know, you have arrived, you have less focused on the results, focus on closing those gaps in people’s performance and their understanding. And you will see teams highly perform. You don’t need to be the firefighter and they will get you the results you want.

[00:36:29] So that is what we should be in pursuit of is seeing and feeling peace of mind. And the CEO’s compass, the Northern most compass point is about searching for peace of mind or true North. 

[00:36:40] Zach White: I love that peace of mind. Well, Deb, I know we could talk about C-Suite leadership all day, but we’ll wrap things up here.

[00:36:51] And thank you so much for your time and your wisdom today. If someone. Maybe they are in the C suite, they need your help now, or they aspire to be, and they want to start getting that, harbor light of how do I move towards this in a way that’s not going to lead toward my burnout? Where can they find you and connect with your incredible work?

[00:37:10] Deb Coviello: So Zach, I just want to thank you for the opportunity to have an amazing conversation and share some of these insights with your audience. And I would love for people to come find me at That’s my website. You’ll see my services, but you will see my contact page. Just connect with me. I love meeting with you.

[00:37:28] I love talking to you. And by listening to you, I might be able to impart some thoughts that will help you in your journey. And I just want to thank you again, Zach, for the opportunity, but I like Zach, just want to help you succeed. 

[00:37:41] Zach White: Amazing. Thank you for that offer. I highly encourage you, happy engineer, to go out to, dropinceo.

[00:37:48] com. We’ll put the link in the show notes. Go check that out and please connect with Deb. I, she’s very sincere when she says she wants to help you. I know that for a fact, Deb, you know, this as a coach and consultant to these incredible C suite leaders now, and you’ve experienced it in your own career, but great coaching, great engineering.

[00:38:07] We know questions lead and the answers follow, and we’re all seeking better answers in our life. And so what would be the better question that you would lead the happy engineer with coming out of this conversation? So I am 

[00:38:23] Deb Coviello: going to pick up on what I’ve been talking about, and I want people to write this down.

[00:38:28] But as you think about your leadership (C-Suite leadership) and the outcomes that you want to achieve, ask yourself the question, are you trying to get results or are you in pursuit of peace of mind? And there’s a distinction. It’s very important results or in pursuit of peace of mind. That’s my advice or my question to 

[00:38:48] Zach White: you.

[00:38:50] Woo. Uh, gives me the goosies. I love that question. What are you in pursuit of results or peace of mind? Super powerful marinate and meditate on that happy engineer and reach out to Deb on her website to get help. If you’re stuck and confused or you don’t know how to pursue the things you want to pursue in life.

[00:39:12] Deb, thanks again for being here. This has been tremendous. Thank you!