Interview with a Multiplier Leader: Ken Fenoglio, VP of AT&T University

Ken Fenoglio was a Multiplier before Multipliers were cool.
— Ken's Nominator

This year, the overwhelming majority of votes for a Multiplier leader in the business/corporate sector went to Ken Fenoglio, Vice President of AT&T University. It was exciting to see how many people at AT&T wanted to demonstrate their support for this inspiring leader in their company and share his example with others.

Here’s what his nominator had to say about him:

"Ken Fenoglio was a Multiplier before Multipliers were cool. Early on, Ken learned that amplifying others’ brainpower was more effective than having all the answers. As he progressed through corporate ranks, Ken honed all the disciplines that are hallmarks of a Multiplier. Today, whether he’s freeing executives to have a vigorous debate or cultivating hidden talent, Ken inspires thousands of employees. The result is a world-class corporate university that fosters a culture of continuous learning."

We interviewed Mr. Fenoglio to learn more about how he became a Multiplier leader. This blog post shares his perspective on how he got there and how he views leadership.

Ken's Interview

On Leadership

At its core, leadership is about building the right team (selection is key), setting the vision and getting buy in, and accomplishing the mission.

I believe there are 5 tenants in leadership:

  1. Character - people want to know that there is a higher purpose and that they are working for people with character.

  2. Getting results - you have to bring it.

  3. Personal capability - you have to be good at something.

  4. Great interpersonal skills - finding out what makes people tick and having a good understanding of people.

  5. Leading change - this is the hardest because the world isn't stable.

There are some nuances to this last one. First, you have to know what is changing. You, as the leader, must have a vision for what the next domain is. Second, people don't want change - resistance is absolute. You have to be the one who says, “This change is good, let me show you the way.” The hardest thing is understanding why they resist and how to help them find their path through it. Once you help them see why this change is important, you then have to help people step to the plate and make the change. Sometimes, even if people can see the vision of the future, they just can’t make the change on their own.

Micromanagers drive people out of the house. They get leading and managing mixed up. We need great leaders who inspire and motivate the team.
— Ken Fenoglio

On Using Others at their Highest Level of Contribution

I think that everyone has a gift. Finding people a job that fits their success is critical – even if it means they have to leave the business. We were blessed with some many options to find a place for them where they will be highly successful.

The joy of achievement: We all want to contribute to something somewhere. If you find out what it is that they like to do and they have fun doing it, they will be highly motivated.

I despise micromanagement. It kills the human spirit. Micromanagers drive people out of the house. They get leading and managing mixed up. We need great leaders who inspire and motivate the team. Your people have to connect how their work fits the mission and the higher purpose; that is when you capture their hearts. This is one of the biggest challenges of the leader.

You don't have a clue of what's going on unless you manage by walking around. You need to find out what your team really enjoys.

On Identifying and Providing Growth Opportunities

I look for growth opportunities for others, and I encourage movement outside the group. We look carefully at each person’s individual development plan and ask: How you are doing and what you could be doing on the job? How is your career? Is this what you want to be doing? What is the next big move?

Often people leave on a promotion! And they come back to my team on a promotion. At AT&T University, we have a lot of people who like to teach - so we would help them find different places within the team where they could teach. The hard thing about this is the people who want to stay in the University, but there are fewer opportunities, so they have to move laterally. Sometimes people aren't willing to do this. So, you have to have an honest conversation and help them see the path - the realities.

As the leader, you have to have the tough conversation before you have the pleasant conversations. It’s likely that they don't want to hear it. But over time, the following conversations get a little bit better and they start to see what you are saying. Time and experience help them round the table - they can take responsibilities for their actions. You can't just tell them, they have to own it. During these conversations, you are working towards them owning it. You have to help them see what they control and show them the choices they have.

Command and control is dead: We are moving towards world where people want to work for purpose and inspiration, not command.
— Ken Fenoglio

On Creating an Environment that Requires People’s Best Thinking and Work

The team has to feel like they are in charge and that they own the quality of the decision and the quality of the execution. When you tell everyone how it’s going to go, you don't get the team’s full power and intelligence. I have found it is best if you frame the situation, explain why, and give them the what’s and the how’s.

So many leaders don't go past telling people why, what, and how. The leader needs to be assertive (right in the middle of passive and aggressive). When they understand they own it, they can finally give their best. This balance enables the team's talents – especially when working with aggressive team members. I don't need dominators on the team, what I need are people who work together. If a team member can't get the power of their peers, they’re not going to be a good fit. A leader has to learn how to help the people that they work with.

Command and control is dead: We are moving towards world where people want to work for purpose and inspiration, not command.

On Handing Ownership Over to Others

The conversation about ownership is, “What is the best home for this work and why?”

The team needs to come together and answer: “What are the objectives, success metrics, milestones, and completion criteria?” I have learned this lesson the hard way. This is how they will own it. When it’s not done this way, not only will they not own it, they might even sabotage the project.

For example, I was on a staff and we set objectives for new services and products. We had a beautifully designed service, and we worked out all the details and handed it off to another team. We had given them the perfect program – it was a wonderful offering. But after we handed it off, they completely re-did it. They didn't understand what the shareholders wanted and ultimately, they re-did the program in a way that value was lost.

If we had talked with them, and co-created with them (they were the field operators) they would have helped us create a wonderful solution.