I had the pleasure of interviewing Brian Haw and he’s the Associate Director of Data Center Operations. For the past nine years, he’s had the pleasure of working for AT&T. During his career, he’s had the opportunity to play an integral role in molding new managers in reaching their highest potential and he considers this to be one of his biggest achievements.
What is your “backstory”?
I began my career with a phone company in my home state of Maryland. I spent 11 years as a technician while earning a number of degrees, including a Doctorate in international business. This experience led to a position with AT&T, allowing me to break into the management ranks and get various opportunities, ranging from international work to a role as a Chief of Staff. Currently, I am in a mobility data center operations role for the west region of the country — and am very proud of the work of our team.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Something that I will never forget about my current role is the people’s impact — both the knowledge I’ve received as well as the knowledge I have been able to share with others. I’ve learned a great deal and believe the overall experience has been beneficial for all involved as we continue to achieve common goals.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In a word, collaboration. AT&T is very much a teaching and learning environment. We work hard to erode the siloed approach in favor of cultivating synergy. When groups work in unison and cross-pollinate ideas, share lessons learned, alchemize strengths, and whittle goals down in a precise way, then you truly realize “1+1=3”. Only then can the workforce become less of a tool and more of a purpose. To me, this is what differentiates AT&T from the herd.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
I am working for hand in glove with a number of team members, network engineers and other experts on a deep dive to determine which devices, if any, can be decommissioned in our facilities. Removing obsolete equipment, while ensuring zero customer service impact, improves operational efficiencies, saves resources and improves the overall health of the network. An added challenge is the fluid nature of our business, which includes role changes and personnel moves. This is when leadership truly comes into play requiring the marshaling of resources, project focus, and sometimes even unorthodox approaches when the typical flowcharts and swim lanes are no longer aligned. Taking ownership and championing change is a key element for success.
What advice would you give to leaders for how they can help their employees to thrive?
While I do not run the company, I am charged with maintaining the peak efficiency of the west region mobility data centers. I take a somewhat unorthodox approach to leadership in that my belief is centered on the notion that driving maximum efficacy is intertwined with empowering the workforce. If you empower your teams, I believe results and efficiency will follow. For example, I do not consider myself a supervisor in “title.” Even the word itself is counterintuitive to efficiency — “Super’ from the Latin above and “Visor” meaning to see. So quite literally supervisor means to be above someone and looking down on them to inspect for flaws and other inferiorities. It erroneously propagates the fallacious notion that acting in such a manner will increase productivity and morale. Quite the contrary, I believe that the traditional approach creates a chokepoint of efficiency in that the organization is throttled back by a single individual. Arithmetically speaking each person has their own wealth of experience and skillsets, which can be aggregated.
Exponentially, all of these accumulated bits of intelligence can be pooled together and build off each other in a synergistic fashion to enhance an organization. This is in contrast to the knowledge of a single leader. What if the true mark of a leader is to catapult the team to its most upper-echelon level via his/her vision so that the whole group can look up to their success as opposed to a single supervisor looking down on their flaws?
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards, that helped you with your success?
There are three individuals that immediately come to mind given their major impact on my life and career. All three have been unbelievable AT&T leaders providing motivation, leadership, coaching, and opportunities for growth in my career path. Something I’ve experienced with all three is the ability to bridge the gap between manager and leader by taking into account not just the productivity aspect of a role, but more importantly the person behind the badge. This has inspired me to not only deliver the best work I can for the company but also to be the same type of leader for others.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I find that my role with AT&T as a leader and my persona outside the company are constantly building off each other. To put it succinctly, as I mature as a leader at AT&T, I apply those lessons at home and in the community and vice versa. I believe that is why it is so important to mix capitalistic acumen with altruistic focuses. Yes, we are in business to make money, however, that is a small piece of what comprises the societal puzzle in which we all live. While we pursue success, if we choose not to look back to offer a hand to those who are in desperate need, then we must ask ourselves what this is truly all about.
Can you share the top five lessons that you have learned from your experience as a “Black Man In Tech”?
Lesson 1: “Do not rely on skin color as a crutch”
There is a rich tapestry of ethnicities at AT&T. It truly is a microcosm of America and so it would be a mistake to subjugate one’s potential with the notion that skin color should be the hand brake for achieving potential.
Lesson 2: “Empathy is a vital tool”
How each person views reality will be shaped by their unique set of experiences. Get to know the person by discussing those experiences so there is a reference point from which fruitful discussions may be cultivated.
Lesson 3: “Let accomplishments do the talking”
There are untold numbers of reasons why one person may not like another. In some cases, respect may be a missing ingredient. In other words, the underpinnings for a particular perception may be augmented in a positive way if, for instance, an accomplishment does not fit into that existing schema. Stated another way, Person X believes that Person Y will not be a good leader because that group of people are believed to be rude. If Person Y conspicuously shows how positive a leader he/she can be, then Person X’s perception may be disproved and possibly altered.
Lesson 4: “Listen”
Listening is key to personal relationships. If one is willing to listen to someone else regardless of their views, then the person who is talking will feel like they have merit and be more apt to reciprocate and believe the person listening also has merit. But this system breaks down if no one wants to listen and chessman ship takes precedence over learning from one another.
Lesson 5: “Understand the commonalities”
While it is well known that racial groups do tend to have cultural differences, it is also widely accepted that skin color is a poor primary determinant of human behavior. To get groups to homogenize, one should build on what we share in common. In this manner, groups can see each other as more alike than different. In turn, communication will increase, precipitating trust, group forming, collaboration and so on. For example, everyone wants to have their opinion heard, nobody likes harsh criticism, everyone likes positive reinforcement and every culture tends to be family-centric, etc. In the end, we are all human and we should not let small differences drive large schisms between us.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
Perseverance tempered with patience and ambition are vital components on the journey to completing one’s life’s goals. Along the way, inexorably one will be confronted with external doubt and possibly even self-doubt. These can have a harmful effect on motivation to keep moving forward; however, knowing these challenges exist and will come can help one be prepared to overcome them. To that end, my favorite quote is, “A dream realized is fruition of a doubted plan” — I follow this idea to this day and will continue to do so.”
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
I would endeavor to meet with an individual that has a great deal of power over a given population. This person would hold sway over the people with draconian force, instill fear, and would be ripe with the consummate abuse of humanity — in short, a despot. So that leads us to the question of ‘why”? In my mind, the answer is quite simple. If I were to meet with someone I admire, then I serve myself. If I were to meet with essentially an enemy of the people, then I am serving the people. If I sit down with this dictator and begin talking, then this person is no longer attacking the people, but rather sitting down at a table and talking to me engendering the possibility for a more benevolent alternative. How much good can come from having lunch with an object of admiration, while people suffer? In the end, action holds more gravitas then empty words imprisoned in one’s self-interest.