Grit: Everyone must deal with adversity. If you look at the past three years, leaders faced a tragic global pandemic and there were massive changes to the U.S. workforce including the Great Resignation. There are currently persistent issues with inflation, and now we face unsteadiness within the global banking system. None of this is easy for leaders.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Tal Lee Anderman.

Tal Lee Anderman is the Chief Talent Officer for Alpine Investors, a people-driven private equity firm that is a Certified B Corporation committed to building enduring businesses.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

The most exciting area of my life right now is settling into the role of Chief Talent Officer (CTO) at Alpine Investors, a private equity firm whose people-driven philosophy for investing in and growing companies has enabled it to become one of the first PE firms to achieve B-Corp status.

I’ve been with Alpine for more than three years, most recently serving as VP of Talent and leading Alpine’s signature PeopleFirst Leadership Program that helps cultivate high-engagement, high-performance teams across Alpine and Alpine’s portfolio. My past roles involved varying degrees of day-to-day execution, while my new role is about setting Alpine’s broader talent vision and strategy, while also overseeing the executive recruiting, leadership development and culture initiatives across Alpine’s portfolio companies. There’s some adjustment to that, but it’s a welcome challenge, and it firmly aligns my personal passion for making a positive impact on people’s lives at scale with what I’m doing professionally. I’m extremely lucky to have that alignment.

Alpine, because of its thesis that better teams and workplaces lead to better business results as well as a positive impact on society, is unique for its industry and we’re starting to get recognized for it. Earlier this year, Alpine was named to Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies list — which is unheard of for a private equity firm — and that’s because of Alpine’s approach to and our deep investment in people and culture. I get to be right at the center of this work, and I couldn’t be more excited or grateful.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

The most influential leader in my life is author and professor Brené Brown. Her concept of leading with vulnerability is core to my leadership approach. All of us face challenges and our own insecurities. Everyone struggles in their own unique way, even if it’s not readily apparent. Each person has a story — a “why.”

Courageously telling the story of who you are with your whole heart, as Brené regularly states, is a better way to lead than pretending to be perfect. It gives others permission to accept their own imperfections and struggles, and to show up authentically themselves. From this place, true connection happens and I’ve seen this leadership approach deliver better results and happier, more engaged people and teams. Brené Brown has helped me lead more with my own story, too, which is an unusual one for a private equity executive.

My professional journey actually began as a ballet dancer. I started my ballet training at 4 years old, and during college I was accepted to the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater pre-professional program. I dropped out of college to dance with them full-time. That experience was very challenging, and eventually I fell out of love with dance. So, I went back to college and studied sustainable development as I’d always known I wanted to make a positive impact on the world. After graduating, I moved to rural India to conduct research for a non-profit, driving a motorcycle between rural villages as I helped rural farmers adapt to a changing climate and develop economically.

I loved this work, but still didn’t feel like I was having enough of an impact. I explored doctoral programs and law school, and ultimately went back to school to get my MBA from the Stanford Graduate of Business. There I fell in love with human development and executive coaching. I saw the impact happen before my eyes as people grew as leaders. I knew that if I could help people become better versions of themselves, they would have a positive impact on their teams and family, and eventually on their community and the world. I joined a coaching startup called BetterUp, and then eventually came to Alpine in 2020. While I was hesitant at first to join a private equity firm, the industry has grown exponentially in recent decades and, with that, so has its impact, scale, and vast opportunities to do good.

My path to Alpine was a different one, and it reminds me that the more I can be seen and truly known — imperfections and all — the more I can help others also feel seen and able to bring their full selves to work.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

While there’s not a specific anecdote that stands out more than others, I can certainly say one of my biggest challenges is knowing when to sit back and listen, versus when to lean in and make decisions. There’s a time for both and being mindful about what role I need to play is often on my mind.

For example, recruiting is now part of my purview as CTO, but I’m not a recruiter. Since my background is in developing talent, recruiting is an area where I’m primarily listening and learning. What I know doesn’t work is beginning a new role like a bull in a china shop; throwing things around and making decisions and changes without having listened extensively. That creates chaos, fear, and overall turmoil. That’s not what I’m about, and it’s not what Alpine’s about.

What we are about, however, is making thoughtful, informed changes after taking the time to build a comprehensive view of the needs of the business, its team and its culture. Alpine brings its own management team into every platform investment we make. We’re very transparent about that in the process of buying companies. Changing management teams and building strong, thriving cultures is very hard to do and requires an immense amount of trust. It’s an approach few other firms try, but we’re quite adept in this area because we make sure to first listen and learn before deciding or changing things. So, figuring out when to shift gears and make tough decisions that do bring changes, and doing that in the right way, is extremely important.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

The first thing I think of is the player-coach relationship. A good manager is the coach, and a lot of coaching is supporting and cheering on the players while providing cover for them to learn, make mistakes and grow. Historically, even in management roles, I liked to build trust with my teams by jumping in, rolling up my sleeves, and doing the day-to-day work — being in the game with the players. No matter what my role is, I never want to reach a point where I’m above the work itself. Plus, I enjoy the work. It’s what got me here, and my instinct is always to dive in.

What the team needs from me today, though, is to stay off the field when the game is being played, so I can be an effective coach. I need to see the bigger picture — to be up in the stands where I can see the whole field. Only then can I give the best guidance and make the most informed decisions for the benefit of the team. Each minute I spend on the field detracts from that, so I need to be extremely selective about when I do the work itself, versus empowering others to lead. That means really trusting my team and leading by example.

There are of course different forms of leadership, and as my career and the demands of my job have evolved, I’ve needed to bring in different leadership styles. I need to be constantly adapting to meet the moment and best support my team.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

I’ve always been a perfectionist– that’s the ballerina in me. But what’s become clearer with each passing year is that being perfect isn’t the most useful or valuable thing for me, personally or professionally. Perfect is the enemy of the good, as they say.

Whether it’s making sure my bed is made, the dishes are clean, and nothing is out of place every time I leave my house, or editing every email or session agenda that comes across my desk, I’m driven to be perfect.

The problem is that there are plenty of costs (hidden and not so hidden) in doing so. There’s of course the anguish, because nobody can ever achieve perfection, but it also can lead to instances of micromanaging that aren’t a good use of anyone’s time. I’ve been guilty of that. Learning how to sometimes let go of my own personal definition of success and let each person bring their own voice and style often leads to more growth for my teams in the long-term, and the result is usually pretty great, too.

Given that I’m currently learning how to stay in the stands rather than immediately rush the field whenever something goes wrong, I must trust the players — my players — more, and refrain from jumping in unless they truly need me.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

I’ve always been that friend that others call when they need help processing the difficult events of life. I’m a natural listener and problem-solver, and all I’ve ever wanted to do is leave the world a better place. That’s an element of my friendships that I’ve enjoyed since childhood and, ultimately, I recognize that was a big reason I got into coaching and leadership development. What I hadn’t thought about until stepping into the CTO role was how that same trait is also my superpower when working with CEOs and management teams.

It’s typical for me to get pulled aside by members of senior management — both within Alpine and across our portfolio — to be a listening ear and a thought partner, providing them with a safe space to process whatever they’re going through on a given day. Sometimes that involves difficult decisions they must make about a direct report or business outcome. Sometimes that involves helping them process the loss of a pet, or illness of a loved one. Being somewhere people can process the many challenges of both personal and professional life is personally very fulfilling for me. Creating that safe space also, I hope, helps people be more of their authentic self at work.

I am proud that this is an area I can add value in professional settings, not just for friends and family. I’d encourage all my fellow helpers or empathy out there — you know who you are — to bring this part of yourself to your work, too. It is immensely valuable and incredibly needed.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

Many are letting go of the classic Henry Ford (brilliant as he was) command-and-control, top-down management approach where leaders are supposed to have all the answers, and others are simply supposed to carry out those strategies. Most people don’t want to work in that kind of environment, and it leaves a lot of great ideas — needle-moving innovation — out of the conversation.

A better leadership style that delivers greater value for organizations is one that is more collaborative and ensures that all voices — across tenure, role, professional background and beyond — have a seat at the table. It’s about providing a safe space to find answers together. There are of course situations where a leader must provide the answer, but I believe the most effective leaders are those who bring out the best in their teams and solicit ideas from every part of an organization.

As someone with a background in the executive coaching space, asking questions and listening is a key strength to achieve this. And, I would say that these skills are all teachable. Anyone who is open-minded enough to work with an executive coach to develop coaching skills is in a prime position to succeed.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

Don’t feel like you need to be like everyone else. Figure out what style of leadership feels natural to you, and then lead with that. You will have to grow and develop new skills — managing is hard — but starting from an authentic place, rather than what you think a manager “should” do is the surest way to succeed.

It’s common for new leaders to feel varying degrees of imposter syndrome. That’s natural for anyone moving beyond their comfort zone and taking on unfamiliar responsibilities. Sometimes there will be growing pains, too. But don’t give in by completely changing your behavior to become someone or something that you’re not, just because you believe other leaders you’ve seen fit a particular mold or have walked a different, more conventional path. It’s very important to stay true to yourself.

My path to leadership is different, sure. At the same time, I know when I have something important to say, I say it rather than wondering if what I’m saying is “right” or worrying about how unconventional my path to getting here was.

Above all, the things that happen prior to becoming a leader all occur for a reason. The more that new leaders can draw on their experiences to bring something new to the table, the more value they’ll be adding.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

Everything we do at Alpine stems from our approach to hiring and developing leaders. We hire people for the attributes we know will help them succeed, and then teach them the core skills of their job if they don’t already have them. That’s to say, we do like a track record of experience — that’s helpful in the short-term. But we’re looking at a much longer arc when interviewing. We view attributes as a better indicator of future success than a person’s past track record. So, we do a lot of thinking around what attributes, or traits, make for effective leaders. We tend to look for these five things:

Grit: Everyone must deal with adversity. If you look at the past three years, leaders faced a tragic global pandemic and there were massive changes to the U.S. workforce including the Great Resignation. There are currently persistent issues with inflation, and now we face unsteadiness within the global banking system. None of this is easy for leaders.

An example that comes to mind within our ecosystem is a leader named Abby Chao, who runs three software companies in our portfolio by striking the perfect balance of being immersed in each business while at the same time remaining very high-level. There was an instance in which, on her first day on the job, she lost her head of sales and had to learn as much about sales as humanly possible in a short period of time. Her concern was that it could become a weakness, but instead made it a real strength for the company as today they’re breaking sales records. A lot went into that, and it ties back to grit.

Growth mindset: This concept comes from Stanford psychologist and author Carol Dweck. In its simplest form, we go through life each day with either a fixed or a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, intelligence and skills are what they are — they can’t be changed. The answers are already in your head, or they’re not. With a growth mindset, one’s abilities can grow and develop, through hard work and outside resources like feedback, new knowledge or mentorship. There are some very smart, gifted and high-performing people who have a fixed mindset, but in the long-term, those with a growth mindset win every time.

We have one CEO, Rachel Braun, who started her career in private equity in South Sudan right at the time of its 2011 independence, worked as an operator multiple times, and even spent time at the venture arm of the CIA. She’s seen more than most. Her growth mindset is her superpower — she takes in information better than most leaders and she is always trying to get to the right answer rather than being right. Having that type of leader sets an infinite ceiling for any company.

Intellectual Curiosity: Businesses exist to serve the ever-changing needs and wants of their customers, and must evolve over time. For any business to succeed in the long-term, it must be guided by a team of people who have a natural curiosity and desire to learn. That gives any business the best chance of staying ahead of the curve — innovating by discovering new things rather than being forced to try and play the role of copycat. The above example regarding growth mindset also applies well to intellectual curiosity. We can teach many things, but it’s very hard to teach an adult to be a lifetime learner.

Emotional Intelligence: To go back to Brené Brown’s work, those who are self-aware are more conscious of their own strengths and weaknesses, and how to effectively interact with those around them. This becomes especially important in developing strategies, solving problems, and building the relationships and culture that are essential to any well-functioning team. When we have portfolio leaders who are self-aware, we know they’re better able to recognize what’s happening inside of them during a tough decision; and where those feelings might cloud or bias their judgement, and then correct for that. We have leaders who understand that everything from their physical attributes, to their role, to their tone of voices can have an impact on their colleagues, and that engaging thoughtfully with all these dynamics are critical to building things like trust and psychological safety.

Radical candor and clear communication: “Clear is kind” is a mantra I’ve used throughout my life. While candor can be scary, being completely transparent with where you and your team stands, including giving and receiving feedback, helps people know where they need to improve, so that they can. It creates so much more trust, too. Since people don’t need to waste time guessing or engaging in passive aggressive or manipulative behavior to get their needs met, or to get ahead. The more radical candor is modeled by those in leadership, the faster a culture can adopt this leadership trait and everyone can grow and develop, together. Of course, some leaders may fail to incorporate emotional intelligence or empathy into candor, but that’s why we look for candor as well as high EQ leaders.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

I want to leave the world a better place than I found it, and that philosophy extends to each day of my life. I try my best to make the most of my abilities and my position to create positive impact while being a force for good within the world. That’s why I do what I do, and it’s great to have alignment between what I’m passionate about and what I do professionally. That alignment, without a doubt helps me approach each day enthusiastically and that drives better results.

Drilling down on that a little bit, I lead talent for a private equity firm that employs more than 22,000 total employees across its portfolio companies. I’m incredibly well-situated to make an impact at scale and we’ve delivered tangible results.

One of the things I’m most passionate about is helping to diversify the workforce of the future and specifically the ranks of upper management to account for structural inequities within our society. There are many very deliberate initiatives we have underway at Alpine that I’ve gotten to play a significant role in, including a program called CEO in Training (CIT) — where we hire MBAs, train them, and put them in CEO or executive-level positions with an extensive support system. This past year’s CIT class was made up of 72% individuals who identify as women, BIPOC or LGBTQ+. There are countless other examples, too, all along the lines of the work we’re doing to further diversity, equity and inclusion.

Each day I get to help a diverse and growing community of leaders become their best selves while inspiring and developing others to do the same. I’m happy to be part of that masterpiece.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

It circles back to the John Wooden quote. There’s a huge problem in this country relating to engagement in the workplace. Gallup recently reported that only a third of people like their job and feel engaged, and for most people, that’s most of their life. That’s just plain terrible if we’re being honest.

I’m trying to help build and scale successful and enduring businesses by creating a more purpose-driven workforce where people can thrive because they like what they do, they understand how their work fits into the bigger picture, and they can bring their full, authentic self to that work. People who are engaged and feel valued are going to build better businesses, and they’ll be better partners, friends, and parents. They’ll also contribute to the communities around them in more engaged and positive ways because careers are often the foundation of overall wellbeing.

If we can effectively do that and demonstrate to the market that this is how business can and should work, the private equity industry (and perhaps industry at large) will have to follow. Creating more diverse, purpose-driven workforces where people can thrive? I will be happy to have that as my legacy as a leader.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

Anyone who is interested in connecting with me can find me on LinkedIn:

Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!