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Courageously Cultivating Relationships with Stanley Chen

Joining a business founded by your parents comes with its own set of obstacles. Stan Chen, now CEO of Telamon, started his tenure at the company knowing people had made assumptions about what his path would look like. While trying to navigate those murky relationships and earn respect, he decided to keep his co-workers at arm’s length. Today, he knows that was a mistake.Courageously Cultivating Relationships with Stanley Chen

In this episode, Stan shares why it’s critical for leaders to cultivate relationships with their people. As an introvert, he often struggled with the idea of being in charge because the stereotypical leader is often portrayed as loud, boisterous, and maybe even a little in-your-face. Over time, Stan realized none of that is necessary. What is, is the ability to create connections with the people on your teams and share parts of your own life in return.

After You Listen:

Key Takeaways:

  • Your team needs to know you as well as you know them, never shy away from cultivating personal relationships in a professional manner
  • Set aside dated archetypes of who makes a good leader and recognize that anyone can be a leader as long as they are willing to stretch themselves
  • If you lead with purpose and intent, people will follow you

Things to listen for:

[01:55] Lightning round with Stan

[06:05] Leading while also cultivating personal relationships

[10:53] The weight of authority

[12:44] Sharing authentically as a leader

[16:26] Advice Stan would give to his younger self

[20:08] Craig’s takeaways

Stan’s Transcript

[00:00:00] Craig P Anderson: Welcome to the Accidental Leader Podcast, the only leadership podcast that shows how today’s successful leaders develop the competence, competence, and calm to lead their team and organization to success. I’m Craig Anderson and my career journey is a tale of accidental leadership. I started out with a degree in English and a growing comic book collection, and my plan was to be a high school teacher, but what we plan and what happens aren’t always the same thing.

A college job turned into a career in education finance. An entry-level in my alma mater became over time increasing leadership roles in Fortune 500 companies, including many national leadership roles. As that chapter closed, I spun off a business from a large operating not-for-profit, and grew that into a successful business that was named a great place to work in Indianapolis.

Over my career, I learned a lot of leadership lessons the hard way I created this podcast so you don’t have. Stanley, welcome to the Accidental Leader Podcast. I’m glad

[00:01:03] Stanley Chen: you’re here today. Thank you, Craig. It’s a pleasure to be here with you

[00:01:07] Craig P Anderson: Stan is the CEO of Telamon And Stan, why don’t you tell us a little bit about Teleman so our listeners have a sense for what your company is and what your company does, and then we’ll dive into the lightning round.

[00:01:18] Stanley Chen: So Teleman. You know, I, I tell people we make the internet work. Uh, so we are kind of like the plumbers behind the scenes, uh, all of the wire line and wireless infrastructure that allows the bits and bytes to go where they need to go. Uh, we build all of that, we design it, uh, we maintain it. We work with companies like at and t and Verizon to make sure it’s all up to date.

And so, yeah, it’s not particularly glamorous, but it pays the bills and it allows us all to do things just like this podcast.

[00:01:45] Craig P Anderson: Absolutely. And over the last three years, you all have become essential. I am sure with,

[00:01:50] Stanley Chen: with Covid, it’s a good business to be

[00:01:53] Craig P Anderson: in. Great. Well, congratulations. Well, let’s dive in to the lightning round.

Are you ready to go fast? I’m, I’m ready to go, . All right. What is the best leadership book you have ever

[00:02:05] Stanley Chen: read? I think for me, the book that jumped out is quiet, the Power of Introverts. So I am a super high introvert, and I think there’s so many conceptions of leadership that are predicated on being an extrovert, and that really gets kind of lionized in terms of what quote unquote good leadership looks like.

And I think that book just does a fantastic job of calling out the strengths of the introvert, and I think. Giving the reader the confidence and the affirmation to say, Hey, look, this is who I am. And there’s, you know, pros and cons to any different personality type. And so how do I lean into the strengths of what an introvert is and utilize that in terms of my role and, and in terms of leadership, it’s

[00:02:46] Craig P Anderson: so interesting that we have this default idea that the leader is the big person yelling and cheering and bringing everybody on.

Yet so many leaders are not that and are still so effective. That’s. Okay. Next question. Who is your leadership crush?

[00:03:01] Stanley Chen: I think these things really for me go hand in hand. One of the people that I just have so much respect for I’ve never met is Tony Dungy. Right. Former former coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

And it goes exactly to what you were just saying as a child growing up, I’m a huge sports fan and, you know, grew up like in the Bobby Knight era at iu. And so like that’s kind of what you saw as this kind of quote unquote great leadership. And he’s, he’s yelling and he’s throwing chairs and whatever the case may.

And frankly even Jean Katie at, at Purdue is, you know, was not necessarily a calm man on the other sideline. But then, you know, along comes Tony Dungy and you could tell he’s determined. He’s committed, he’s principled, but he’s not yelling at people. He’s not in people’s faces. Right. Just this calm. Quiet but confident leadership.

And so just watching him coach to me it was like, Hey, there’s another stereotype there. There’s another archetype I should say that that works, that can be effective. Clearly he had a lot of success and so yeah, it was just a, a joy to be able to kind of watch him lead that team and have the success that he had.


[00:04:04] Craig P Anderson: he’s translated that leadership from the NFL to his own personal charities now and is just really an amazing individual. Great. Okay. And last lightning round question, in 10 words or less, How would you define leadership?

[00:04:19] Stanley Chen: I think leadership is walking down the right path, regardless of who’s behind you.

Again, I just, I think so many times leadership gets misconstrued and tied to popularity, and sometimes there’s overlap between those two, but they’re very different concepts inherently, and I think through, again, either leaders that I look at and respect or the leadership that I try to live out in my own.

It’s really predicated around, hey, you gotta choose the right path and do the right thing. And sometimes a lot of people will follow you and sometimes they won’t. Gosh. And especially in today’s day and age, you try and do the right thing and there’s a lot of times people won’t follow you and you might be on an island, but I think that’s okay.

I think that’s still leadership. And frankly, again, in today’s environment, we probably need that kind of leadership more than ever.

[00:05:07] Craig P Anderson: It’s so interesting you say that. My own coach has been speaking a lot lately about leading by personality or leading from principles. And leading from principles, being the far more enduring, you may not have as many followers, but they will be aligned and supportive, and they will have that loyalty, that personality doesn’t necessarily bring.

[00:05:27] Stanley Chen: And it’s so scary because we all want affirmation, right? And we all want other people to be telling us or encouraging us that, yeah, this, you’re doing the right thing. And again, a lot of times the proxy for that is it might be the number of people who are either following you or aligned with you, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of gray in this world and, and you have to make judgment calls.

And I think it’s our job to make the best judgment call that we can, I think oftentimes in alignment to our principles as you. And then you go from there and you’ll let the chips fall where they may. And you’ve

[00:05:58] Craig P Anderson: been through different leadership roles and have seen that. So tell us what was your very first leadership role?

[00:06:05] Stanley Chen: Yeah, from a professional standpoint. So I started off at Teleman and started as a kind of a bag carrying salesman for one of our small divisions. That was at the time helping large corporations deploy broadband to their remote workforce. So this is in the late nineties. Where working remote was not that common and broadband was not that common.

And the combination of the two was particularly challenging for home-based workers and then grew into a management role in that team. It was a small team. A lot of our employees were call center based, so we were providing both customer care and technical support for these individuals that again, were using broadband at home for the first time ever.

And we were going from dial up to I, SD N to maybe dsl. And so we were providing that level of support. And so that was kind of my. Managerial role, leadership role that I had. When you look

[00:06:54] Craig P Anderson: back at that, how do you rate your performance in that role as a leader for the first time?

[00:06:59] Stanley Chen: If I look back, knowing what I knew at the time, maybe a, a six or a seven outta 10, knowing what I know now, you know, maybe a, a three and you know, I think that’s to be expected, right?

I think we’re supposed to get better and so, you know, yeah. You look back and I wince from, from time to time at some of the decisions I made and mistakes I.

[00:07:21] Craig P Anderson: Can, can you think of one of the best leadership lessons you learned from those early leadership roles that really impacted you?

[00:07:28] Stanley Chen: You know, one of the things that was and is remains to this day, kind of a big challenge for me is the idea of being able to lead and also cultivate personal relationship with the team.

And so I came onto a team, both as a young person, right? I mean, I was at the time, I don’t know, 22, 23, 24, something like that in terms of when I first started in that managerial role. And I would guess at the average age of my team members was 40, maybe mid forties. And so there’s this huge experience gap.

I’m at a family business, so my father’s the C E O. My parents founded the business, so you have that hanging over you a little bit and everyone. Makes assumptions f rightly or wrongly that hey, you know, this guy, maybe he’ll take over one day. And so you have to kind of navigate some of that. And I think in against that backdrop, I am both trying to earn respect and also navigate kind of the, just all these relationships, all these interpersonal relationships.

And it was a fantastic opportunity to cultivate personal relationships. And yet, frankly, my challenge was that I shied away from that as a little bit of a defense mechanism. I had observed my parents building a business. I had observed certain situations where they. Personal relationships with employees and things went south on the business side for one reason or another.

Sometimes through no one’s fault. But then that carries over into the personal relationship. And so it was someone that as a family we might have hung out with regularly to have dinner on the weekends or even vacation together, and then all of a sudden they’re gone. You never see them again. You never hear about them.

You know, as a child that something happened at work and it just kind of destroys that relationship. And so I carried that kind of baggage over experience, or baggage, I suppose, depending on how you look at it, and was trying to be very just professional. And try to have clear lines of demarcation in some of those relationships.

Looking back, it was in my mind to my discredit, I suppose, in terms of navigating that, right? Because I, I think you have to be able to bring whole self to work, and you want your employees to be able to bring whole self. And so by com compartmentalizing the way that I did and even to an a certain extent, the way that I still do today.

I still wrestle with that. You know, you take away part of, uh, the best of what everyone’s bringing to the.

[00:09:38] Craig P Anderson: It’s so interesting, especially from the perspective of coming up through a family business and probably witnessing it more closely then someone in a different role may have to see that impact of the personal relationships.

And I know myself growing up as a leader always thought, well, I don’t wanna be friends with these people because you never know. And it works, as you said, until it doesn’t, and it’s hard to not build those relationships when you work. You spend so much of your time at work and then balancing.

[00:10:05] Stanley Chen: That’s exactly right.

I mean, and again, there’s always pros and cons to any approach. I can tell you that I’ve, I have a 20 year career at this point in time, and so over those 20 years I have been on the side of the spectrum that has been very compartmentalized, very professional. I’ve seen where that’s good. I’ve seen where that’s bad.

And especially here recently, I’d say over the, the past year or two, I. I’ve really been trying to push myself to stretch in the other direction and move to that other end of the spectrum and experiment with some things, right? And try and figure out, okay, what, where is kind of the happy medium? Where you still have appropriate boundaries, of course, but again, where you can bring more of yourself to work and really engage with your team in a more holistic and meaningful way.

[00:10:43] Craig P Anderson: So is the other thing, in that early leadership role, you kind of observed leadership for a while, what surprised you the most about being in charge?

[00:10:53] Stanley Chen: There is a weightiness around being able to have authority. I think people recognize that because there is a lot of gray in the world, there’s a lot of gray decisions that need to be made, and so ultimately someone just has to make a decision.

Different people, reasonable people will disagree on that decision, but everyone kinda understands, look, someone’s gotta make a decision and then we all move forward. It is what it is. And so early on, it was surprising to me that I would end up kind of making these decisions. And in some sense, again, I’m kind of looking around for affirmation because I have no idea.

I’m this kid, right? I know nothing. And yet I have responsibility for some of these decisions that have meaningful implications for our business and for the livelihood of, of kind of this team that’s working. For me and with me, and everyone would kind of buckle up and say, great. So that’s the decision.

And so here we go. And then in hindsight, sometimes you look back and you’re like, well, that was a really bad decision. Sometimes you’d even have kind of postmortems and, and who knows how much kind of hindsight’s 2020. But other people might say, well, yeah, I wasn’t so sure about that. Or, look, I had a concern about this.

And it’s like, well, Why were we not talking about this beforehand? We should have had that conversation. And I think some of that was on me, perhaps not soliciting as much as I could have or should have. But I think part of that is also that, you know, there is kind of a respect for authority and there’s that mantle, right?

You take that on and that’s why they say it’s lonely at the top. And that’s part of the job is that you have to be prepared for that. When you have to take

[00:12:14] Craig P Anderson: that on. The lonely at the top is something I hear from a lot of people that I talk with is just the shock. Weight and loneliness of authority seems really good until you have it , ,

[00:12:27] Stanley Chen: like, like many things in life, right?

Uh, looks exactly looks good from a distance.

[00:12:31] Craig P Anderson: So tell me about your leadership role today. Obviously as c e O of Teleman, that’s a very different level of responsibility. How has that evolved for you now that you’re at this kind of top level of the organiz?

[00:12:44] Stanley Chen: So it, it’s really fascinating for me in terms of trying to cultivate relationship, right?

I mean, I was talking about that as a theme. So we have about 2000 associates globally. The vast majority of those are, well, first of all, the majority of those are outside the US and even within the US The majority of our employees are outside of Indiana, just given the nature of the work that we do. And so it’s hard.

For me to be able to connect with these folks. And we have longtime employees that, some of whom I’ve never seen in person. And so that, that creates challenges. And so one of the things that, that I try to navigate is that when I do have those opportunities, and so I’ll go out into the field and meet with our teams, or we’ll do different town halls or q and As or whatever.

It’s, how do I strike that right balance of being able to share authentically from myself. Not only here’s what’s going on in the business, generally, people are interested in that, but also let me share about myself personally so that we can connect. I mean here, here’s who I am, here’s what’s going on in my life, as well as learning about you.

Personally, right? Learning about your spouse and your kids and your hobby. And we have people that are big into sports or their kids are playing sports. We have people that have love to hunt or love to fish or, or whatever the case may be. And so being able to adapt to some of those things and find ways to make a, an authentic and human connection in, in a limited window with limited f.

And so I think that is, again, it’s something that I’m still learning, still working on, but I think something that’s so important for us to be able to take advantage of these because we live in an increasingly remote and mobile world, right? That’s just, especially given the events of the past couple years, that’s where we’re headed.

And so those are muscles I think that we all need to be able to, to continue to

[00:14:25] Craig P Anderson: build. As you build those relationships, probably five minutes at a time with your associates, how does that make you a better leader?

[00:14:33] Stanley Chen: I think one of the things that, and I’ve gotten some encouragement in coaching around this as I’ve thought through this, is again, it’s, it might be a little more challenging for me to be able to absorb and retain kind of information on.

Call it 500 people that I might be able to talk to in any given year, but they also want to hear from me. And so I, I would say that in that balance, I’ve been shifting again along this spectrum where it’s probably a little bit more of me sharing than me asking. As an introvert, my, my safe space is to ask you questions and to learn about you.

I find that fascinating. Yet one of the things that I’ve been encouraged to do is to be able to share more of me so that they can learn about me, they can hear from me, and, and it feels. I don’t know, some combination of self-absorbed and arrogant and like, well, yeah, like who, who cares about like what’s on my head or what I’m thinking about?

But actually people do care. And again, I have a role as the CEO of the organization. People care about what I’m thinking about and where I see the business going. And so I think that’s been a development area for me. A, again, as, as an introvert is to say, Hey, I, I need to be, become more and more comfortable in terms of just proactively sharing what’s going on inside my head.

Become a little bit of an external processor in that sense. Culturally, frankly, there there are challenges as well. Just growing up as a Chinese American, my parents are both first generation Chinese immigrants. Right. Cultural. I think there’s also a lot of implications around, yeah. Talk that openly and you don’t just go and kind of blab about whatever.

That’s kinda what it feels like to me from time to time, and yet if that’s helpful to the team to be able to share more of that, then I need to be able to put that tool in my toolbox so that I can use it at the appropriate time.

[00:16:14] Craig P Anderson: You think back even 30 years, 20 years ago, that was just not how one led as a C E O.

This was never even a discussion. How do I get more open with my employees? And now it’s almost expected, right? That’s right. So this is my favorite part. We’re gonna give you a time machine. You can pick HG Wells time machine, whatever time machine you like to picture when you travel in time, go back to that 22 year old first time.

With your perspective today, what one piece of advice would you give him that would help him the most?

[00:16:48] Stanley Chen: My advice to him is that, and especially kind of knowing this guy the way that I do, we’ve gotta, we’ve gotta be able to invest more in people. It’s gotta be more about people and more about the relationships.

And it’s interesting because I think through that, and especially given what I just had shared with you in terms of my definition of leadership, right, the, my definition of leadership was, you know, kind of do the right thing, go down the right path, regardless in some sense of the people, right? Regardless of who’s following you.

And I think that’s right. It certainly feels consistent for me. And yet at the same time, That’s not meant to be dismissive of people. I think there’s a both and there where you’re trying to focus on doing the right things and again, kind of living out your princip. But in order to do that, in order to have to be a force multiplier in terms of whatever this right thing is, whatever these hopefully good principles are, you have to be able to engage with the people around you.

And so I very much come from like, like many people, a high task orientation. And, uh, I was, I was just joking with a colleague yesterday talking about some of the interactions in the workplace, likening it to a marriage. You know, the the saying is, Hey, I, I told you I loved you, and if that changes, I’ll let you know.

Right. Sort of thing. And that’s, again, that’s consistent with my personality and probably maybe useful in, in certain situations, but not useful in all situations. Right. And so for me, it’s how do I become better, well-rounded around that so that you can engage with people. Cultivate those relationships and not really, you know, kind of shift for me from protecting myself, protecting from, Hey, if this thing goes south, I don’t wanna have to like then also cut off sever this personal relationship.

It’s no, how do I cultivate some of those personal relationships so that if something does go south, You have the strength of the personal relationship to kind of buffer things to say, Hey, look, on the business side, this is not working out the way that you and I thought it was gonna work out, but gosh, hopefully we have enough of a personal relationship that I trust you and you trust me, and you can maintain that to the best degree possible.

You probably still not hanging out regularly, but it begins to hopefully address and dispel some of the lies and the stories that we make up in our. When things go south because you have those personal relationships. And so I think that’s, like I said, I’ve, I’ve started to work on that here recently. I wish I had started working on that 20 years ago.


[00:19:12] Craig P Anderson: such an evolution from what you talked about back when you were young, seeing those relationships fall apart and now building strong relationships that can kind of last through the difficult times. And as much as I think you’d like to say, well, the, these last three years have been particularly challenging, which they have been, but it’s always challenging times when you’re in leadership.

growth presents its challenges just as much as loss presents. Its challenges.

[00:19:37] Stanley Chen: That’s how we learn. That’s how we get.

[00:19:39] Craig P Anderson: Well, Stan, thank you so much for being on The Accidental Leader Podcast. If people want to learn more about Teleman or you, what’s the best place for them to go to, to learn?

[00:19:48] Stanley Chen: Just learning about the company.

Of course, on our website, we’re on kind of all, all the different types of social media. Professionally, you know, LinkedIn is, is probably the first place to, to learn more about us, and by all means, people should, should reach out to me so we can get ’em connected to the right part of the organization. I’m always happy, again, trying to build some muscles, so always happy to have coffee with folks and have a conversation as always

[00:20:08] Craig P Anderson: here on the accidental.

I like to give you three takeaways from each interview, and I frame those in the leadership competencies of confidence, competence, and calm. And as I think about my conversation with Stan today, there are some great examples of all three when we think about confidence. Stan said, walk down the path.

Regardless of who is behind you, it’s really about leading with that purpose and intent. And. People will follow you when you lead from that and that leadership, and they will stay with you through that kind of leadership. Now, you may lose some people along the way, but you have to have the confidence that you are going down the right path knowing that you will attract those people who to the mission, vision, and purpose that you’re laying out around the area of competence.

He talked about the book he read, quiet, the Power of Introverts. He embraced the fact that he was an introvert and found a way to be a successful leader, being who he is. Competence comes from accepting who you are and being comfortable with who you are, and then finding a way to lead from yourself.

So it was a great example. And then the last around the area of calm, he talked about in, in the past when he saw his father leading a company and when some personal relationships came to a close. He invested in people and relationships because that is how you bridge the difficult times. And it was such a great example to keep yourself calm by knowing you’ve surrounded yourself with good people, building those strong relationships, which are the ties that bind through difficult times.

So what a great interview with Stand Today. Thank you for being on. Are you an accidental leader looking to level up? A great place to start is by leading better. Go to clear path meetings and download my 10 rules for better meetings. Your team will thank you because suddenly those meetings that they dread becomes meetings that they will embrace and that will get done quickly and stay focused.

So thanks for listening. And remember, leaders aren’t born, they’re made, and you can go from the accidental leader to the greatest of all time here. It just takes building up your confidence, competence, and calm. See you next time on The Accidental Leader Podcast.