Brian Finley – Director EMEA Sales at Palo Alto Networks

“Celebrate the successes and the failures”

Brian Finley is a leader who is very highly regarded by the people with whom he works. He gives them freedom, understands the importance of challenging them, and encourages creativity. And vice versa, his team sees him as an inspiring leader for whom they are willing to go that extra mile, which, in turn, means they surpass themselves. Not only does this bring about astonishing results, it has also lead to a nomination for the title, Multiplier of the Year.

If you had met Finley when he was a student and told him that one day he would be managing large teams, he probably would have been surprised. As a psychology student, Finley had no idea which direction he would take once his studies were over. However, after graduation, he met an acquaintance who worked at Dell, and thanks to him, Finley began work within one of the organization’s sales teams. Although the work involved was not directly connected to what he had studied, Finley felt completely at home. In fact, it proved to be a job full of opportunities. “IT was a rapidly-growing business, and I was fortunate enough to be work for leaders who spotted my talent and had enough confidence in me to give me new challenges. Looking back on it now, they were Multipliers themselves; they knew to stretch and challenge me.”

Studies and observations
Finley quickly progressed within the organization to become a Sales leader and eventually into Sales Operations and decided, after ten years, that it was time to spread his wings. He was offered a Sales Director’s position in the Netherlands, and exchanged his hometown of Austin for Amsterdam. Although things were going well for him in this role, he was hit by a ‘is-this-it?’ feeling after five years. “I decided to take a six-month sabbatical to think about what I wanted to do. During that time, I spoke with all kinds of people about leadership and the best way to run a company. Eventually, I ended up at THNK – School of Creative Leadership where I joined the Executive Leadership Program.” Those six months turned into two years, during which he found himself surrounded by inspiring teachers and classmates. Finley used that time not only to study, but also to hold talks with all manner of leaders to examine their way of leadership and discover what direction he wanted to head in. “I’m glad that I took those two years off. Plenty of people postpone that until the end of their careers, yet I feel that I still have plenty of time now to realize the benefits of what I have learned.”

Working together toward the same goal
After he completed his course, Finley faced a new challenge: growing the EMEA inside sales team of a cybersecurity organization, Palo Alto Networks. He saw it as his mission to attract the best people who enjoy stretching and challenging not only themselves but also each other. “During interviews, I  share our core values and how we work. Because I think that not only do you, as an organization, decide whether a candidate fits with the company, but that the candidate themselves also chooses for the organization.” The manner in which Finley leads his team is an innovative one. He is not sold on the concept of hierarchy decision making, so he works with alternating teams on various projects. “Each team consists of a  leader and multiple advisors . As there are several projects taking place at the same time, you could be a project leader in one and an advisors in another. Within the teams, everyone is equally responsible for achieving the goals, so if it looks like the project leader is taking things in the wrong direction, the team is there to correct the course to success. The beauty of this arrangement is that everyone shares their expertise and that team members can give each other constant feedback, which creates this sense of: ‘Together, we will achieve this goal’. A prerequisite for this process is that people work in a safe environment, one where they dare to ask questions and take risks, because only then can they surpass themselves. Daring to make mistakes is an important part of that process. “Anyone who has achieved something great has faced setbacks prior to their success, and has learned from those experiences. The trick is to be able to recover successfully, which is only possible if you, as a leader, offer your support. That’s why I share the successes and the failures: we win together and we lose together. We celebrate mistakes by discussing what went wrong and what we can do to avoid repeating the same mistakes again. We learn from the experience and it helps us grow.”

Formulating the right question
A valuable lesson that Finley learned while on the Creative Leadership course – and one that he puts into practice a great deal now – is asking questions. “Asking others for help is something that must not  take for granted, especially when you’re a leader. People often think they have to find the answers themselves. But that’s wrong, because asking for help gives you so much, both on a personal and a professional level. And suprisingly while people often find it difficult to ask for help, others are generally more than happy to give it.” According to Finley, asking questions in a random fashion, however, is not the way to go; rather, you should consider carefully what you want to know and how you should formulate your question so that it leads to the answer.

Finley sometimes organizes sessions in which he poses a question to his teams. Then, everyone is divided into groups of three, and the groups are given ten minutes to develop a concept. Once they have done so, each group receives feedback and is then shuffled around to create new groups of three, where they can work on their combined feedback and take the initial ideas from the first round to the next level. “The great thing is that every time I work with a group of people and pose a question to them, they come back with a response that is so much richer than I could have imagined myself as they have been able to look at all the advantages and disadvantages from different angles of expertise and perspectives. Therefore, it’s so important, as a leader, to realize that you are surrounded by people with great knowledge and skills, and to realize just how much can be achieved because of this. Challenge them and you’ll find out how far you can go together.”

About Brian Finley
Brian Finley is Director EMEA Inside Sales at Palo Alto Networks, a position he has held for the past two years. In addition to this, Finley also coaches at THNK – School of Creative Leadership, where he himself followed the Executive Leadership Program. Before he started this course, Finley spent several years working for Dell, where he held various positions, including (among others) Director Distribution and Director Sales Benelux in the Netherlands, and (among others) Sr. Project Leader and Sr. Sales Operations Leader in the United States.

What is a Multiplier?
Multipliers are leaders who use their knowledge and insights to enhance the intelligence and capabilities of their staff. When they walk into a room, new ideas are created and problems are solved. The Multiplier’s concept is a leadership concept that is based on Liz Wiseman’s book Multipliers, how the best leaders make everyone smarter. More information about Multipliers and the Multiplier of the Year award is available at multiplieroftheyear.nl.


Nederlands interview

Gezien het internationale karakter van de organisatie waar Brian werkt, hebben we er voor gekozen een Engelstalig interview te plaatsen. Klik hier voor de Nederlandse versie.

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