Aman explains why the mango tree bends on ‘Imperfect Leaders’ podcast

Taking leadership to new heights

Aman Bhutani, CEO of GoDaddy, recently sat down with Jeffrey Cohn for an episode of Imperfect Leaders to discuss his vision for leadership.

Listen wherever you get your podcasts. The full transcript is below.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability and clarity.

Transcript

Jeffrey

Welcome everyone to Imperfect Leaders.

We invite the country’s most powerful leaders and ask them to be totally vulnerable and share their wisdom, their life lessons, and their practical advice. If you want to join our community of Imperfect Leaders and are truly committed to continuously leveling up your leadership skills, check us out at www.imperfectleaders.com. Until then, sit back and enjoy today’s show. 

GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani
Aman Bhutani, GoDaddy CEO

Today’s guest, Aman Bhutani, is one of the most respected leaders in the country. He’s the CEO of a company called GoDaddy that’s trusted by over 20 million entrepreneurs around the world and gives them all the tools and services they need to grow their business.

Aman has created an outstanding culture at GoDaddy that is truly mission-driven, and helps every single person reach their full leadership potential. I can’t wait for you to hear Aman’s powerful story and leadership development journey. He’s truly one of the most authentic and impactful leaders that I’ve ever met. So, sit back and enjoy today’s show. 

Aman   

So I think all leaders, in fact, all employees, working with GoDaddy inherently feel the importance of our mission as a company. That mission is to bring opportunity [and] make it more inclusive for all. And because we work with such small businesses, that we call micro-businesses, you really make a difference in local communities.

Every person at GoDaddy has a story about somebody that GoDaddy has helped, and not one story but ten. I have so many stories of talking to customers directly. You really feel a sense of accomplishment and sort of meaning in the work you do, like the sense of purpose in our company is strong.

So anyone working at GoDaddy, first and foremost, has to be completely in love with the idea that the world we want to live in is one where lots and lots of people can bring their ideas to the table and be successful doing that.

And in that world, the fact [is] that millions of our customers are able to bring their ideas forward. That leads to a rich world because I can do what I do well and have the benefit of you doing what you do well. So I think coming into the company, you have to be excited about that. Beyond that, I think what we’re looking at is when you are earlier in your career, in your leadership career, we want you to be very, very good at the function that you’re trying to be good at. And the idea there, that I rely on most, is the idea that the Japanese call a shokunin — which is being a craftsman. The goal there is to come in every day and be better than yesterday. You have to be better at your craft every day. And it only takes five seconds every evening. But it’s not hard to stop and just think: Out of all the things I did today, could I have done one a little bit better?

Jeffrey   

And do you still do that? I mean, even as a big powerful CEO, do you still do that every single day of your life? 

Aman   

I don’t even have to think about it. It happens automatically. I don’t do it a single time a day. I do it dozens of times a day. I’ve been doing this for so many years. The minute I say something or do something that I’m less than satisfied with five minutes later, a mental note gets pushed in my mind. And then the next time I have to do it, I know I have to do it better because it’s that 1% improvement of everything — the aggregation of those small gains that leads to incredible outcomes, right? Whether it’s in marketing, product, research or any of our functions. So in the early part of your leadership journey, I always encourage leaders to focus on improving their function because expertise is really, really important. Talent is fantastic [when] developing skill, and experience is really important.

But as you get into the more senior levels of leadership, then I really tend to focus on how do you build expertise in multiple areas. How do you develop followership?

Great breakthroughs are, more often, coming today because of different skill sets coming together and inventing something. For example, when I was a child and I grew up in India, you studied physics or you studied biology or computer sciences. Well, one of my good friends, his daughter is studying journalism and data science. I looked at that and I was like, that wasn’t even a thing 30-40 years ago. You couldn’t study those two things together. Nobody would have thought that journalism and data science would be something people study together. But of course, it’s true. 

Jeffrey   

And what are the benefits of that?

Aman   

Because when those two opposing ideas make sense in your head, you’re able to come up with new ideas using the power of both fields. One of the biggest things that has helped me be successful is that I grew up in technology, and then product. But then I understood marketing and finance and had an opportunity to dig deep into those areas to really learn enough about them to be able to bring new solutions to the table. Right? We were able to do deals, we were able to create new products, [create] new ways of working — because we had a view into how somebody else thought about the constraints on their side. That’s been really liberating for somebody like me, and definitely a part of my success, and that’s what I try to replicate with our senior leaders — to remind them that it’s great that they have the expertise, but if they don’t lean into understanding other areas, they are not going to be able to come up with the most innovative solutions.  

Jeffrey   

So how then did you end up in the United States and what city were you in? And what did you think? It must have been a lot different from where you grew up? 

Aman   

So coming to the U.S., it wasn’t that much of a change for me because I’d actually been to the U.S. many, many times. But what attracted me to the U.S. is that I was working in the tech field in India, went to business school, and heard of Silicon Valley from everybody. Honestly, I just wanted to drive down the 101 and see the logos, and see what was happening in the world of tech. And I did do that. I still remember coming to New York, which is where my brother was, and flying to San Francisco for an interview. [I remember] doing the interview, it went well, and then renting a Suzuki Swift and driving down Highway 101 — just to see all the logos and see what people talked about. And I still remember. It’s such a light car that every time a truck went next to me, the whole car shook. And I remember I couldn’t really afford to get the car that was nicer, so it was all I was gonna have that day.

Jeffrey   

I remember I graduated from Vanderbilt and I didn’t know what I wanted to do and didn’t really have a job. So I applied to some business schools and I was so surprised that I actually got in without any work experience. I got into Tulane and I said, “Well, okay, I’ll just go to New Orleans and party for a couple of years. That sounds fun.”

But in all seriousness, you go to business school. And I know I heard a story once [that] you had a problem [where] you were assigned a project, and you really didn’t even know where to start. You were kind of lost. I mean, how did you solve the problem? And what were you feeling at the time? All of a sudden now, you’ve committed to business school in America and you’re kind of lost. I mean, what was that feeling like, and what did you learn? 

Aman   

Yeah. Let me share the context of that, so others understand how challenging that moment was and how insecure one feels. Here I am, you know. I’ve worked for a few years, doing reasonably well, get into business school.

First week, first class, they put us in some group work. And the way they do it — this is the group they make for you. So they take the oldest students and they match them up with the youngest students. And I think that’s on purpose, I think it’s very helpful.

And they say, “You guys are going to do the first class as a group.” The group and the class is organizational behavior. And to give you the context, I grew up in a system where professors taught — or teachers taught. You got homework and you had books, and you kind of understood the question — you had to figure out the answer, you wrote down the answer and sent it back. And it’s only a one-week class. You get the assignment on a Monday or Tuesday and then you have to return it in a week. And through the week they teach you and you’re supposed to be writing your assignment.

But because Lancaster is a research school, you have to not only do the assignment. You have to write a reflection on the assignment. Then they gave you a case study, and the case study, in this case, was Three Mile Island. People will know it as a nuclear disaster. So I read the case study and my first reaction was: I don’t understand what I have to do. I literally do not understand. Like I am here, I’ve got the computer, I’ve typed in organizational behavior and my name — and I do not know what to write for a first draft. 

Jeffrey   

You’re a smart guy. How do you not know what to do? What do you mean? 

Aman   

Because it was just such an open-ended thing. It was so open-ended to say here’s a case study, write what you think. Like the question wasn’t even super clear to me at the time. But it took a lot of thinking to understand: Oh, they want me to think about what organizational behavior mechanics influenced and led to the disaster. But nobody spelled out the question for you. It was just like, here’s the case study, write your paper on it.

Jeffrey

So, what did you do?

Aman  

So I learned an important lesson that day. After two to three days of struggling and doing nothing, I called a friend who I had just met. I was the second youngest in the class and she was the second to the oldest in the class. And I said, “hey, so, my name is Aman.” Her name is Amanda. I don’t know maybe that’s why I picked her and we’re still friends. [So] I called her and said, “Hey, you don’t know me, but I really have a real problem, do you mind meeting?” So, I went over to her dorm. 

Jeffrey   

Was it hard for you to get the courage to actually make that phone call to somebody you didn’t know? 

Aman   

Absolutely. I think you feel so ridiculously stupid. You feel like how can I not know how to do this? And you call and you get there, and you’re just embarrassed. But I will tell you another story in a minute of what helped me do this because it wasn’t as embarrassing as something else that had happened to me once. And I remember thinking that I can do this. I just have to go to somebody who understands, and I asked them for help. And asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is what smart people do because nobody knows everything. So, I went to her [to see] what’s supposed to be done. And in about five minutes, she explained how she was thinking about it. And it dawned on me, like this light shone, and I was like: Okay, I know what to do and now I can go do it. 

Jeffrey   

Amazing. And you were telling me there’s another embarrassing story. I hate to put you on the spot. I hate to put you on a therapist’s couch, but I’m going to do it. What was that other story? 

Aman   

So, I told you I was lucky to travel around the world. Let me put it into context.

We are Sikh. Sikh boys don’t wear turbans like I am now. We tie our hair on our head and we look different. We get into Hong Kong, it’s 11 p.m. midnight, and we get to this not-so-great hotel. You know, my dad definitely had us on a budget. And we get to this hotel and there’s no computer — nothing at the time. You have to log in at the register and show your passport. So, he’s trying to turn the register so my dad can sign it and he keeps looking at us and he keeps laughing. In fact, he’s laughing so hard that he’s doubled-up. He’s laughing so hard that he can’t actually speak and ask us to write. We’re so conscious of it. I can tell he’s laughing at just the way we look. We look different. And it went on to the point where it was initially very embarrassing and frustrating. But also, there was an older woman in the back, who I guess heard him,  and came outside. She pushed him — he couldn’t even stand up — and walked back to the back of the house. She pushed him, shut the door and apologized [to us] like a million times.

And I remember that we just sat in this dingy bed all night thinking about how those few minutes were — how my parents must have felt, how I felt and [how] my brother felt. And I will tell you, even in that moment, the biggest thing I remember is thinking: Well, it’s going to be very, very hard to embarrass me from now on.

You know, if I can handle that, I can pretty much handle everything else. 

Jeffrey   

Yeah, I mean, I don’t know whether to be sad and cry that that person was such an idiot, or to be so inspired because of what you took out of that. And has that actually had an impact in terms of the kind of culture that you want to create as a CEO? This kind of truly inclusive culture. Where it’s not enough to just recruit people that are diverse, look different and think different — but that [they] are in a psychologically safe culture where they can actually exchange ideas without fear of retribution. And in fact, [share] with the possibility that two opposing ideas could actually create something wonderful. 

Aman   

It’s absolutely a big thing for me, given my own experiences. When I talk to leaders that I interview or when I give feedback, a lot of it is about how we communicate about our biases that creep in, that are unconscious — that how we don’t even realize we can end up being defensive and the other person can take it as aggressive, or how different cultures are. I had the benefit of working in India, the U.K. and the U.S. And people are culturally different, just very different. I can tell you some fun stories about that. I have a friend and I remember [when] we used to share a warehouse in San Francisco. His cousin came in on a student exchange program and she came to see us the next night. We said, “how are you doing?” And she said, “Well, it’s very weird. I came in late last night and the host family was super nice. They offered me a glass of water, something to eat and I politely said no. And they said, ‘Okay, here’s your room, go ahead and sleep.’ So I was hungry and thirsty all night.”

Because she was from Japan, it’s very common in Asia to decline the first time somebody offers you something because [it’s customary] to offer a second time — and then you say yes. But that [wasn’t] how Americans do things. And you know, that’s a small example. It’s very real and it happens every day at work.

So, for me, it’s very important that we give people an opportunity to speak.

We give people an opportunity to be who they are, to represent their point of view. And of course, we have people that want to get stuff done, are aggressive and are gung-ho and want to do things. But as they do that, we want to always maintain space for new ideas to come from other people. Because if we don’t, then we’re just going to fall to groupthink. And nobody’s successful when they’re in groupthink.  

Jeffrey   

How do you get people to really become conscious of their unconscious biases and hidden baggage? 

Aman   

We do a very good job of telling them. And it’s not just me. There are a few people at senior levels in the company, a few of them report to me directly, who express the view that they don’t report into any one organization. They go into whichever organization needs support. We call these paratrooper roles. One of the things that paratroopers are very good at is directly giving feedback to even the most senior leaders in the company. Because ultimately, if we don’t tell people or if we keep the feedback from them, we’re not being very inclusive to them, either. So the most important thing is giving that feedback quickly after something happens.

Even today, we had a monthly business review. Right after the call, I called one of my most senior, most brilliant leaders — he’s unbelievably smart — and I pointed to him on one particular conversation that we had just had. I said, “Look, you said it this way, and wouldn’t it have been better if you said it like this because you forgot the context of the person that was putting that idea forward?”  

Jeffrey   

What did he say?  

Aman 

He said, “Thank you.” 

Jeffrey   

Who gives you feedback? 

Aman   

Well, I’m very grateful to have a board that is fantastic. I’m very lucky to have a fantastic board and they’re very, very, very engaged. I get quite a bit of feedback from our board members. But those same paratroopers that I was talking about, that give feedback to other senior leaders, some of them have been around me a long time. And believe me, they don’t hesitate for one second to give me feedback directly as well. It’s why I have them.

The only way you become a paratrooper is if you become somebody that can, in a sense, speak truth to anyone — not just power. You can speak truth to anyone.

Jeffrey   

Do you do a formal assessment, or review, every single year of your own successes and maybe even failures? 

Aman   

Yes, every year I do a full review. And in fact, even when I wasn’t CEO, we used to do a review. Actually, in my previous role, I would show it to all my peers too and a couple of us would do it together. We would just share with everyone. Nobody else did that, but we did it anyway.

Jeffrey 

Why did you do that? 

Aman   

Because the best way to hold yourself accountable is to take the good and the bad and the ugly and just put it in front of the world. Your peers, in a sense, are like your family. [They] can hold you accountable in ways that sometimes you can’t hold yourself accountable.

I think for people who are very successful, lucky as I am, that there’s no reason to not do it. The people at the top should be the ones to take the most risks. They are in the position to do that. And one of the risks to take is to continue to bet on a culture of improvement.

Continue to bet on a culture where feedback is a gift. And if you role model that behavior, where you put yourself out there and accept the feedback, then it leads to culture.

There’s stories people tell, about me. I can share one or two with you. There was a time many years ago, when I took on the president role for the first time, leading all the functions in a large P&L. 

Jeffrey   

The President is a role beneath your current CEO role. 

Aman   

It has been. Yes, it was in a different company. But it’s beneath the CEO role. It [included] running all the functions and running a large P&L. And I remember standing in a group expressly, with the purpose of all the leaders standing around me and taking feedback. I wrote down all the feedback, printed it out on a piece of paper and put it under my keyboard. So, when people visit, I didn’t tell anyone about that. It’s other people who noticed that that paper was there, and they would sneak a look at it when they were coming to see me or something. Then when people started asking me I said, “Well, this is all the feedback all the senior leaders gave me, so I look at it every day. It’s right here. It’s right under my keyboard. I’m never far away from it.” 

Jeffrey   

Do you think, in general, it’s a sign of strength or weakness for a CEO of any company to share their weaknesses or their developmental areas with the rest of the company? Because some CEOs want to project this image of always being in power and in control. And they may think it’s a sign of weakness. Some people that are young up-and-coming leaders may agree with them. What’s your philosophy?  

Aman   

My philosophy is that humility is the oxygen that leads to learning. And the way you find humility is, I’ll tell you as a story. I’ll tell you how it was told to me as I was growing up with my parents. The mango tree is the king of fruit in India and you put a seed in the ground. It takes five years for the fruit to come. But the more fruit there is on the tree, the more the tree bends because of the weight. The branches bend. I don’t know if you’ve seen a mango tree, but the fruit is delicious, fibrous, juicy and sweet.

And the thing in India is that the mango tree brings the fruit closer to the animals. And as a leader, humility is about realizing that we all have amazing gifts. We have to bring those gifts closer to the people who can use them, which means you have to give away your best ideas.

You have to make it easy to give those gifts. And in the moment when you’re giving those gifts away, if you bow, you have found humility. If you’re arrogant in those moments, then you haven’t. And with the mango tree, the more weight it has, the more it bows. It doesn’t bend, it bows. And in Asia, the Japanese bow, the Korean bow, the Indians bow whenever we say hello and when we say goodbye. [This is] because bowing is a sign of respect. And when we give respect, we find humility. When we do that, people come back to us and tell us what we did wrong. And that has been a huge part of my success my whole life. I’m sure there are leadership models that have been successful for many decades — where a leader never makes a mistake. A leader has an army of people around them that manage that image and all that.

But I think the world, the decade, and the time we’re living in now is one of authenticity — where people want to know who their leaders really are. It’s absolutely true. We all learn through those crucibles, and now we all have those moments.

I have many, many stories. I remember a time when Dara gave me feedback, where he said, “Hey you. You talk a lot when we’re talking about product and tech, but you don’t talk a lot when we talk about marketing.” And I said, “Well, I don’t know much about marketing. I am the tech guy.”

His comment to me at that time was if you don’t engage and you don’t make mistakes or don’t ask questions, how are you ever going to learn it? And I will tell you, from that day, I was presenting brand marketing in a board meeting. In that board meeting, one of the board members said to me, “You are the best marketer at this company.” And that would not have happened if Dara had not given me that feedback on that day. And when he gave me that feedback, I started immediately the week after — asking the dumb questions.

If everybody else spent one hour before the marketing meeting to prep, I spent four hours. I was up late at night. I was making sure I had read every slide and knew every number so that I could ask a slightly more intelligent question every time. And what happened is that over the years, I’ve learned more and more and more.

After a while, a lot of people thought that I’d grown up in marketing and not in technology. They used to meet me, and they’d say, “Well, yeah, you’re clearly a marketer — where did you work before this?” So, they’d be shocked to hear that I was CTO before this. So, I think that there were many crucibles like that and I’m grateful. I fundamentally believe in people like Dara reinforce this for me. And actually, even my boss before that reinforced it. I think people are successful because of three things, related to their boss. One, they’re given the opportunity. Two, you believe in them. And three, when they make mistakes, you give them another chance. 

Jeffrey   

And given that, because I think that GoDaddy is such a great proxy for a lot of tech companies and a lot of companies in general, what are some of the biggest obstacles or fears that you think some of your people are facing during their upward leadership journey?

Aman   

Yeah, I think couple of the things that I see a lot with leaders coming up is definitely fear of failure — and I’ll talk about that briefly. But even more than that, I feel the imposter syndrome is kind of taking over our lives.

To a lot of leaders, I end up saying, “Hey, how many other companies are there like GoDaddy, at the scale that we’re at? We have 21 million customers with 700 markets. We have 85 million domains under management. So, when you’re going into the senior role, how many other people you think in the world have done what you’re trying to do?

And they think about that and they say, “Yeah, not a lot.” So I say, “It’s okay if you feel like you’re an impostor because there [are] not many people who’ve done it.”

There’s no playbook and you have to go and figure it out, to break the barriers of the next level of the scale. You’re going to have to innovate, you’re going to have to make incremental change, you’re gonna have to invent new stuff.

[There’s] not one tool in the toolbox. You’re going to use every tool in the toolbox. And it’s okay if you feel like an impostor. Just remember that when you step up to do something that very few people in the world have done it. They all felt like imposters in that moment. And it’s only by doing that you gain the confidence and learn the body of work that you need to learn to be better at it — and give yourself a year or two.

It’s not crazy to think that for a big job, it’ll take someone one to two years to really understand it — if they’re fully committed to it. And I’m not talking about the 10 years it takes to be an expert. I’m talking about getting to the starting line and truly understanding a larger role, at a tech company, which is quite complicated. There are big companies growing quite fast, innovating at a very fast pace.

For leaders to be able to keep up with that, it’s very important that they realize they’re doing something new. They have to give themselves a moment to be able to catch up on it. I think the other [point] is that that comes in a little bit later. In my mind, the more successful people are, in a weird way, many of them become more afraid of failure. Because they haven’t seen it recently. And you find this in [many] people. Even people who are moving up really well, are doing really well, are hungry, doing phenomenal work — they get to a certain point and they suddenly start to plateau.

Jeffrey   

They plateau because they’ve reached the limits of their expertise or because they just are unwilling to take risks. And they know that the status quo is actually in their favor now because they’ve achieved a certain level of executive power. 

Aman   

See, I’m a fundamental believer in the growth mindset philosophy. I believe it is the latter that we stop taking risks. And the reasons are many. [There] can be very human reasons to stop taking risks, but people who make it to the senior levels, by the fact that they got there, have capabilities in many, many areas. And they built expertise in many areas. So suddenly, they’re not losing their ability to learn. What is happening is the context is changing. And like you said, maybe there are forces that are telling them that taking less risk is now good. But the fact is — and this is true for my career, too — that if it weren’t for the risks, there wouldn’t be the opportunities. Risk and reward go together and, for me, I feel the reverse. 

I feel the more senior you are, the more capable you are. The moment you start to feel comfortable is when you should push yourself into the uncomfortable again. 

Jeffrey   

Because the complacency starts. But is that on you, Aman, to create the culture that — even when they get to a certain level — they have to somehow be incented or inspired to continue to take those risks?

Aman   

I think inspired is the right word. Jeff, I don’t think incented is the right word. I think for people at these levels. they have many, many choices. It is a world of abundance for them. But you want them inspired — to push and take risks for others, for themselves and feel confident when they do that. 

Jeffrey   

But the flip side of that same coin is that your tolerance and the company’s tolerance for the failure. And if they’re pushing themselves far enough, which hopefully they are or else its status quo, there is going to be failure. So how tolerant are you of that? And is it kind of a learning experience for the executive? 

Aman   

It’s definitely a learning experience for people that are coming in or may not be used to it. But we have to remember what is the meaning of failure.

Jeffrey  

What do you mean?

Aman  

Let’s be clear about that. So one of the things that I [remember] when I joined GoDaddy I brought, in a huge way, is the scientific method, measurement and evidence-based decision making. One of the things that comes out of that is experimentation with our products. And all experimentation means is that you have an observation of the world, with the customer [in mind] typically. You have a hypothesis, you test it and you’re required to measure the results as best you can.

And at scale, out of those ideas, about a third are losers, about a third are winners and about a third are inconclusive. Failure, for me, is when we don’t see that ratio or if inconclusives are more than a third, that means  we’re not taking enough risk. We made a change and the customer didn’t care about it.

Well, clearly, it was either not a good hypothesis or it wasn’t based on good observation. Or, we were too timid in our action. If we were not timid, the customer would have [at least] told us, “I don’t like it.” And that’s negative, that loser experiment — people start to think that losers are failures. Losers are not failures. Losing is where learning comes from. [It] leads to winners in the future. So, we want to make an environment [or] create an environment where we have more winners and losers, and fewer inconclusive. And the only time we should feel that we are failing is either when we’re not able to take our learnings from our losing tests or where the inconclusive grows. [This] means there’s a lot of activity but no outcome. That’s what inconclusive means — lots of action, but no change for the customer. Well, that’s no good.  

Jeffrey   

Was it hard? I know that you said you had a great board. Was it hard to get your board aligned and on board with this ratio that you talk about, and embrace the same philosophy of failure as you?

Aman   

I actually presented these ideas to the board as part of my interview process, and I think they were on board with it from the very beginning. And maybe [they were] even attracted to it and excited by it. 

Jeffrey   

You’ve been successful your whole career. And the reason I asked about the board interview is because this is a serious step up — when you’re interviewing for the CEO of a big successful public company. I mean, were you scared or what kind of feelings did you have? And how did you harness that into the right sort of energy during that interview process? 

Aman   

Yeah, I’m a big believer in that you want — not necessarily fear. I’m not fond of fear. I feel like fear is not a good teacher and doesn’t always put us in the best position. It doesn’t mean that fear cannot motivate us to do certain things. It can, absolutely, and it does. 

Jeffrey   

Does that nervous energy almost help you get more focused or more passionate or more clarity?

Aman   

Exactly. It makes you work much harder to express yourself better. And that means you’re super focused and you bring it down to the smallest things that matter. You really put the energy into the research.

For example, some of the things I talked to the board about — as I interviewed for this process — surprised them in terms of the level of detail I knew. And I’d never been inside the company. You want to be in the position where you feel secure, but you want something and you’re clear about what you want. And actually, one of the slides I presented [was titled], “Here’s what I want.” And now, that nervous energy pushes you to do everything you can because it pushes you in a different way than fear does.

Fear, in the end, leaves you looking less confident than you actually are.

Whereas that right amount of nervous energy, [along with] wanting to get something, can leave you leaning forward and very positive and confident about what you want. 

Jeffrey   

And tough question, Aman. Why don’t more companies, especially in tech, have Black or Brown CEOs? 

Aman   

I know it’s more recent, but here we are today where the CEO of some of the largest companies — including Google, Microsoft, Adobe and more recently, Starbucks, are people of Indian origin. So, I think what it’s showing is that obviously when a very large group of people enter a certain sector, and there are a lot of Indian people in the technology sector, you see them rise over time. But it takes time and I think what we have to do for other communities, and not just black communities but all underrepresented minorities, is we have to bring them in much larger numbers — all the way through the stack. 

Jeffrey   

So it starts earlier in the pipeline, bring them in at that level?

Aman   

Exactly. And then we have to have very clear and non-biased promotion. So, there’s actually a great study that GoDaddy has done. I was not part of this study before I joined. [But it’s] fascinating work that was done with Stanford.

Each step of the process at GoDaddy was reviewed to see if there was bias — whether it was recruiting, promotion, all of those steps, feedback loops or how bonuses were given — […] to create a system where we knew we were able to attract the people from different minorities. But can we get them through the path? 

Jeffrey   

And what’s their bias at each level? 

Aman   

[…] I’m not as close to it as our chief people officer, but ultimately what we found is that there were instances where there’s unconscious bias that gets built in because certain things were not framed [in the] proper way. For example, when we review people and we talk about what they achieved and how they achieved it, in the how [portion]— if it’s not vague or the guidance is not clear — people overlay their own lens on top of that. And now suddenly, aggression for a male may sound positive. And for a female may sound negative. So, we had to take those words away and put a different frame in place. And it’s very interesting that once we put that frame in, you see that the bias really reduces or goes away at scale. 

Jeffrey   

And those are some real serious barriers. What can people like me — white, middle age, somewhat conservative — what can I do to help people of color and other diverse talent? What can I do and what should I be thinking of to reduce my unconscious bias? 

Aman   

And I’m going to tell you a story and then tell you my perspective. When it comes to biases, and when it comes to success and how we look at who we are.

I want to tell you that a few years ago, somebody advised me. They said, “Aman, you look so different. You’re so smart, you know you’re going places. Have you ever thought that every time you make a mistake, nobody forgets you? So maybe you could look more like the rest of us and that’d be easier for you.” And it really bothered me, this question, in a big way because the way I look is a personal choice. And it took me a little bit, but I was able to come back with an answer to that question. And the answer was, what if I do something right? 

Jeffrey   

They’ll remember you just as much, right? 

Aman   

Exactly. They’ll remember me just as much. So [that’s] my advice. And not to you particularly because I don’t know you as well. But I think generally my view is that if we are constantly raising our awareness, there are clues every day on how people are reacting — and they are people who are giving us feedback. We’re just not listening clearly to it. So, if we are just raising our level of awareness, we can make the world a much better place because different people have different ideas and there is such an abundance. I look at most people. And of course I grew up in India, which is very different, and I’ve looked at most people in the U.S. and I feel life is truly abundant here.

And I think in this moment in time, where there are so many opportunities for people, there is room in this world for all of us — and it’s a better world that works for all of us. So if we just raise our level of awareness, that’s probably the most important thing for me. 

Jeffrey   

I love it. And I know we have to wrap up in a minute. But before we started, we talked about being a father and I’m now a father of a one-year-old. That’s both the hardest and the best thing I’ve ever done, by far. I know you’re a father. Has that helped you become a better leader and a better human being? 

Aman   

I have a daughter who’s 13 and my son is eight, about to be nine, and I can tell you that my philosophy on leadership — I have 20 plus things that  I wrote down over the years as principles — but the top one is from a book called Monday Morning Leadership. And it simply says to be a better leader is to be be a better person. I can tell you that being a father is definitely the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s the most gratifying and the thing I’m most grateful for, and it makes me a better person every day. 

Jeffrey   

I love it. And just like Dara pitched you to join Expedia many, many years ago, what would be your pitch to some of the young leaders listening to this podcast today — who might be considering GoDaddy for a career?

Aman   

Come join us! Let’s work for the small and micro businesses and create a world where millions of people create their ideas, put them in the world and you get to be a part of their lives — part of their journey. I assure you the minute you join GoDaddy, people will come out of the woodwork — your friends, your family, your life. They will tell you how GoDaddy has made a difference to their life. And if it weren’t for GoDaddy, they wouldn’t have their micro business and they wouldn’t have all the things that they’re excited about in their business. We are big enough to make a difference and small enough that not only can you make a difference, you will see [how] you’re making a difference in a lot of people’s lives.  

Jeffrey   

And you’re not going to crucify them if and when they make a mistake. 

Aman   

In our world. The only mistakes are when we don’t learn. There are no other mistakes. 

Jeffrey   

Thank you so much. This has been a wonderful hour with you. 

Aman   

Thank you, Jeff. Lovely to be with you. 

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Image by: Photo by Rajendra Biswal on Unsplash

Jessica Resendez
Jessica Resendez is an Assistant Content Producer for the GoDaddy blog and is well-versed in digital marketing and freelance writing. Some of her previous work can be seen on online publications like Bustle, Romper and PaleoHacks. When she's not online, she can often be found enjoying the parks, beaches and amusement parks with her two kids in sunny San Diego. Connect with Jessica on LinkedIn or check out her digital portfolio for more info.