An early rising Southern entrepreneur
From LSU to Microsoft to CEO of Polygraph Media, Chris Treadaway reveals to AG what makes him tick, what his day looks like, where he has been, what keeps him up at night, and what he wanted to be when he grew up.
We often revere leaders, but often for their current work, without knowing where they came from, but by knowing what makes people tick, we can not only better connect with one another, but we stand to gain by being able to identify with traits shared with various leaders as a means of inspiring our own leadership paths.
Below is an unedited interview with Treadaway, in his own words:
Tell us about yourself and your work.
CEO, Polygraph Media — we help organizations make better decisions with social data mining & analytics. Facebook, Twitter, and other social media today are perhaps the greatest repositories of consumer data the world has ever seen. We help people unlock the potential of what is there.
Walk us through a typical day in your life.
I roll out of bed anywhere between 4:30-7:00am depending on the morning schedule. I’ll usually focus on one part of our business — whatever needs the most work — until lunch, then spend the afternoon on business development.
Where were you raised? Where all have you lived?
- Raised in Louisiana
- High school in Mississippi, which was great
- College in Louisiana
- Started Career in Austin TX
- Moved to Seattle to work for Microsoft for 3 1/2 years
- Back in Austin, hopefully to stay
How did you get into your current career?
I was going to go to Law School, but met George Friedman at LSU when he was starting the Center for Geopolitical Studies. That research center became Stratfor, which we then moved to Austin. Stratfor hooked me on the startup life.
What did you do before your current career?
My one & only corporate job was at Microsoft. My last year I was responsible for pulling the company’s web & social strategy together across business groups. It was an impossible task, just because Microsoft is a diversified tech company which is run via largely independent business units.
At age 15, what did you want to be when you grew up?
What is something unique that you do to balance work and life?
Exercise 3-4x per week — specifically playing basketball. There is nothing like a good, hard run to clear the mind.
What keeps you up at night?
Fear of failure
A day in the life of another leader
If you could spend one day in the life of another industry leader, who would it be?
I’ve always appreciated the clarity with which Mark Cuban sees the world. He has a way of cutting through the clutter and getting to the point. I also think he’s a pretty fun guy who can balance that with demanding the best.
What tools can you not live without?
Excel, Outlook, iPad, Skype
What wouldn’t people believe about you?
Tell us something about yourself that most people wouldn’t believe unless they knew you.
Even though I didn’t love it, I was on my way to a musical career as a kid. My mom got me involved in singing. I was in two operas and performed at the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans. But I lost interest after awhile and wanted to move on to something else. That part is something that most people who know me well would believe.
The success of your business could be tied to your succession plan
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You can’t spell ‘successor’ without success. In the age of COVID-19, are the two mutually exclusive to your ventures?
“Heir” is a weighty term. A fun pun, to be sure, through the beauty of English homophones. But seriously, unless you’re already 10% and up rich, talk of heirs and succession does connote a certain heaviness you may not be used to.
For those choosing successors, it’s the heaviness of accepting mortality. For the potential promotees, it’s the heaviness of accepting a multitude of responsibilities. Or buying ear poison. Either way.
We expect to deal with familial succession. As eldest (assuming he doesn’t outlive me), I’m in charge of flinging Dad’s ashes into a nicer section of the ocean and distributing all of his Cosby sweaters amongst the sibs, and I take the role very seriously.
As a serial-small-business employee though, I’ve only just started wondering what would happen if my boss died. Of all the ‘lose your job’ scenarios I’ve had waking nightmares about, that one in particular only cropped up for me a year ago. And now, with the coronavirus taking up our attention, more business owners than usual might be wondering the same thing from the other side of the desk.
What’s going to happen to my employees if I’m too sick to work? Have I set things up so that this company can survive past me? Does at least one other person know the combination to the safes?
If your business is big enough to have employees and advisors on deck, these are questions you need to have answered… Preferably in written, notarized form to ensure smooth succession.
So where should you start? Probably with a good talk.
If you have a next-in-command standing ready, but don’t have a plan yet, let them know that if the inevitable happens sooner rather than later, that you’d like them to step in. A frank conversation about their future with your brand, and actually asking them if they feel up to taking the reins is a great place to start. Otherwise, consider your network— who you might sell the business to, and who might know someone who knows someone.
P.S. If your VP says they’d rather run off and sail the world if you got hit by an asteroid next week, please don’t hold it against them.
We all know that ghosts stick around because they’ve got unfinished business, right? Don’t let your literal business be the shade that haunts your team! Take a deep breath and get the ball rolling on THIS side of the dirt… Ouija boards can only do so much.
Not just for kids: 3 Rs to help your team cope with stress
(ENTREPRENEUR) The three Rs of child psychology, Reassurance, Routine, and Regulation, may also help your team and you cope with the added stress 2020 has wrought.
Yes, we all know 2020 was a massive dumpster fire. We are all still working to cope with processing the losses and fear this putrid year has brought with it. The three Rs can help you and your team better cope with stress, and our reactions to the hitherto unfathomable woes of 2020.
If you are a parent or work with kids, you may have heard of the new three Rs: Reassurance, Routine, and Regulation. If you don’t have or work with kids, why would you care? These three Rs can also help adults cope with the stress, grief, anger, and anxiety most of us are facing in 2020.
It makes sense that something that can work to alleviate children’s negative feelings during the pandemic may also work for adults. We may experience and process problems differently than children, as we run everything through the filter of life experience and what we know of the world and the way it works.
However, much of what we are seeing with the global pandemic is new to us, and we are stuck in the same boat as our children, restless, afraid, and wondering how we’ll pull through. Here are three Rs to help all of us cope with stress. If we take what Laura Santhanam of PBS NewsHour and Jessica Bartlett of Child Trends advised for children, and apply them to our own overwhelming concerns, we may begin to feel better. I’m all for anything that helps us feel better.
Here’s a rundown of the three Rs and how they can help you and your team cope:
- Reassurance: We need to reassure ourselves—of our own safety, of all that we are doing to stay safe, and that others are out there diligently working to ensure and improve our safety. Reassure your team of what the company is doing to help keep workers safe, whatever those preventive measures may be.Reassure yourself and your team that you’re doing what you need to in order to stay safe. Reassure yourself that epidemiologists and infectious disease experts are working day and night to learn more about this virus and how to control it. Reassure yourself that two promising vaccines are already FDA approved and being administered around the world, and that this will help us, slowly but surely, return to a life we are familiar and comfortable with.Reassure and remind yourself and your team that people are still out there in the world being kind, helpful, and awesome. Maybe share something from the Good News Network or other chronicle.
- Routine: If you are like me, routine went out the window in March, replaced by endless chores and cooking during the day and staying up late worrying about the state of the world. Routine matters. Just as it can help ease troubled young minds, it can also guide us to a better way to cope.Routines give us a needed sense of stability. It’s one area of our lives that we can take control of, even amidst the flaming chaos of 2020. I’m not suggesting you drink your morning coffee at the kitchen table surrounded by flames and proclaim “This is fine,” like KC Green’s famous memefied cartoon dog. We all have to draw the line in the sand as to what and how much we will accept and what we need to work to change. However, there is something to be said for regularity, a place for quotidian activities, a routine.Try to set up or return to a regular bedtime and meal times. Set boundaries for work life and home life—always a challenge when you work from home. Ask your team members how they are setting boundaries or share tips on how you are. Help your team incorporate or return to a routine at work. Perhaps in 2020, work calendars went haywire along with everything else, as nearly every company has had to change the way they do business this year.
Find a way to bring back some routine where you can fit it in. It could help your team stay on track while dealing with the rest of what 2020 throws at them. Build pleasurable activities into your own routine. Make time to read, play, or otherwise unwind. Lean into the routine. Here’s hoping you and your team can find comfort in being able to control at least this much!
- Regulate: This refers to self-regulating, coping mechanisms we can incorporate to check ourselves when we start to panic or spiral. Parents, teachers, and others in child care can teach children these techniques to help them manage “big feelings.” We grownups can also use these tools to deal with our big feelings.Regulating tools for adults include breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, talking to a therapist, NAMI hotline, or friend about your emotions. Other means of self-regulating include making a plan to socialize with friends (virtually works), exercising to clear a busy mind, and getting enough sleep. Try to use some or all of these tools the next time you feel overcome with negative emotions.
Of course, feelings aren’t something we discuss much at work, as a rule. However, sending out information on resources available within your company can help your team regulate what they are going through. If your company pays for therapy as part of a benefits package, let them know. If you have set up a hotline or other helpful resource, let them know. Put together a list of helpful websites or organizations that can help with them access these regulating tools, or ask your Human Resources department to do so. You could even share this article, if you found it helpful. You may reach a team member at precisely the perfect time to help them through some heavy stuff.
While adults often consider themselves experts at dealing with our own feelings, again, way too many catastrophic events have gone down in 2020. As they say on the interwebs, this wasn’t on my 2020 Bingo card. We likely can all benefit from the three Rs. Give it a shot, because we all need to cope with our stress somehow.
Worried about your reputation during your job search?
(BUSINESS ENTREPRENEUR) You feel like your past may be haunting you as you are searching for a new job. Wondering how to manage your reputation? Let’s talk about it.
We hear all the time about what a small world it really is and that many industries or career paths are close-knit where “everyone knows everyone.” Some may have also been called incestuous. Many recruiters know a lot of people (that’s their job!) and also require references so that they can speak with some of your former colleagues if seriously considering making you an offer. Have you had experiences where you worry if a future employer finds out about it, it may ruin your reputation? You fear that no future hiring manager will want you on their team if they hear about some of your mistakes (aka learning experiences)?
Here’s a fairly extreme example from this Reddit post:
“My reputation is ruined. What do I do?
I have struggled with crippling opiate addiction for the past ten years, resulting in being fired from a number of positions that could have led to successful careers. My reputation is absolutely destroyed, and I’m feeling quite hopeless about ever finding another good job. I have since decided to get clean, and have over a month. But I’m still unemployed, with a terrible reputation, and I don’t know what to do. I have a few good references from previous bosses who saw my true potential, but plenty of bad ones as well. What should I do to rebuild my reputation? In my future job search, should I mention my history of addiction or be vague about it? Should I try to go back to school? Should I volunteer? Or should I just give up and accept a miserable dead end job, or just off myself? Is there any hope? :’(
Edit: Thank you all for your advice. I never expected to receive so much support. I will continue to work on staying sober. You have all helped me stay positive and I really appreciate that.”
First off, let’s give credit to this person for getting sober (and hoping they continue to have the support to stay on that path – and especially support if they relapse). We are all human and it definitely doesn’t hurt to constantly be reminded of that. There’s lots of well-earned attention on Brené Brown right now who spotlights the need for vulnerability and being your authentic self. Her work is based in research and it’s inspiring and uplifting.
Like most things in life, there has to be a balance in your vulnerability as it relates to job searching. People that are looking to hire us do want to get to know us, but there are some things that they may not need to know right away as they evaluate us for a position. Or things they may never need to know about. There is a balance in sharing things that are too personal as it relates to your professional pursuits.
You may expect that this article suggests that this person be totally honest. Well, it’s not that kind of article. There’s a time and a place for divulging your deepest secrets, and the interview room may not be one of them.
It is important to be your authentic self, but you have to identify what is your professional authentic self. When we are job searching and interviewing, we put on our best and have to be buttoned up and polished.
As we grow and learn in our careers, there may be a variety of challenges that we feel can possibly tarnish our reputation (not just limited to addiction mentioned above):
- Bad relationship with a manager
- Toxic work environment where stress got the best of us
- Harassment that was not addressed by HR
- Financial blunders as it relates to personal or professional budgets
- It just wasn’t the right fit – whatever that means
Here are some thoughts if you worry like our Reddit contributor that your reputation may be tarnished beyond repair:
- Is it time to explore a new industry – where the connections are fresh and they won’t know about why you left so many previous positions? If so, you may have to do some Career Exploration on your transferrable skills and how those can take you in a new direction. Or even new city. The good news is, doors are opening with remote work in our current situation so maybe you can find a new pool of contacts or companies hiring.
- Would this be the right time to take what you have learned and help others? Is there a certification or volunteer project that would help you help others that have dealt with your issue? This may help you feel redeemed for why you had to go through that experience.
- Utilize LinkedIn to build your network with your advocates or make a simple journal entry of who you worked with in the past that was able to see your potential. These would be great choices for references.
- Seek a chat with a friend or even licensed therapist to discuss your situation and forgive yourself. Ultimately if you are holding on to guilt and shame, you won’t allow yourself to move past it and admit that it was full of life lessons. Explore Brené Brown’s work if you need some help in learning more about guilt and shame. They can be very heavy emotions that are also an innate part of being human. We don’t need to eradicate these emotions, we need to acknowledge, accept and MANAGE them.
Often times we are the ones holding ourselves back. It can help to speak with professionals (therapists, recruiters, mentors) to see if the issue is bigger in our head than it really is. And if you need a reminder that we are all human, here it is. Be kind and graceful with yourself.
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