When Leaders Come Together [Cisco Leader Day]

Enduring individuality is the building block of pulling people together, collaboratively. If individual differences annoy you, don’t lead teams. The greatest value of human nature is that each human’s nature is unique. That’s not a bug. That’s a feature. – Marcus Buckingham in The Revealed Series @ Cisco

A few weeks ago, Cisco took the definition of ‘pulling people together, collaboratively’ to another level altogether when we renewed our commitment to invest in leaders through Leader Day. In a LinkedIn post, Cisco SVP and Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas said that leaders need to evolve and lead effectively, now more than ever before. She said leaders must be fluid and agile, allowing teams to innovate. While outcomes are important, she emphasized on encouraging leaders using their own authentic style to help teams get there.

So, when the team and my leader, Robert Kovach asked me to be a social media ambassador for Bangalore, I was thrilled. Here’s an account of what I observed and learned from this mammoth undertaking.

The Power of Leaders Coming Together

Cisco Leader Day | Event Center | Bangalore

In my nearly two-decade career, I have never, ever experienced anything quite like this. For an 8000+ leader community to go offline for an entire day is unheard of. That’s like shutting the engines of a Boeing-777 and setting it to glide landing. Just so you can review it’s structure, design, and performance. But hitting reset created the environment for informal conversations to thrive and even lead to dialogue and innovation. I watched in awe as the people, process, and technology swung into action to bring this vision alive.

For many of the leaders, there was the very, real anxiety of losing 8+ hours of leadership time and having to make up for work and team discussions later. But there was also the excitement that comes from connecting: face-to-face and virtually across the globe, with several of their peers. World renowned business educator and executive coach, Dr. Marshall Goldsmith often says peer coaching is one of the least utilized assets of companies. In a way, Cisco created the design for thousands of leaders to be able to do just that, in a single event, on a single day! When you consider the exponential power of leaders coming together as peers, an event like this is the start of new and incredible connections. They don’t just serve the individuals or teams. They serve organizations in ways, never imagined before.

Collaboration in Leadership 2.0

Glimpses of Leader Day from multiple locations

Of all the things that left me stunned and in awe of the Cisco brand, our people, and unbelievable technology, nothing warmed my heart more than the quality of collaboration I saw. As a member of the social media squad, I had the privilege of interviewing our SVP of Information Technology, V.C. Gopal who said: “It’s the first time Cisco is doing something on this scale…and what’s really amazing is the energy, excitement, and passion around this event. Plus, the fact that Cisco is taking the time to invest in what I call Leadership 2.0…” Interestingly enough, the need to collaborate differently in a Leadership 2.0 environment presented itself almost immediately for me.

Our first video had too much background noise. So, we shot the video again. I had 30 minutes to upload the file for the next Cisco site to go live. Except that we had one problem. I didn’t have my laptop. My colleague didn’t have the required, social media account. And no SD card slots on our phones, either. Undeterred, she asked me to use her laptop to login instead. Except that I had no idea what my password was! Google’s auto-save option works but only on your own devices. Here I was, under pressure, to recall a 22-character password to manually login on a different device. At this point, I wasn’t feeling smart about this anymore. But failure wasn’t an option, you see! I shut my eyes, meditated, and typed in the characters. And voila! It worked! There’s no way I could’ve done that without my colleague’s support.

Strength of Teams

A sample of Team of Teams

From being rank strangers an hour ago to now a team, we did it because we cared deeply. We were united by a common goal and purpose. And if Team of Teams is all about “faster, flatter, and more flexible”, the entire Leadership and Team Intelligence organization (not just me and my new, team mate) had found the perfect stage to bring that to life.

Desiree Elsharif  co-led Global Event Communications and her team managed the comms, keynote, engagement with the ELT, and partnered on strategy and logistics. One of her posts on social media read:

This was one of the best (and most challenging) things I’ve ever worked on. The live event included 38 hours, 6 broadcasts in as many time zones, 8000+ people leaders and unprecedented teamwork from an amazing team. I’m honored to have been a part of it.

John Allen from Global Employee Communications said “…it was a revolution that was televised. Non-stop follow the sun, 24-hours, 18-in-person locations, worldwide, virtual audience, and 8000+ leader in #CiscoLeaderDay…”

One of the comments I read on LinkedIn was from Katherine Toch, Marketing Leader | CSR, Corporate Affairs, Executive Communications, Digital Transformation at Cisco: “What an amazing experience!! I was able to participate in person, meeting team members from various parts of the company. We had the chance to problem solve together, learn from each other and hear from our leaders. Thank you for investing in Leader Day…it is already paying dividends!”

Continuing the Leadership Journey 

Thanks to Ashley Goodall, SVP of Leadership and Team Intelligence for leading this vision and for Jen Dudeck and Desiree Elsharif and their teams for accomplishing extraordinary success.

Fran reiterated in her LinkedIn post, that our Leader Day is not an event, but rather a part of a journey we’re committed to for the success of our customers, our people, and our business. And when you’re a leader, you cannot opt out of leading.

This post is in honor of:

  1. a company like Cisco that’s courageous enough to plan, implement, and sustain something this audacious
  2. all the teams that came together to make this vision, a reality
  3. and finally, Cisco leaders for whom this was designed and who showed up

Thank you for your intent, commitment, and willingness to make this journey. We hope you continue to inspire the people and communities you lead and serve.

*Special thanks to Liz Morgan and the social media squad for leading the hashtag campaign on the Social Wall,  Madison Byrd and Bala for helping me access these great pictures, Sagarika Srivatsan  for the sound bytes (and for trusting me to remember my password!), and Katie Taylor for your communications advice! 


Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.

THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT CISCO’S STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS. 

4 thoughts on “When Leaders Come Together [Cisco Leader Day]”

  1. Thank you for your comment Bala! I’m glad the post spoke to you. Three cheers to everybody who worked on this massive endeavor, which definitely includes you and the rest of the team in Bangalore!

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