Interview with Paul Haverfield, CTO, HPE


Reinventing Your Leadership: Find Your WHY in the Age of AI

In this interview, I speak with Paul Haverfield about the journey of reinventing himself to make a greater impact at work as a leader who knows his WHY. He shares a few of the lessons in his career pivot. What problem was Paul born to solve and what skills did he have to acquire to become more effective?

As AI continues to evolve and displace certain human job functions ranging from customer service bots to accountancy software, it’s easy to delegate certain capabilities to them. The one thing that robots cannot do, however, is lead. While there are different styles of leadership, authentic leadership is what truly inspires others to live out their personal greatness.

That for Paul Haverfield, Chief Technologist & Presales Manager of HPE meant living out his ikigai – the reason for being or jumping out of bed each morning. Today, he oversees a regional team of around 250 presales team members and ensures that they are well taken care of to perform and develop optimally. So, what does he think of AI; will it take over man anytime soon? “I am not worried that that I can’t beat a robot at chess or poker,” his eyes glazed over not in frosted denial but calmness that belies a deeper conviction. It hadn’t always been the case for Paul who had to reinvent himself not once but twice to reach his current state of zen and influence not predicated on hierarchical authority.

When I met Paul, what struck me was not his reticence but quiet confidence. Afterall, he has been an active listener for the last three decades to both IT vendor organizations and end-user customer organizations, striking a delicate balance between technical and business requirements to provide solutions that ultimately deliver benefits to the customer, as well as, the business.

This is a man who listens to build bridges.

What problem were you born to solve? As Paul went on to share, it became more evident what his human super powers were and what he can do that robots can’t. A man by definition is created with human intelligence for good and not evil. But it’s not merely existential or theoretical as far as Paul is concerned.

AI Superpowers vs Human Superpowers: Leadership Begins with Listening

His intent to listen and the skills used have very practical outcomes. As it turns out Paul’s Human Super Power is building bridges between people and islands of different opinion arising from different angles of thought and experiential background. What propels him to listen? “You get satisfaction from recognition, you can see when both parties get the ‘aha’ or lightbulb moment – Ahh, now I get it, now I see the problem from his point of view, my point of view”

Wired to see the underlying problem, Paul thus delights in the knowledge that his contribution has moved the needle  to reach a resolution and more practical strategy. This skill to forge a path that all parties can see and agree on was summoned quite often where he would meet different parties in one situation, such as, a customer, a very senior CIO and very detailed technologist, “One of them has an interest in technology but doesn’t care about the details. The other person wants to really understand the what and the how. Same conversation but you have to satisfy two people’s needs.”

That’s perhaps the classic dichotomy of cognitive functions addressed in MBTI as the Sensing (S) vs the iNtuition (N) where one person wants to learn through analogies, concepts and metaphors while the other person wants to learn through very precise, technical explanations, steps, process and specifications. Although Paul’s natural go-to is the more technically deep and precise domain, he has learnt to master the more abstract, intuitive domain where “you can say the art and the science are merging.”

He concedes, however that it begins with the willingness to listen and it has proven to be an invaluable asset, “I have a much bigger propensity to listen than to talk. People always say to me – you should speak up more. But why, if you got nothing to say to add value, what’s the point? Why talk for the sake of turning oxygen into audio wave?” He finishes his techy supposition with a twinge of a smile as I scribbled it down for future reference with a note: Matter of fact but funny, just like the man himself.

Without missing a beat, he adds, “So, when I do have something to say, I believe it’s something valuable and something that people should listen to. I always tend to listen. My listen to talk ratio is  4 05 or 6:1 in terms of minutes.” People do because Paul is saying something. And they should since he uses his base of science and technology to translate the arty, creative metaphoric world and help different people. As I probed further to get a sense of his cognitive functions, it was apparent that his penchant for logic and accuracy fuelled by his need to tick off the checklist placed him as a Duty Fulfiller. I always tell bosses that they need at least one on their team so that if the building catches fire, the Duty Fulfiller will be the last to leave the building after ensuing everything is OK.

It didn’t surprise me then that Paul went on to share an incident last year where one of the lifts had malfunctioned. He was down at the cafeteria taking a phone call because it had happened first thing on a Monday morning.  The fire alarm went off in the building but there wasn’t a planned fire drill. “Then I sort of smelt it, an electrical fire somewhere. I have an electrical engineering background and electrical fires have a very distinct smell. I thought it was real so I got up and began to walk around, following my nose. I could see smoke coming out from one of the elevators’ doors. I started to look at it and the system announced that this was not a drill. People were evacuating upon the announcement.

The fire wardens came and told me to get out. I replied to get the extinguishers because there might be flames behind the doors. They said “No, no, no this is not your job, just get out.” But my natural curiosity and fire fighting training in Australia made me go to the fire and find out where it was.” Most people would have run in the opposite direction, Paul literally went towards the fire. “Yes, I went towards the fire to find out actually where it was. And whether there was something I could do.”

That essentially sums up the purpose of a Duty Fulfiller who is driven by values of responsibility fairness, competency while making decisions logically for greater efficiency. However, it would not be too far-fetched to guess that an introvert like Paul has had to flex and come out of his comfort zone to connect with more people. That’s the beauty of mankind – one of the human superpowers we all share is the ability to reinvent ourselves regardless of type. However, it usually takes a series of events to prod us in the right direction before we crash and burn.