For five years, Stepan Veselovskyi is leading Lviv IT Cluster – an organization that unites more than 70 local IT companies, implements 10 projects, organizes the biggest tech conference in Eastern Europe, tries to change the city’s infrastructure, and modernizes tech education. In 10 short bullet points, Stepan talks about his work, team management, making decisions and the importance of being a leader.
Time is the most valuable resource impossible to be accumulated or turned back. There’s this saying – “time is money”. However, seeing them as equal would be unfair. For me, time is more valuable. I try to organize it effectively. There should be time for everything in life – family, work, hobbies, meetings with friends, events, etc. During an informal meeting with old friends, you can spontaneously get a great idea that will be useful for work, and during a morning exercise, you can think about the decisions you need to make during the day. Recently, I’ve read a work by the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, where he says that laziness and idleness are also needed, they give a person time to think, and motivate to work harder after a certain pause. However, everything should have a limit. The feeling of wasted time and irreversible processes – are the worst things for me. I try to do everything to avoid them.
Both hard work and idleness should definitely be present in the life of an effective leader. But a fair balance between them is extremely important.
The best decision any leader can make is to surround themselves with the right people. Lviv IT Cluster team is very cool, it’s one of the most effective teams I had a chance to observe. People who work here remind me myself a few years ago. I never judge people by age, it’s not important. The important thing is what they do and which goals they have. Every person in our team has a unique experience in a specific sphere that I don’t have. The Cluster consists of a few smaller teams inside – PR team, event management team, education team, and administrative team. These people know what they want. It is essential for a leader to be there to help generate new ideas, discuss and develop them, be a mentor and an observer, point out the mistakes. For any team to work effectively, all team members have to move in the same direction and have common goals.
To build an effective team, you have to understand life and professional goals of everyone. The company should help people to achieve these goals. Once the contrary happens, people leave. It’s important not to miss it.
If you plan to organize an event – dream big. Instead of saying “I wanna do something small for a limited group of people”, set mind-blowing goals. That’s how we got our idea to organize IT Arena. It is important to understand what you’re doing and why. You have to know your target audience, to understand the industry and its features. Don’t forget about creativity. Always work on something, take up risks, and implement crazy ideas. The attendees need to feel that they’re visiting a totally new event every year. We managed to do this by adding to the conference Futureland Festival – an electronic music open-air party with an incredible light show and a line-up of world-famous DJs. Our new idea is to connect IT Arena 2018 with modern digital art. There are so many artists working on the edge of technologies, creating visual art using various surprising techniques and it’s still a rather unexplored area in Ukraine. Modern art helps to visualize technologies, and it’s very valuable. It gives people an understanding what technology really is.
Don’t see the conference as a goal, it’s rather a communication channel. Think of a message you want to convey to your target audience through this channel. Don’t do low-quality events. Do the best event you can, or do something else.
At Lviv IT Cluster we’re simultaneously working on more than 10 projects, but if I were to choose my favorite ones I’d say – IT Arena and Innovation District IT Park. These projects are global. They directly influence the development of Lviv. Being able to say that you’re changing your home city is an incredible feeling. IT Arena – is a huge promo event, a place where we declare Lviv as a Ukrainian IT center and invite dozens of experts from around the world to share their experiences. With the IT Park project, our goal is to change the city’s infrastructure. We have a unique opportunity to help revitalize our city with modern architecture. Today, Lviv attracts everyone with its old buildings from the Austrian times, but it’s just an aesthetic pleasure. Lviv is a European city with its own charm, but we want to make it a comfortable place to live in, work, park, move around, etc. Our generation should also leave some new architecture for the city.
Any project takes time, money, and effort. Of course, the scale, team size, investments, and risks differ from project to project, but, in fact, there is no substantial difference in managing small or big projects. You should not be afraid to take responsibility.
Whether you are doing a project or a business, ask yourself a question: “What do I change? Will the surrounding environment benefit from my activities?”. My experience shows that if you can answer this question, the motivation starts to grow rapidly. Do the right projects, the ones you will be thanked for.
Deadlines are good for organizing your time. It’s a social contract of the project that works for all sides, and that shouldn’t be violated. However, sometimes a deadline has to be shifted. For example, if the end quality of the product depends on it, and there’s still something that has to be finished or changed. It’s a painful and expensive process, as it leads to changes in the aforementioned social contract. It’s something I really don’t like, but unfortunately, it happens. The date of our conference IT Arena is an example of a deadline that cannot be shifted. The date is announced a year before the event, therefore it’s impossible to change it. We can’t afford to have any force majeure circumstances.
My trick is to write “kind reminders” for our team members not to miss any small deadlines in the daily hustle. As the deadline is approaching, we have more meetings and report about what we have already done, and what we’re still to do.
Deadline – is literally the last point in the social contract of the project. Therefore, set real deadlines, don’t follow emotional decisions or assumptions. Changes in deadlines can cause doubts both inside and outside the team.
With the pace of modern life, people receive a lot of information from different channels. We have to be able to digest it quickly, react and communicate effectively. People who say “I’m offline because I’m working” are from the previous generation. I use all the existing programs, apps, social networks, and messengers in my work. For me personally, Google Calendar is the most important tool: I use it both for work and life. I always check my emails, whether I’m on vacation, on a train or at home. I have all the possible messengers on my smartphone – Viber, WhatsApp, Hangouts, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Slack, Telegram, FaceTime; social networks – LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram; as well as Trello, CRM Systems, HubSpot, Pipedrive, etc. The only thing I don’t use is Twitter. I always have my smartphone with me. I don’t see any reason why I should limit smartphone usage. It helps me to be closer to my colleagues and family members. I don’t call it an addiction, but rather an opportunity to get all the information I need. I feel anxious when I’m not informed about things happening in a place where I can’t be present physically. And vice versa, if I get a message that everything’s ok, I instantly calm down.
Modern means of communication make it possible for a person to be simultaneously in several places. Until recently, it was a dream of any successful person. Now it’s a reality. Being always in touch with everyone – is how I work and it’s the most effective way for me. If you’ve never tried it before, I recommend you to try it. Be always and everywhere you need to be.
In my work, communication takes the first place. It’s communication with partners, clients, and the team. You need to build it correctly, find right approaches to people, and establish a connection. Sometimes the success of the project depends on the right communication. Phone conversations are the only thing I don’t often use in communication. I think this method is a bit outdated. You can’t record or document phone conversations, can’t search for something in them.
Communication might be tiring. Especially if you have a lot of meetings with people you don’t know. It takes energy.
It took me a lot of time to learn business communication, it comes with experience. It’s important to understand that there are different levels of communication: operational and strategic. In the beginning, when I’ve just started working at the Cluster and communicating with CEOs of the founding IT companies, I didn’t understand what they were talking about. That was the strategic level of communication. Back then I was at the operational level, thus, I couldn’t understand it.
You need to be able to listen and analyze, understand people who work in your field, be open-minded. The most important leadership skill is to be able to interpret the meaning of strategic level of communication into the operational one and vice versa. A good leader is, above all, a good spokesman who always balances between the strategic and operational levels of communication.
I personally have two types of decisions – emotionally rational and rational. The first one is when you’re so excited about something, you want to make a decision immediately and start a new project already tomorrow. But still, I make such decisions only when I already have some background, know at least something about the project and the sphere, generally understand the situation and can calculate the risks. As you see, such decisions aren’t completely spontaneous. Rational decisions are preceded by a thorough analysis and research. Before launching any project, we learn everything about the industry. That’s what we did with the IT Park project, for instance. We conducted a survey in the local IT companies to see if there’s a demand for such a project on the market. Rational decisions are harder to make, they take more time, but at the same time, the risk of mistakes is also lower.
We all make emotional decisions. However, it is essential to adopt a more rational approach to decision-making. You need to learn to quickly gather the information about the context in which the decision will be made: these are short meetings and conversations with people who have more experience in the matter. No need to make huge tables in Excel, you can just quickly count everything up on a calculator. This will enable you to make your decisions more emotionally rational.
According to the Theory of Personality Traits, leadership is one of the innate traits, therefore, it cannot be acquired. I don’t completely agree with this. In my opinion, leaders are born in unequal conditions, and these personality traits are more developed in some people than others. Through work and self-development, people invest their time and efforts to flourish the personality traits that shape us as leaders. I didn’t have such leadership traits as my friends did at school. A lot of people surrounding me had bigger natural inclinations for leadership than I did. However, when I meet them now, I understand that I’ve invested in the development of my leadership skills and they didn’t, therefore, they lost those traits without developing them.
Not everyone can be a leader and it is important to understand this. Leadership is a kind of risk. The risk in leadership lies in the fact that you have to understand your weaknesses. Being a leader is not easy, it is, first of all, a big responsibility.
For the last few years, I’m learning to think strategically, trying to deeply understand what a vision is. I think it is essential for any leader to combine these two skills – being a visionary and an operations manager. Not every company can afford to divide these roles. At the Cluster, CEO plays the role of both, we don’t have an operations director that would be responsible for the implementation of strategies. This role has to be present in every organization, and it shouldn’t always be separate people.
Supervisory Board is also responsible for the Cluster’s strategy and vision. The Board consists of the heads of the founding companies that are the Cluster’s most active members. This year we have also introduced a new tool – a Strategy Session where we’ll discuss our strategy for the next 5-10 years, generate ideas and create a united vision of our projects.
Common understanding and seeing a few steps ahead of your business – is absolutely necessary and always a win-win. However, it is important not only to have this vision of a perspective but also to be able to effectively implement it at any specific stage in the life of a company or organization. Strategic thinking is one of the competencies that can be developed, however, only entrepreneurship and professionalism will help to implement the strategy.