Some people recognize the need for change.
Some people talk about the need for change.
And some people create change.
Leyla D. Seka is that last type of person. I’ve known Leyla for years, and time and time again, this founder and executive has put her actions where her values are. She operates with the type of personal and professional ‘haiku’ that demands she step up when something’s misaligned. In a world where ‘groupthink’ dominates decision making, Leyla knows the power of going against the flow.
Management by haiku is a concept I developed to inspire leaders to focus on their core priorities in order to expedite decision-making; stay on track; be intentional; and go further, faster. It is all about clarity and focus— two of the most transformative forces you can unleash in an organization. And the key to unlocking them? Take a lesson from Leyla and challenge groupthink everywhere it rears its head.
Leyla Seka is one of the most experienced operators in tech today, and frankly, her achievements are inspiring. Much of her success comes from her personal commitment to the power of diversity—something too often overlooked in Silicon Valley circles even though research consistently shows that diverse teams perform better.
Leyla kicked off her post-college life by joining the Peace Corps, spending two years in Mali, Africa. There she saw firsthand how the power of diversity is antithetical to groupthink. It avoids that fatal trap of eliminating challenges and dismissing individual creativity and contributions. Diversity of thought, perspective, background, and identity—it’s all essential if you want to break out of ruts and innovate. A few years later, those lessons would become foundational to her tech career.
A longtime Salesforce executive, Leyla was one of the most senior women in the company’s history, serving as GM of multiple business units, including mobile and AppExchange—but she wasn’t interested in being alone at the top. She not only advocated for more women in leadership, she also started and led Salesforce’s ambitious $8.7 million effort to close the gender pay gap, a huge initiative which rippled throughout the tech and business sectors.
And she was just getting started.
Leyla is fiercely committed to increasing diversity in venture capital, and once again, she’s not just a vocal advocate; she’s actively creating change. She helped launch and build Operator Collective, a venture capital fund focused on encouraging female operating executives to invest. Upon doing that she realized even fewer Black executives were engaging in the Venture Capital ecosystem. “Fewer than 3% of VC funds employ Black or minority professionals, and only 1% of venture-backed startups have a Black founder,” Leyla says. She cites Morgan Stanley’s assertion that this systemic exclusion “leaves a trillion-dollar opportunity on the table.”
Leyla says that realization ignited something in her. In response, she co-founded Black Venture Institute (BVI), an organization created to educate Black executives on venture and angel investing. To date, BVI has graduated more than 250 fellows, many of whom are actively investing and working in Venture Capital today.
Leyla has also sat on the Board of Girls Who Code for five years. “I firmly believe that change has to be systematic and it has to begin early. We’re taught from a young age who and what we’re supposed to be, so changing that requires real commitment. I don’t want to leave the world the way I found it; I want to leave it better.”
Why groupthink is dangerous, and how diversity can help
When asked to share her thoughts on groupthink, Leyla’s reply is decisive and, as expected, clear. “Too often in my career I’ve watched people make poor decisions because no one wanted to give the hard truths. Speaking up is hard; speaking out is harder. Over time I’ve learned to do both. At moments it has hurt me, but more often than not, it has differentiated me from the pack and given me opportunities to do some truly remarkable things.”
It’s not lost on me that managing by haiku and using groupthink ostensibly try to accomplish the same task: making expedient decisions. But it’s important to never conflate one with the other. When you manage by haiku, you welcome new ideas and challenges. You need new perspectives. When you get new information that makes your haiku better, you adjust accordingly. As Leyla states, the power of diversity supercharges this process.
Managing by haiku means saying, “Talk to me about how your idea supports our focus.”
Managing by groupthink means saying, “That’s not how we do things here.”
Advocacy, allyship, diversity, questioning, challenging—these aren’t threats to focus and clarity. They’re invaluable reinforcements, making your haiku stronger and more actionable. After all, successful leadership isn’t just about making decisions efficiently. It’s about making the right decisions efficiently, based on the right questions.
If no one ever challenges your ideas and decisions, are you really making the right decisions? Or are you just surrounded by groupthink and plunging ahead, regardless of who it impacts and the superior solutions that were left unexplored, or worse, unspoken? (Spoiler: It’s probably the latter.)
On that note, I’ll leave you with a haiku.
Momentum rolls fast…
But it rolls downhill.