Why Mental Health And Vulnerability Belong In The Workplace (With G2’s Ryan Bonnici)
Speaker 1: Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of CMO Conversations. This is actually part two of Tricia's conversation with Ryan Bonnici, the CMO of G2. Last time, Tricia and Ryan talked about how he was able to scale his career quickly and become a CMO by the age of 30. They also talked about how Ryan was able to scale his team's growth at G2 and scale traffic from 500, 000 to six million buyers each month. So if you haven't listened to that one yet, I highly recommend going back into your feed and listening to that first, because on this episode, Ryan and Tricia are picking up right where they left off. They talk about his approach to leadership, building relationships with his team and how he's making space for mental health in the workplace. I'm going to hand it back over to Tricia and Ryan now, enjoy.
Tricia: What would you say is your leadership style? Now that we've talked about your hiring style and the structure of your team, what is your leadership style and how has that played into the success of your team do you think?
Ryan Bonnici: That's a good question. It's actually been something that I've been thinking a lot more about lately because I've been reading a lot more. I love Ben Horowitz's book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things and I feel like some excerpts from that have been going around in high rotation lately around wartime CEO versus peacetime CEO. And it got me thinking about am I a wartime CMO or a peacetime CMO? And I'm not totally sure. I think with everything that went down, it definitely took me a lot longer to start to work out what to do for us as a marketing team than I would've liked. I really felt stunned by everything that was happening with Corona and just trying to think through the revenue implications of everything, and it definitely took me longer to get going than I would've liked. I feel like right now I'm functioning well as a wartime CMO, if we call myself that, but early on, it took me a while to really get my mojo, essentially. I really felt like I was without mojo for the first month or so of COVID- 19. So anyway, just share that as a bit of context. I'd say more longer term though, what's maybe interesting to know about me is I'm an Enneagram- type at my core, which means I'm a challenger. I kind of swing to seven, which is the enthusiast. So I'm like a challenger that's enthusiastic, but pushes hard. And if folks that are maybe more familiar with DISC, I'm a DI, a really extreme DI right on the border between dominance and influence. And so I like to move quickly. I like to talk about things, but I don't like to talk about things too much. Too much talk is annoying for me and frustrating. So I think that's me at my core. I think when I'm in periods of stress, I probably become more of a commanding style of leadership, which I don't love to be honest. I don't like that side of myself, but that's where I go when I'm stressed. I become much more directive around what I need people to do. I think that's something that I need to work on because I don't think commanding is necessarily bad, but there's a way to go about it that works. And there's a way to go about it that maybe doesn't always work. I'd say in general though, when I'm inaudible myself, when I'm not super stressed, I'd say my style is probably more democratic as a leader, and I really like to do coaching with my leaders that are under me. I was really fortunate five or so years ago to get an executive coach. And I've had one ever since then. And that really helped me get out of the mentality. And I think this is important for anyone that moves up and become senior really quickly is it's really tough to get out of the doer mentality as opposed to leader. And so coaching really helped there and helped me realize that, my job wasn't to solve my team's problems, my job was to help create an environment whereby they could learn and they could handle their own problems themselves because ultimately I will then become a bottleneck if I don't do that. I'd say today though, I really try and adapt my leadership. So for someone that's newer and more junior and needs more help, I might be more directive with them versus someone that's more experienced. I might just try and support them or just delegate work to them because I know that they know what they're doing. So I think I try and adapt between being direct, being a coach, being a supporter, or being a delegator. I think I'm always trying to reevaluate based on the person's experience and their track record with doing the thing that I may be working with them on. What type of person I need to show up as. Again though, it's one of those things that I'm always learning and trying to get better at. So I'd be curious to see how that changes over time. What is your leadership style out of curiosity, Tricia?
Tricia: I tend to be the mentor coach leader. I definitely can be very definitive and more in that dominant. I tend to talk probably too much and then share my opinion and because I tend to project it with a lot of confidence, it comes across that maybe I'm not as open in terms of hearing what other people-
Ryan Bonnici: I think I have the same situation sometimes.
Tricia: But at the end of the day, I share my opinion on things in the hope that it'll direct conversations. So I probably need to say a little bit less. My philosophy is I want to hire really strong people and coach them and break down walls and open up doors for them and use my time and energy to really help them build their success. So I think the stronger you have, a team, the more you can do, the more you empower your people and that you spend your time to coach those people to do well.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, I couldn't agree with you more there.
Tricia: And I think the other thing is that I really believe in fostering a sense of belonging and ownership, where everybody understands how they contribute to the bottom line of the company. It doesn't matter if you're the creative director, you understand how having a strong brand leads to the great experience, leads to more people being able to understand what you do, and that that helps the company grow. For example, when I got to Drift, everybody was in their silos, and I think it was also very hard for them to understand how they mapped to the bottom line, because the one team of demand gen was held accountable for pipeline, but then the other teams didn't directly contribute to the pipeline. So that was a big thing for me, was to foster a collaborative environment across the teams, because I really believe by having that collaborative input, you're going to do better work. So that's been a big thing for me, but I think one of the things that, especially in today's day and age that you have been recognized for, is this commitment to mental health. So I guess that's not a leadership style, it's a little bit more like, what is the philosophy of engaging with people? Can you talk a bit more about how this became a podium for you and how it shows up at work in the outside of work? Just in terms of the broader community outside of G2, I guess I mean. Where did that come from? And what has it meant for you in your career?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, sure. So I think the quick story on that is essentially, so I started G2 a little bit after my 29th birthday in the CMO role. And what was really interesting was that I was the happiest that I've ever been. I'd got my dream job, I got up by the goal I wanted to get there. I wanted to get to the C- suite by 30, and then within about a month of getting the job, I just started to feel like... What's the word? I started to feel that itch that I had felt before that kept me pushing and moving on up. It really made me reflect because I was like, Ryan, what is wrong with you? You've literally been working your whole life to get to this job at this age and with a company that you really admire and you enjoyed it for a month, and now you're unhappy. And now you're thinking, well, you need to be the CEO, or maybe you need to be a VC. I think I was really fortunate to have that realization at a young age because I looked around and I saw, okay I've ticked all the boxes that I want to tick and I'm not satisfied. This isn't the way it's meant to be or the way I thought it would be. And so it forced me to go down a really deep and dark path really quickly of self- reflection. And so funnily enough, my wife is a clinical psychologist and naturally around this time, I was starting to feel really depressed because I had taken on this role. I think I felt the imposter syndrome of being young, being so much younger than all of the other senior leaders on the team. And then I had this immense weight on my shoulders that I think I had mainly put there myself to drive impact really quickly to prove to myself, to prove to the company that I was worthy. And so long story short, I think I realized that I was using my job and my career and my possessions and my success as a way to feel self- esteem for lack of self- esteem that I actually had at my core from a young kid and from being bullied when I was younger. And so I think essentially I had within maybe like a 12 month period, I went from being semi suicidal, to be honest, to then being so much through it. And I was really proud of where I had gotten to, and I felt like I'd learned so much about myself, and I wanted to just share that with people, I guess, essentially, and let them know that it's okay to have these feelings, and to talk about them. So step one for me was I literally just, instead of having my therapy sessions on my calendar as private, I just made them not private. That was my step one of coming out of the mental health closet essentially. Which is crazy that that was a thing because no one's afraid to put gym on their calendar or Peloton or workout. That's a badge of honor, when you work on your body and your health. When you work on your mind, you're ashamed of that. It's totally fucked up. And so the more I talked about this and the more I thought about it, I realized that I wanted to start sharing more publicly about it. And so I started sharing more, I did an op- ed for the World Health Organization, an op- ed for HBR, an op- ed with NBC and a bunch of different publications that started reaching out as I started speaking, because I think they liked the angle that I was this executive talking about something that no one really talks about. And so that, I think over time, helped me feel more connected with my team actually, because they would start to come to me and say," Hey, Ryan. I need to take a mental health day. Everything's okay but I'm a bit burnt out. And I want you to know that normally I would have never ever told a boss that I'm taking a mental health day. I just would have said I'm sick, but I feel like I can tell you that." And so I just started to feel this deep connection with my employees and started to feel like we all belong together and we were all facing similar challenges and similar demons. That's what it is to be human, I think. And so it made me feel really, really connected. And then I think at that point in time, Glenn Close reached out because she's obviously an actress, but then she founded an organization called Bring Change to Mind a decade or so ago, basically focused on fighting the stigma around mental health, because I think she did a lot of research and she ultimately saw that there's really great resources for people when they raise their hand, when they say I need help. Like the Suicide Prevention Hotline, there's so many amazing resources, therapy. But the statistics show that when someone has a mental health onset of a condition, they typically don't raise their hand and ask for help for 10 years, which is insane. And that was the case for me, because I'd say I probably had mental health challenges from the age of maybe 18. They weren't as pronounced by any means and I was able to not realize them by focusing on work and career and attainment, and it wasn't till maybe I was 28 that I realized that I actually needed to address some deeper things. And so I joined Bring Change to Mind and that also helped me have a bit more of a platform to start to share my thoughts here. I speak really openly with the leaders at G2 and with the leaders of other companies and consult on this because I'm really passionate about it, and for leaders that maybe want to start to be more vulnerable, but want to be more open, I typically tell them just start small. You can be vocal for your actions, you don't need to just blurt everything that you're feeling out there immediately. And you can, if you want to as well. And I think by doing that and by leadership showing that we're not all perfect because God, no one's perfect. But what you see on LinkedIn and on Instagram, really distorts people's image so often. That's helped me and that's helped a lot of leaders. And so it's just something that I'm really passionate about.
Tricia: Yeah. I think in the end there you bring up the point about how important it is to really be transparent and accessible to your team, and how it's refreshing in a way when you can admit that you're not perfect because we are surrounded so much by the Instagram feed, the LinkedIn feed, everything where it appears everybody's perfect. I guess it's semi purposeful that everybody puts their best thing. Most people don't put out there, I'm having a mental health day today. I just couldn't take it anymore. I respect some people because I know a couple people who really use those platforms to then just raise their hand and say," Hey, the last three months have looked perfect, but let me tell you really what's going on in my life." And I think it takes longer to do that, but I think it makes that person more human. And I think like you said, every time that we talk that we have this connection, we just talk and it just becomes this great conversation. It's interesting. You talk about how you put your time and energy into your work. And I had this experience around the same time that you're talking about actually, where I've always been very driven and I always had this ambition, and go get it, and build your career. Not as aggressive as you with this idea to be a CMO by 30. And I definitely didn't make it to that level that fast.
Ryan Bonnici: I don't recommend anyone go down that path. I don't think I would do it again, to be honest.
Tricia: But when I was 29, I had been doing Iron Man. I had been growing my career. I was thinking about, I had been married, all these things. And then all of a sudden I just realized, I'm not happy in anything. It was a huge wake up for me. And I ended up getting divorced and really sitting there and saying, holy crap, I've been so focused on go for the next thing, go for the next thing, go for the next thing. I haven't really been focused on me, and what do I need? And I didn't even know how to do that. That was the scariest time, because I'm like, oh my God, since I was 10, I was like, oh, I have to be the best in baseball. And then I have do this and then I have to learn how to do this so I can go to school for that. And then when I'm in school, I have to learn this so I can go be a career of that. Just this on and on and on and on.
Ryan Bonnici: So, a few things, few thoughts. First, what I love about just this little interaction, and this is why I try and share this with people is when you're vulnerable with someone else and you share a part of yourself that you don't typically share, people typically reciprocate. There's maybe one in 20 people, when I shared my stories around mental health, do they then not reciprocate and share something vulnerable about them. In the same way that you just did that about you. And that shows now people that they can share stuff with you and then you'll share back with them. So I love that because I think that's just a beautiful little microcosm of what being vulnerable does for the people around you. And then to your point around what you went through. I think it's really tough. I vividly remember in high school when I was majoring in psychology, learning about unconditional positive regard and how we need to raise our kids to know that it's not about achievement, it's about them just being proud of who they are and doing the best they can. I feel like somewhere along the way, that message doesn't ever seem to make it through to when we start in our careers. And it's a tough one as well, because there's a part of me that thinks at times, I'm kind of glad that I didn't have this... I don't know if this is true, but I feel like sometimes I think to myself, gosh, if I didn't become aware of my issues a bit later in life, when I was 29, maybe I wouldn't have pushed as hard as I did. And I sometimes think about this and I'm like, gosh, would I have changed it if I could have changed it? And I don't know if I would or wouldn't have. It definitely maybe would have changed my path and where I would have gone. And maybe I wouldn't have beaten myself up so much if I didn't feel like I was hitting those goals that I felt like I should be hitting. But at the same time, I got so much energy out of that feeling of being someone with a chip on their shoulder, that person that needed to prove something to the bullies from the past. So it's stoked a fire in me, that was awesome. But then also burnt me inside a little bit. I think just even having a vocabulary to understand what I went through and to talk about that, and everyone has similar stories realistically. Whether they realize them or not. It's fun.
Tricia: Well, I think it's interesting because I know every company does their review cycles and things like that, and we're in the midst of doing one of our review cycles and one of the things that's coming up is this sense of empathy. And I think one of the things in my own career that the overall ambition to move forward, move forward, move forward, move forward. I think for me, it cut out a little bit of the ability to just be empathetic with the people around me. I think in today's day and age what's happening is we're starting to see so much more how it's not a business buying from a business it's humans that are doing the research on your site, listening to other humans. And it's so much more important to think of what is that human factor within everything that the empathy comes out. Do you think that that impacted what you've experienced now? Looking at the question and this incorporation of mental health and to what you've been talking about, and this platform, has that changed the amount of empathy that you've had in your work?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, that's a great question. I definitely think it has and something that I think as my leadership has evolved over time, I remember once one of my original executive coach said to me, she was like," Ryan, you need to learn how to balance results and relationships." She said," It's something that's a really unique balance. And right now, you are just fucking so focused on results and you're not thinking about relationships. And if you really want to build teams that get motivated and inspired by you, you can't just focus on results." And essentially what I was realizing was, I was beating myself up so much inside about results and that was then overflowing to my team. And that's no way to motivate people. And so I think by learning how to better balance, because I think people either over... I think it's a rare human that can balance those two things perfectly. If I think back in my career, people that were over- index in relationships used to really frustrate me. And I have vivid memories of speaking to my bosses in the past where I would be like," Why don't we work more on this other leader? All they do is talk about their team, but they're not driving results." Like, ah. And it used to really frustrated me at my core. And I didn't even realize it, I was doing the same thing but in the other direction and both aren't right because if you over coddle your employees, they never learn actually what they need to do to hit goals. On the flip side, if you over focus on goals, they never really learned how to develop their own interpersonal skills. And so I think I've gotten a lot better at balancing those two things. But I think for me, I always need to remember to really lean into the relationship because at my core, and I think this is maybe why we get along so well, you and I, I think you're really results driven too. And so I remember saying to my coach once, I was like," But what if I become too relationship oriented and I forget about results?" And she was like," Ryan, results are in your DNA. You're never going to forget that." So just focus on relationships, the results will happen. You can't change that about yourself, but you can change how you think about connecting with others and not viewing everyone as an adversary to you. And I think that was something that I needed to learn. And maybe I'm deflecting responsibility here, but I think a big lesson for me was because I was always a regional leader. So I ran marketing for Salesforce in all of Asia Pacific. I did it for HubSpot. Did it for Exact Target. I think I had this deep down anger towards the HQ team, because I don't know if you... I think when you were doing marketing in Canada for Salesforce.
Tricia: When I was in Canada, I experienced first hand, that.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah. You never ever get anywhere near the support, anywhere near the budgets, no one knows what you're doing. And at the time it used to frustrate me because I was like, gosh, look at our numbers. We are crushing our numbers with so much little money that our counterparts in Latin America and AMEA had. And so I viewed AMEA and LATAM as competitors. We were all the regional CMOs that reported into the global CMO. And I just felt like we would dueling constantly. And maybe I was the only one, but.
Tricia: I think that's a constant thing because it is like the children all fighting to get attention from the parent.
Ryan Bonnici: Totally. And I felt like I was, I don't know which child in a big family of three kids, maybe it's the middle kid that gets neglected the most, I felt like APAC was the middle kid. That stoked a bit of anger and frustration in me, which then I think propelled me to focus more on results. And that ultimately allowed me to then assert why I should have been promoted faster, because I was able to say," Hey boss, these other two people that report to you, they have bigger teams, they have more money. They're not driving as much marketing source revenue as I am. This feels totally unfair to me. If you're not going to pay me properly and give me the promotion and give me the same title as them, I'm out." I was really fortunate that me and my boss had a really strong relationship, and I think I probably hadn't advocated for myself so strongly in the past. And fortunately I was able to lean on the data to show that. And so it worked out in the end. I then had, I think a bit more of that mentality when I came to HQ and almost viewed different functions in a business outside of marketing, maybe a little bit adversarial. I think I had to really quickly realize that, whoa, Ryan, no, they're not. You all need to work together to really achieve the company's goals. And one of my bosses, the CMO at HubSpot once taught me, he was like," Hey." He said to me," My first team is the senior leadership team." So he viewed his first team as the core team with the CRO, with the CFO, with the chief legal officer, et cetera. And then marketing was his second team, and that was a really good reminder for me that actually my first team is the senior leadership team and I need to prioritize working with them over prioritizing working in my team because when we do that, we are now all together working on the business and we can take ownership of each other's inaudible as opposed to being in silos and not really being as maybe helping to each other.
Tricia: Yeah, I think it's good. I think on the bookshelf behind me is The Advantage, which is from The Table Group, which is founded by Patrick Lencioni, which is a hundred percent about the first team being the leadership team and then how that cascades down and how I think the other thing we haven't talked about, and we don't need to go there, but is this concept of trust. And if you have that mentality of your first team being that leadership team, and you can build the trust across that team to really show the capability to work together, you can move faster. And then when you show that trust across the team, it just becomes a mental model for everyone below you to also work across the teams, maybe even just across the teams of marketing, but also to realize like, oh, well maybe the answer to this question is in the product org or in the sales org or somewhere else, and to not always just silo and feel like you're on your own.
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, absolutely.
Tricia: Well, we've talked about a lot of things and I feel like for sure, I don't know if you would say this, you spoke before about one of your super powers, but I think the super power of the vulnerability and the ability for you to connect even outside of G2 with this mental health as a platform, seems like it's one of your super powers because it really opens up doors, I would say. Are there any other super powers you feel like you have that we haven't covered?
Ryan Bonnici: The vulnerability is a funny one because when you say that, I don't know if that's a full vulnerability yet. I think I am learning how to turn it on. Actually, maybe that's the wrong way to put it. I think my vulnerability is typically always turned on and sometimes when I'm under stress, it closes off. And I think I'm still learning how to not lean into my eight, Enneagram- type of challenger always, and actually learn how to, through authenticity and kindness, which are two key values at G2, starting to lean into those before fighting back. So, I don't know, I just wanted to say that, because I feel like I can't fully own that. That would be like me lying because I don't believe that I have fully own that as a super power just yet. I don't know, I think the super power around building teams is one for me. I think being really direct and being really open and honest, even if it's not all... Again, when I'm open and honest, I'm always telling my story though. So I'm super direct with people, but I also try and asterisk, that this is my story. This is made up by me, so it could be wrong, but I'm always going to give it to you. And I think I'm really fortunate that we have built a leadership team at G2, and my boss whereby we are fucking brutally honest with each other. And I think my skin is still thickening. I'm a really sensitive guy deep down, and it's weird, I can dish it out, but fuck, it used to be hard for me to take criticism if I didn't think it was fair. And so I think I've had to learn that, but I've also just had to learn to be really, really direct with people. I don't know if you've read Kim Scott's book, Radical Candor. I've always been really direct and I think what I've changed is now I'm only direct once I've built personal trust with the person so that they know that I trust and care about them. So I think that totally re- frames the direct feedback because it's coming at them from a perspective of love and helping. I really want to help you and I care about you and this isn't to hurt you and bring you down. This is to build you up. And I don't think I had my mechanics right on that in the past and I probably wasn't as good at doing that. So that's maybe the other piece of it.
Tricia: Yeah. I think that's a really good layer to layer on, in terms of how to give constructive feedback, how that probably plays into the building of your teams and getting the results that you want, which all play together in your success model, I think that you've built across all these different companies. Is there one lesson that you think you really have learned along the way that you think is the most important lesson to share with the audience?
Ryan Bonnici: Yeah, that's a great question. I was thinking a little bit about this. I think something that I learned really early on, partly to do with being a regional marketer, I think is because I always felt like we weren't noticed and we didn't have as much budget and we didn't get as much air time with things. I think I learned really early that the best way to get attention and visibility for your team, and the best way to drive impact is to understand what are the biggest problems in the company right now and how can I go and solve them? So I have really strong memories of when I was at Salesforce, even at HubSpot, when I was COO, the chief operating officer globally would come out to the region, I was always obsessed with learning what is it that keeps you up at night time? What is it? And that would help me then better understand, okay, what leavers can I pull as a marketing team in my world to try and address that problem for them? So back at HubSpot, we were having a challenge with churn many years ago and then I remember taking that lesson from the COO and then working really closely with our customer success team in APAC to develop a lot of automations to help them get more predictive insights into when a customer might be churning. And so I would say essentially aligning yourself to the most important parts of the business is a really, really good way to set yourself up for success and to drive impact and to ultimately be rewarded and to celebrate those rewards with your team, because that really is what keeps the company afloat.
Tricia: I think it also is a great thing to think about as a CMO, because I think the CMO has a unique seat at the table to be able to look across the entire business and marketing can in some way, shape or form, I think really impact the whole business. So if you know that then you do actually have your hands in the things that can make a difference, whereas in other teams, maybe not so much. Thank you for such a great conversation. It's really been enlightening. I think you have so many different things that you've done to build your career. It's so impressive that you've been able to make it to your goal of being a CMO by age 30.
Ryan Bonnici: Silly goal.
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