Real Leaders Podcast Interviews QuesTek CCO Severine Valdant

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QuesTek chief commercial officer Severine Valdant was a recent guest on the Real Leaders Podcast. QuesTek ranked No. 57 on the 2024 Real Leaders Top Impact Companies list, which recognizes companies that are working to scale solutions for pressing issues facing the world.  

Severine joined host Kevin Edwards to discuss what it means to be a leader and the challenges that come with that responsibility. Click this link to listen to the full episode. Here are some highlights of what Severine had to say:  

On the challenges of being a leader: “You can’t be a leader if you have no one to lead. So I think the most important thing is the people. Start with the people. Leading the people through their own journey. For yourself, looking at your mentors so you can be a stronger and better leader to the others along the journey. … You can have the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have the right people to bring it to life and to market or to adopt it, it’s not going to go anywhere.” 

On what QuesTek does for its clients: “What we’re trying to do in our organization is to actually resolve materials challenges for our clients and the companies we work with. Well, guess what? Sometimes they don’t exactly know what the challenge is, or what the problem is. They may know something’s not quite working, but they don’t realize what it really means. Especially when it comes down to materials. You may think a part is failing because of a design, where it may actually have to do with the materials that are being used.” 

On communication: “There’s more than one way to connect with a person. In order to communicate well, you’ve got to listen well. You’re not going to know what to tell someone if you don’t listen to them first and kind of get to know them a bit. What is their struggle, what is their style of listening as well as responding? Being a great communicator is also being a great listener and observer. Being in a commercial role right now, it’s very important when I work with prospective clients and existing clients. I have to listen and then ask questions, be inquisitive. I kind of help them figure out what they need, where they want to go, what they want to solve. And you don’t do that by just monopolizing the conversation.”  

On manipulating the conversation: “If you manipulate the conversation too much, you’re probably going to end up where you want to be, but is it where you need to be? That’s a different thing. Wanting to go somewhere, you may not end up at the right place. So I think driving the conversation by asking the right question — I just went through this workshop of storytelling not that long ago. It’s a lot about the way you ask the question too. You want to make people talk, and you don’t ask questions where you expect a yes or no answer. You ask questions that are going to engage your audience and they’re gonna want to tell you their story.”  

On delegation: “To delegate well you have to give clear direction. I think that’s very important. I don’t believe in micromanagement, because it would waste my time and waste the other person’s time. I’ve been the recipient of it through my career and this is probably my biggest pet peeve. You should give the person the tool to do the work, you give clear direction, but you are also accessible, right? That’s part of being a leader, also being a mentor. Then you get them to do the work, to learn, and maybe make some mistakes along the way. But if you are accessible and you’re great at communicating with your team, you’re going to be there with them as they go through the journey of taking on a new task.” 

On an organization striking the proper balance: “Our company is made up of 80% engineers, so data is very important. If you don’t have the data nobody’s gonna believe you. But we need to go beyond that. We need to take some risk. Because if you’re just looking for 100% accuracy, you’re not going to grow, you’re not going to go anywhere, you’re gonna get stuck. Or it’s gonna be too late.” 

On her own work/life balance: “I’m not sure I get it right. I think I’m getting much better at it. That’s probably how I would summarize it. Early in my career, I didn’t think that was a thing. Now, with my team, my friends, my family, it does become a conversation. And I was pretty late to that conversation myself. But I would say that I’m much better at it. I still struggle with it because when I try to prioritize life, I feel bad many times. It’s a struggle.” 

On what being a real leader is all about: “What I love about what we’re doing, we’re actually getting a real impact. We’re helping companies that are looking at new energy, new batteries or new fuel-efficient designs that include new materials. And I think, ‘that’s real.’ That’s reality, that’s something we need to do. There’s a real impact. As much as I see the bottom line is important, but we’re not in it just for the money. There’s this other side of what we’re doing that gets a real impact. All the companies we work with, they all have either carbon neutral or those big sustainability goals and they’re coming to us because they want us to help them get to the right material solution. Not just get to the right solution but also get to it faster so we can see the impact sooner. So I think a real leader is a leader that can have a real impact.”