Group Mentoring Feature: Tae Lee

Tae is COO of ResortPass, an online platform for access to resort and hotel amenities. He was previously founder/CEO of Traveo, COO of ZEFR, and held various leadership roles at Microsoft and 3M.

1. What piece of advice do you wish you knew when you started your career?

The best way to lead is to put success of others in front of yourself and even in front of the company which you represent. Take hiring for example. Many people try to sell themselves or sell the company to a candidate. But if you truly care about the other person’s success, you’ll be more interested in learning how this role is the right move for the candidate and be upfront about why it may be the best opportunity for some but terrible for others. When firing, you’re not firing someone out of anger or disappointment. You’re firing someone because you honestly feel that they can’t grow in the company and they’d probably be more successful in a different environment and situation. This level of honesty and empathy goes a long way to managing and leading the right way. When managing, you’ll know that your job is to make everyone around you successful and no matter how smart your are or how many hours you work, it pales in comparison to the potential impact by dozens of people on your team if you can just get everyone to be 10% more successful.

2. How do you define success?

I take it this question is how I define success in my role as a COO but as a married father with two kids, my success at my job is highly correlated to my success at home. At this level, I think everyone has the capacity to work hard, make smart decisions, and manage well – but only in a vacuum. In reality, the stresses from home transfer to work and vice versa. Particularly in startups where you’re expected to always be “on”, it’s much easier to succeed in a job whether you got a family that is supportive AND have the team that is supportive of your success. So personally, my success isn’t entirely driven by KPIs and OKRs, it’s more driven by knowing that I’m constantly getting better and chasing perfection while being honest to who I am both as a professional and a human being. And if I do those things, hopefully there’s a blast radius of success in multiple parts of my work and life.

3. What is the biggest misconception about what you do?

In an early stage startup, COO’s perform many duties that most would not consider “operations” and it’s a huge misconception that there is a defined role as the COO. In an early stage environment, you’re really a partner to the CEO filling out any needs the company has whether it’s hiring, managing, strategy, or providing organizational leadership. In later stage, it’s much more defined and probably consistent with what we would all consider “the role of a COO”.

4. What traits or skills do you believe one needs to have the same job title as you or to do what you do?

Honestly, it just comes down to attitude. Just keep learning. Don’t ever think you know everything and when you think you’ve figured something out, question it and try to be even better. Perfection is impossible but it’s something to strive for and you have to actually enjoy and appreciate the work it takes to get there. If you do that, you can do anything, have any job you want, and most importantly, be a good person while doing it. I still find myself wanting to be better but in a weird way, it gives me complete satisfaction of who I am.

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