8 things I learned from Danny Davis about leadership at our fireside chat last night


(thanks for the great photo, Jay!)

Last night my good friend and marketing extraordinaire, Stephanie Critchfield, interviewed Danny Davis and I in a “fireside chat” on leadership at Digital Atlanta. Danny and I were partners at Spunlogic (along with Raj and Raghu) so it was fun to talk about our experiences, both together and then separate (Danny started Proving Ground over three years ago and I stayed at Engauge until recently starting Dragon Army). I LOVE talking to other entrepreneurs and leaders about their experiences, and last night was no exception.

The 8 things I learned from Danny Davis about leadership

The best way to lead a company is to lead by example. Danny lives and breathes this, which is why I believe he’s been such an effective leader in the various roles he’s played at companies.

Be authentic. Danny and I used to work with a leader that would give the phoniest, fake-passionate speeches that would leave everyone rolling their eyes and begging for it to stop. That kind of fake inspiration never works. Instead, what I’ve observed Danny do over time is to be as authentic as he could be. And he taught me along the way not to put up with people that aren’t.

If your company is broken, a new hire or a software fix isn’t going to help. We learned this the hard way at Spunlogic. When we weren’t growing, we tried to hire salesperson after salesperson to fix it. And while we had a few good ones, most didn’t pan out. We just weren’t set up to grow at the time. Danny has also always been an advocate for not relying on software to solve a problem. If you aren’t running projects well, its most likely a process problem and not a software problem.

The importance of the pivot. I’ve watched Danny successfully pivot a few times at Proving Ground. That’s hard work! Taking your company and your vision and pointing it in a new direction is something that takes confidence, support from your team and the foresight to follow through on it.

Be conscious of the company you keep. I don’t know anyone better at this than Danny. He left Engauge mainly for this reason and I put up with it much longer until I found a way to solve the problem without leaving. The company you keep reflects on you personally and you need to look in the mirror and feel good about who you’re hanging out with and whether its worth it or not. As a leader, this is especially important. People will notice.

Importance of your personal brand. Everyone who has worked with Danny has loved working with him, and this was never more evident than when he left and started Proving Ground and people flocked to work with him. If there a better indicator of a great leader than when that happens?

Don’t outsource critical areas of the company. We had a question from the audience about what you can outsource as you grow your company and what you can’t. Danny smartly pointed out that you should never outsource the critical areas of your business. Outsource the things that aren’t as important that take your focus away from the more important tasks, but keep those that are critical close.

Learning how to delegate is tough, but critical. We talked a lot about this last night and both agreed that learning how to delegate as leaders was a critical skill in our growth and one of the harder things to achieve. But its a requirement if you’re going to be the leader of a growing company.

Special thanks to all of our friends that came last night, it was great to see all of you guys!


  1. Stephanie Critchfield on October 9, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Great recap! Thanks for doing this, people really seemed to get a lot out of it. I think two interesting additions are: 1) Be absolutely deliberate about the development of your company culture; hold it dear. That defines you. 2) (This is probably pinned to culture) Be careful about the people you appoint to help you lead, because they can make or break you — in terms of splitting up duties, leading teams and embodying culture. …. Actually one more thing: we talked about communication, and how important it is to be responsible about sharing information with your employees. Good leaders, and good companies, practice being good people too. That means, being honest about what’s going on (to the point you can). Just like good relationships, communication is what binds.

  2. Raghu Kakarala on October 9, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Ditto on the transparency – strong leaders are more transparent, usually leaders who are less transparent are also not comfortable in their own position so they don’t feel comfortable sharing information widely to their employees

  3. emailrocks on October 9, 2013 at 10:20 am

    That picture keeps getting better and better. For the record, photo taken from an HTC One X (ie. Android), not an iPhone ;-)

    As I’ve heard it from several people, the best way to tell if you are a good leader is to see if anyone is following you. I also firmly believe that great leaders are passionate about investing in the lives of their teammates.

    One other thing that was mentioned last night was how important work/life balance is and that ultimately, things at home have to be right in order for things at work to go right.

  4. Drew Hawkins on October 9, 2013 at 11:52 am

    I loved the perspectives you all shared with work/life balance. Work isn’t everything, family is. It’s hard to remember that in our culture sometimes. I keep a photo of my wife and dog (since we don’t have kids yet) on the background of my phone to try and remind myself that any decision I make that day could affect them – good or bad.

    I also liked the transparency issue. I know the phrase “because I said so” didn’t resonate with me well growing up – and I don’t think it really does for anyone. Even just explaining “here’s why I can’t tell you more about this yet” really helps.

  5. Megan Hickey on October 9, 2013 at 11:57 am

    Really wanted to make it out. Love listening to you guys! Thanks for the recap on Danny. I miss working with him and Proving Ground!

  6. Stephanie Critchfield on October 9, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    I should have said that my comment were themes discussed by Danny, but also by Jeff.

  7. Jeff Hilimire on October 9, 2013 at 1:25 pm

    Yep, good points Jay Money, and thanks for the pic!

  8. 12 Things Really Respected People Do #blindpost on November 1, 2013 at 9:48 am

    […] fakeness in those around them. And they have a moral compass that always points true North. ~ Danny Davis, co-founder and partner at Spunlogic, currently co-founder and CEO of Proving […]

  9. […] blog, Hilimire praised Davis’ business and leadership acumen in an Oct. 9 entry called “8 things I learned from Danny Davis about leadership at our fireside chat last night,” which refers to an event at Digital […]

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