The Leadership Game Plan: Why Hagai Tal, CEO Taptica, Nurture’s Leadership

What leader should you model? I would proclaim, without hesitation, you should model John C. Maxwell. Next I would explain that Hagai Tal, CEO of Taptica, is the 2nd leader you should model.

Why? Because the need to change the world for the better is urgent, and as the scope of the world’s problems expand, the nature of leadership must expand. Leadership is no longer married to title or position; its new purpose is about adding value to others.

It’s about asking yourself, “As a leader, how much value can I add to the lives of other people?”

Hagai explains, “True leaders have the passion and ability to make a difference in the lives of the people they lead.”

Tal intimately understands the new role of leadership. He is intentional about feeding the “leadership fire burning within,” by becoming a Fellow at The Aspen Institute and creating a leadership program within Taptica.

So let’s read Hagai's interview on how he empowers and nurtures other leaders. You won’t be disappointed.

The Interview

So, Hagai what’s your story?

I grew up in a culture that preaches ‘anything is possible,’ starting with family, throughout my education and my army service too. I have adapted these same values to all areas of my life and in my interactions with the people around me – anything and everything is possible. Some internal drive always pushed me to prove myself, this plus my surroundings which made me constantly feel that I had to prove myself, created an unstoppable force. My two brothers are both also entrepreneurs so I guess there’s a secret sauce here of both nature and nurture.

The thing that gets me out of bed every morning is the hope of changing people’s lives and the quality of their lives on a daily basis. Serving as the CEO of Taptica isn't my first venture – I've been an entrepreneur and investor for over a decade – but the common thread in all my projects is my ability to see the potential of a company and set it on the right course to fulfill that potential. Of course I can't do it alone, so my mission is to convince the right people to join me on that path to success – the people who believe as wholeheartedly as I do in what we're doing.

Why should leaders lead?

True leaders have the passion and ability to make a difference in the lives of the people they lead. Leadership is an internal drive, a fire burning within. I don't like to use this expression, but it feels like destiny. Leaders who have this innate quality have an obligation to share it with their peers, to pay it forward and share their knowledge and talent with others.

It's not enough that I provide Taptica with leadership, it's my responsibility to empower and nurture other leaders within the company. This is a major part of why I started an internal management course for middle management at Taptica. It’s important to recognize that leadership is not a finite resource; the more you share, the more everyone benefits.

And when they do lead, what is their first responsibility?

It is critical that leaders surround themselves with the right people and employees to join them on the journey. Ensuring that your employees understand your strategy and goals, and buy into those goals is the first responsibility of any good leader. Of course this isn't always easy, especially getting their buy-in, but it's a crucial part of accomplishing your objectives and making your business work. A good leader has the ability to communicate his or her vision in a way that each employee can relate to and then can motivate the employees to contribute to the overall success of the company.

How does a leader build trust?

I believe trust is built by setting a personal example and, no less important, has its foundation in the ability to listen, share and learn from others. For example, at Taptica our offices are nearly entirely open space, and I've chosen to sit within this open space with everyone else. I want my employees, at all levels, to know that they can speak to me directly, that I'm open to their ideas and input – and moreover, that I am often relying on them, as they have insights that I don't have at a management level.

I try to be very open with our employees about what's going on in the business because it's essential to me that they understand that they're all a part of the journey. It's also important for me to be one of them as well, so I'm there to hear the cheers (and join in!) when someone closes a great deal or month…. and to say happy birthday when someone celebrates.

How are you making things better for the people who follow you?

At Taptica, a large part of the workforce is hired without having any prior experience. We hire people with potential and drive, which we believe are more important than education and experience at that stage. We task ourselves with educating them about the business and we hold a series of training courses for new employees to learn the skills of junior positions at Taptica. Educating them about the business and having them be a part of this culture offers a model which they can seek to implement in the future, wherever they go, and not only in the business world.

I've read a lot of Jim Collins' work and really relate to his findings on visionary companies, especially about 'homegrowing your management.’ Collins found that as great companies grow, you can see continuity and order in management tenure and succession. Insiders preserve the core values, understanding them on a gut level in a way that outsiders usually cannot. Yet insiders can also be agents of change, building on the core values while moving the company in exciting new directions. This is a win-win situation; we get better leaders and our employees get to grow professionally.

What are you currently doing to develop your leadership?

I am a Fellow of the third class of the Middle East Leadership Initiative of The Aspen Institute and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. Their website describes the fellowship as being "designed for proven, entrepreneurial leaders who have reached an inflection point in their lives and careers when they would like to 'paint on a broader canvas' as leaders and could benefit from an opportunity to think through how to do that with a diverse group of peers with whom they would not ordinarily interact."

For me, personally, it's been so much more than that. I give them credit for helping me find and stoke that leadership fire burning within, and helping me to learn that sharing this passion is my motivation in life. While the fellowship itself was a two-year program, the network continues to be a major part of my life with annual action forums that keep us all involved and committed to paying it forward. The focus is very much on making a greater mark on our local communities and the world at large. For me, this translated into a new venture which offers many of the same services we provide at Taptica to underserved populations within my community. It's a project I'm deeply proud of and one of the most defining learning experiences I've ever had as a leader.