A Story of
Clarity & Simplicity for Goal Achievement
Herwig Stöckl´s fascinating story started already in kindergarten when he was rather the one who was followed than the one who followed others. The reason why Herwig was taken seriously and was more often the leader than the follower was simple: He was brave daring to act with true commitment and was inclusive, sharing his experience with others while achieving goals together.
If you ask me why I was like that I think my younger sister contributed to it.
My father was a salesman, on the road from Monday to Friday every week, so my mother had to raise us alone and I, as the big brother, had to take the lead early – but also my sister challenged me.
There is this anecdote about my chocolate collection when I was 4-5 years old. I had saved all chocolate bunnies from Easter, St. Nicholas in chocolate, and Christmas collections because I liked to watch them. My two years younger sister, she preferred to eat them. So, I had the choice between act and eat mine - or watch her taking my chocolates.
So, I think I was challenged both by my mother to take some responsibility, but also by my sister to act and to be on my toes.
Herwig´s ability to come to action quickly has always been much more in focus than to reflect and analyze. The learnings from the insights he took from two specific incidents in his life strengthened his philosophy around this ability further.
I was shy and there were two clear turning points in my development towards this behavior and leaving the shyness behind me.
The first one was when I at the age of 16 was elected as students’ representative of my class. Between all the representatives in my high school we should even elect a leader. I realized that this was a group of fellows with the ambition to become politicians on the one hand and rather uninterested students flattered by the title as representative on the other hand.
None of those sides attracted me, I thought the main representative of 600 students should simply try to represent them and do this job, so I volunteered myself. I thought just doing it was the easiest way to achieve impact or as I often refer to it: “lead by example”.
The second turning point came about 7 years later. It was a car accident that made me reflect and encouraged me to leave all shyness finally behind me. I usually call it my personal 911, because it happened on November 9th.
I drove my sister’s car and the truck driver behind me didn’t see me stopping and crashed into my car with 100 km/h – Like a miracle, I survived without a scratch, just a shock and a reflection that I shall change my motto and leave the shyness totally behind me.
My new motto became that I rather try something and regret the next day that I tried than regretting the next day that I haven’t tried. Being so close to death I just thought, if I would die tomorrow, and I haven’t even tried I could only blame myself. If I at least had tried and failed, I have at least done what I could.
This changed my life - not only on the relationship area but also professionally.
I remember I dared to tell my first manager the truth when he asked me in my first development talk “Herwig, if you could choose between becoming the top engineer with the most exciting tasks or a manager of a boring team what would you choose?”. I told him that I liked exciting engineering tasks, but my passion was leadership and as a leader of a boring team I would have a leadership challenge. Ten years later when I left that company, he told me that my answer was one of the biggest professional surprises he ever face - but he was very happy that I had told him.
Herwig´s exciting career journey is characterized by having complexity in the agenda. On another side he has football as a hobby. He masters the skill to simplify things and his talent can be seen in these two completely different areas. His humble approach and the simple way how he can explain a complex concept provides clarity in a very inspiring way.
Something complex does not need to be complicated. This is true in professional work, in relationships and even in football.
Let me take an example from football, where I learned quite a lesson. When I was about 17, I was invited for the first time to play with the A-team in a training match against a team of former semi-professional players. Those were all 35+ and not in best shape. We were 17 to 35 years old and well trained. But our opponent had a good strategy. Since they were not as good in running and fighting, they realized their technical skills and teamwork will be the key to success.
So, they tried to anticipate where the next pass shall land and moved in moderate speed but earlier. They concentrated a lot on passing the ball extremely accurate to their teammate, instead of taking a chance, they rather chose to return and restart. Low speed, patience and accuracy against high speed, physical power, energy, brave attempts, and risk taking.
After 90 minutes we had been defeated by 0-7! Ok, if we would have developed our strategy further, we would have most likely had the chance to shine, but we made it too complicated for us. Those old guys reduced the complexity with a very simple strategy, and we couldn’t stand up. And I can tell you that such simple methods can be also applied in professional work or in relationships. There is this famous saying that “we often don’t see the wood because of all the trees”, I like this a lot.
Herwig have been working locally and globally. When he is asked what he would recommend to those that would like to try the career jumps he so successfully has achieved, he generously shares his best practices.
Well, the first advice is to not doubt and just do it.
To succeed it is necessary that you keep your integrity, that you continue to be yourself. But of course, you need to adapt, there were big differences in the newly founded Austrian software development unit that had the mission to go global compared to the already global telecom giant forced to return to profitability or the health care sector during the recent pandemic.
I often hear that I have adapted and adjusted in record time, which might be true, but it is not as complicated. Think about football again: if I see some kids playing in the park and join them, I will play different than if I play with my old boys’ team or if I play a tournament.
And with the same team I will act different when we are playing against others on the same or a lower level or if we meet an opponent who is much more skilled.
I still kick the ball the same way, but I choose my rushes, my fights, adapt my risk taking, etc. The same I have done in the career jumps. In football they say you need 10000 hours of training to become really good, maybe we can draw a conclusion from that even for the professional career: “challenge yourself more often to expose you to changes and you will master them better”.
Or as one of my executives said once: “I must qualify for my job everyday – if you go to work with that attitude, you will not be in troubles”.
Herwig is also entrepreneur, and that area could be seen as hard to achieve because of the many roles we entrepreneurs must take. This is the complexity seen by many, but Herwig shares interesting insights for those who want to try entrepreneurship.
Again, take it simple: as an entrepreneur you need to have a product or service to sell. And to sell you need a customer. The customer value needs to be higher than the costs to produce and deliver and that includes how complicated your product development might be, how fancy it can look or sound. Don’t forget those basics.
If you have at least 80% of it and you believe in it, there is a good chance to make it. The pareto principle will make the remaining 20% to hell since they will cost you 80% of the effort, sorry for the truth! But if you apply the LEAN thinking and keep focused on the basics, then it will work.
It might take more effort, more sweat, more time, more money, might need some detours or strategy changes but if you have a product that creates value and reach your customers you will be one of those who succeed.
If you fail despite it, you have nothing to blame you for. Only if you don’t make the attempt, you can blame yourself.
Be aware that a great team can realize the impossible sometimes, so whenever possible don’t run alone, find your dream team and do it together. In the team it is also easier to leave some hats to others. If you cannot do that, don’t be shy or afraid, put them on, you will see they will fit you well. There is a high chance you will master it better than expected.
When it comes to challenging periods of time, I have worked hard and needed hard work out – so my passion for football has in tough times also been a means to get the head and body clear for the challenges in professional or private life.
I don’t want to encourage you all to become football players, there are already so many. But physical activity I can strongly recommend. “Mens sana in coropore sano” is a Latin wisdom that means: “A healthy mind in a healthy body”!
If you fill mentally exhausted, dare to take a break – go for a walk, run a mile, take a round on the golf course, beat your friend in tennis, play with your children or whatever you like. And afterwards, return with fresh energy.
What would be your best 3 tips to stop analyzing things too much and instead become sharper to simplify things before any important decision?
What is your next step, do you have any exciting plans coming up that you would like to share?
There are always next steps. I have just launched my first book with the title “You in charge” which is maybe another evidence of applying simplicity.
I had the idea for a long time and had a publisher interested in this idea many years ago but due to change of strategy they didn’t follow through that.
So, in summer I made some research and detected that it is quite simple and cheap to publish yourself nowadays and following my motto “don’t regret tomorrow that you didn’t attempt” I just did it.
Now I have got the first positive feedback on it, people obviously like my approach to explain leadership principles both in theory but also in own experienced reality via anecdotes from the football field or from my work as a kindergarten cop (yes, I was a kindergarten teach for one year) as well as real professional situations with my teams in Siemens or Ericsson.
So, I think about trying to market it. And if I succeed, I have plenty of ideas for a second and third book.
Also, I have private plans like installing my own solar cells and building a decent swimming pool. And of course, to learn new things and this means to travel again when the pandemic allows and explore new countries. I have still a few lefts on my bucket list.
I have counted to over 60 countries that I have own professional experience in and a few more I have visited only for fun, so exploring some more would be nice.
Finally, if my book sells above all expectations, I promised I will translate it myself to both Swedish and German. And not to forget I am active in 3 football teams 😉
You can connect with Herwig and follow his inspiring journey via:
Photographer: Lonnie Vilumsons
Interview: Cristina Söderberg