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Leadership Matters

The power of the power pose: How a software CEO became a better leader

Through an open mind, determination to learn from missteps and lots of repetition, Dean Guida has guided himself to become a better leader.

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 5:00 a.m. May 2, 2024
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
Dean Guida in New York City earlier this year for the release of his book. “When Grit is Not Enough: An Entrepreneur's Playbook for Taking Your Business to the Next Level.”
Dean Guida in New York City earlier this year for the release of his book. “When Grit is Not Enough: An Entrepreneur's Playbook for Taking Your Business to the Next Level.”
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Clearwater executive and entrepreneur Dean Guida, in preparing for a leadership retreat he once attended in North Carolina, knew instantly how he was going to grade himself on his leadership for a 360 evaluation. 

Five out of five stars. 

Guida, after all, at the helm of software firm Infragistics, once set up free vending machines filled weekly with candy and snacks for the whole company — a $45,000 annual expense that was only shuttered when HR convinced Guida it was too unhealthy. 

Guida, 59, founded Infragistics in 1989 in New York City. He remains CEO today, running the multimillion-dollar business from his home in Pinellas County. More than 2 million software developers use Infragistics products worldwide, mainly for software apps. The company, according to a spokesperson, has some 250 employees across six countries with a client roster that includes most of the S&P 500. Its headquarters is in the New York City suburb of Cranbury, New Jersey. 

Infragistics was a much younger company when Guida filled out the 360 leadership evaluation. But even then the affable Guida took great pride in being a strong leader. 

“I gave myself a five, which is the top rating for caring about people. I was like ‘I care about people. I love people. I’m a five,’” Guida says. “Well, guess what my score was from the team? It was a two.” 

“I was so heartbroken,” Guida continues. “I was like, “how could it be a two?’ Like, that's just impossible.”

The low score and misguided perception Guida had of himself and his leadership was a punch to the gut. He was headed to the Center for Creative Leadership in Greensboro, North Carolina. The center is a globally-known leadership think tank, where top-level CEOs and even military generals go for sessions and retreats. “It was spooky,” Guida says. “Before I went, I had to take all these psychological tests. They interviewed me, they interviewed my wife, they interviewed my executive team, they interviewed everyone who worked with me, and everyone rated me.”

The score, Guida says in looking back, was also a catalyst to immerse himself in a different way to think about how to be a good leader in a high-stakes, big-dollar, high-performing organization. He talks often now about the leadership changes he learned and executed on, both with his team and in speeches to other CEOs. The changes are also a part of his recently published book, “When Grit is Not Enough: An Entrepreneur's Playbook for Taking Your Business to the Next Level.” The book, sprinkled with leadership nuggets at various stages of Infragistics, was published Jan. 9 by an imprint of Inc. magazine. 

In a recent virtual interview, Guida talked about some of the key leadership moments in his life and the life of the company. Edited excerpts from the conversation and book: 

Feedback machine

Be aware

Guida says the first way he handled the low 360-evaluation score situation is awareness: of what he was doing wrong — and what he could change. Through the leadership center, Guida writes, he discovered he was too “focused on wanting to get things done and was very impatient with others. I was all about work and tasks. At the same time, I liked people and didn’t want to hurt their feelings.”

Dean Guida says he wrote his book based on 30 years of experience.
Courtesy image

Through that training, additional coaching, “meditation and things not going well, I became even more aware of Impatient Dean,” Guida writes. “Unfortunately he still shows up at meetings. Sometimes I catch him and replace him with Empathetic Dean, Focused Dean and Listening Dean. Sometimes I don’t. This is where feedback comes in handy, but that can be difficult to get when you’re the ‘boss.’ Fortunately, my executive team has learned how to give me feedback straight.”

In our conversation, Guida adds he learned being an empathic and vulnerable leader requires a level of conscious strategy and planning. “I was so driven and focused on getting work done that I didn't take the time to talk to people,” he says. “I was like ‘do this, do this, when is this next meeting? And so I learned you have to take the time to be personal.”

Always hustling

The story of Infragistics — and the title of the book — is about how to grow a company beyond grit. Yet a sense of grit is hard to ignore when talking to Guida. He grew up mostly in Miami and Miami Beach but was born in New Jersey and maintains a bit of the Northeast accent, and edge. His parents divorced when he was six, and he says he wanted to help his mom. So he convinced the maintenance man at their condo complex to pay him to sweep floors and clean the pool. Up next? By second grade, he writes, he was using an eight-track player to create mixtapes of Pink Floyd, Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Styx he sold to other kids. He later made burritos at a taco joint and worked as a busboy and barback at TGI Friday’s to help his mom pay rent, he writes. 

Get going

The early days of Infragistics mirrors the grit theme. Guida launched the company with his friend Don Preuininger and $25,000 he had saved. Guida believed a merger with a troubled competitor, in the early days of Infragistics, would catapult the business to a much bigger market.

But that triumph, he says, soon turned to trouble. “Within months, we were draining cash. One day we hit rock bottom,” he writes. “We had $618 in the bank and $580,000 in monthly expenses. Suddenly, we were the ones about to go out of business.”

Guida says his biggest mistake then was thinking he could fix the business through his hustle, determination, will, and, well, grit. The realization he couldn’t led Guida to an epiphany: he, and Infragistics, had to develop entirely new processes and procedures to win at the bigger levels the company was now occupying. 

Command performance

No slouch

Guida has changed and grown as a leader in both noticeable and more nuanced ways. One example of the noticeable is in how he pays attention to his manners and mannerisms. He recalls a leadership exercise, in a seminar run by executive coaching company Vistage, where he had to read the poem “Mary Had a Little Lamb” to other executives in his group. The lesson? To connect with others, tone matters. “Whenever I speak with either a group or an individual, I think about my tone of voice, how I am saying something, my mannerisms and my body language,” he writes. “They are all important in being an effective leader.” 

Presence is enough

Another aspect of mannerisms, Guida says he has learned, is in command presence. He cites Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s noted attire of a military T-shirt and combat boots as a good example of command presence. The wartime president is sending a defiant message of solidarity by ditching the suit and tie, Guida writes. “I, too,” he writes, “have to be as aware as Zelensky as to how I present myself.”

Power people

Guida is a big fan of Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy’s 2012 Ted Talk on how people can adopt their own version of Wonder Woman’s power pose: Put your hands on your hips, plant your feet firmly and lift your chin. Cuddy says doing this with your body, or some version of it, can profoundly influence your mind. Guida agrees. “It has helped me immensely when I faced a difficult meeting or when I needed to boost my executive/command presence.” 



Mark Gordon

Mark Gordon is the managing editor of the Business Observer. He has worked for the Business Observer since 2005. He previously worked for newspapers and magazines in upstate New York, suburban Philadelphia and Jacksonville.

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