Candid Conversations

Faces of Leadership: Clayton Harris

AboveBoard | Sep 08, 2022

One tech exec’s approach to leading strong, diverse teams.

Decades of leadership in the tech industry taught Clayton Harris that efficiency and progress come down to true partnership.

For Harris, partnership is more than just a work strategy—it’s a leadership style.

“Throughout my career, I’ve noticed numerous benefits to this participative leadership style,” says Harris. “It can engender trust and promote team spirit and cooperation from employees. It also makes room for creativity and helps employees grow and develop.” 

Not only is collaborative leadership a boon to business development and employee satisfaction, it promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. From building strong, skilled teams to diversifying the recruitment pipeline via AboveBoard’s platform, Harris is on a mission to lead others in reaching their full potential.

Ahead, we chat with Harris about how to lead through empowerment, the benefits of diversity in the workplace, and how and why to broaden your recruitment strategy.

How would you describe your leadership style? 

My leadership style is democratic. I find this style empowering and enabling when it comes to trusting the experience and skill sets of my employees. I prefer to seek personnel opinion before making a final decision. For example, I like to ask, "How do you see it?" And, wherever possible, share relevant information to support their work efforts. Throughout my career, I’ve noticed numerous benefits to this participative leadership style. It can engender trust and promote team spirit and cooperation from employees. It also makes room for creativity and helps employees grow and develop.

"A democratic leadership style creates a work environment where everyone feels comfortable and confident enough to contribute."

How did you develop that style of leadership?

As a technology leader, I’ve learned that personnel support is mostly performance and accountability driven (where high performers typically support high profile activities). But also, it's equally important to foster growth in all team members because low performers with drivers to improve will work harder to become top performers.  

I’ve learned to make regular feedback (to managers and their employees) a priority. This helps assess strengths/weaknesses, weigh pros/cons, and ensure each person on the team can support the work that's on their plate. All in all, when employees feel empowered, it moves the authority to where the information is and creates an environment for personnel to make decisions with leadership’s support. This not only results in better decisions, better speed of execution, and less delay—all team members feel like they matter. 

What other strengths do you bring to your roles?

After 20 years of leading and helping to transform and modernize small, medium, and large-scale technical programs—everything from high-growth startups to companies providing SaaS enterprise solutions—I love to cultivate relationships and partnerships within my network that support our customers directly. 

"There's much to learn from losses too, not just wins." 

This is why I prefer to hear about customer problems, pain points, and/or challenges, and then pull from my professional experiences to recommend the best options available. Scaling a business both horizontally and vertically requires planning, thought, and preparation, in addition to the need for broad and deep knowledge across several technical disciplines.

How do you prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion in your work? 

The goal is to find the “right-fit” candidate for the job. Part of this responsibility includes valuing people who are not like yourself because a diverse team helps us understand our customers better and contribute to diverse ideas to help solve problems that drive innovation. 

"Building teams from qualified candidates regardless of their gender, background, race, religion, or sexual orientation is of the utmost importance, and a step towards true equality in the workplace." 

Your team should reflect the general makeup of the society around you. And your staff should consist of a variety of different types of people, from different backgrounds and experiences. Here are some of the key benefits I’ve noticed when hiring diverse and equitable candidates:

  • A broader range of skills and experience on your team.
  • Increased language and cultural awareness.
  • Larger and more varied candidate pools.

It's important to understand the job and identify the right job description to attract diverse candidates. Job descriptions should speak to a broad range of candidates. The language should not be geared toward a specific demographic of experience level. If this is the case, find ways to be more inclusive in your language to appeal to candidates from different backgrounds. 

It’s also important to ensure your talent pool is full of diverse candidates by sourcing from a variety of different places, like AboveBoard. If you rely on the same sources repeatedly when seeking out new candidates, your talent pool may not be inclusive. 

What advice do you have for younger or up-and-coming professionals?

1.)  Know your worth.  If you’re working a job at a specific salary and know your skill sets are worth more in the job market, explore other opportunities and ask for what you’re worth.

2.)  When recruiters ask how much you’d like to make, ask what the “max salary” is for the opportunity before providing your figure. This will help set expectations on both sides prior to interviewing.

3.)  Be transparent about your skills and experience. Recruiters are more keen to hire if you can speak openly and honestly outside of your resume. Be sure to provide real world, on-the-job examples.

4.)  If you’re seeking job stability, it’s important to understand your specific role beyond the job description. For example, look at the structure of the contract or company and the organizational chart before you sign the offer letter.

5.)  It’s not always about how fantastic you are at completing tasks. If you’re seeking advancement or promotion, executives and managers are more interested in how you lead and enable your teammates to succeed while completing tasks. When others look good, you look good.

6.)   Never expect to be rewarded, but always be willing to contribute. Be consistent, prioritize high-profile work effectively, and work smarter (strategically), not harder. This is the formula to achieve your career goals. Good luck!

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AboveBoard is an executive hiring platform that connects qualified executives with board and full-time opportunities. We are expanding access for underrepresented groups of executives—particularly Black, Latinx, and women. To join visit

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