Leadership Lab

Leadership Q&A with Katie Burke, CPO, HubSpot

Leadership Q&A is a monthly series that shares insight from leaders within Boston's startup community. This month, we spoke to Katie Burke, Chief People Officer of Hubspot.

 Katie Burke speaking at’s Fireside Chat.

Katie Burke speaking at’s Fireside Chat.

INTELLIGENT.LY: What was your first job?

Katie: Informally, it was babysitting, but more formally, it was as a retail associate at the Express — I folded a lot of jeans and listened to a lot of holiday music.

INTELLIGENT.LY: Share some of your hidden talents?

Katie: Finding great dessert locations (specifically ice cream) in places where I travel. I can also make a pretty decent chocolate chip cookie. All of my hidden talents revolve around consumption or concoctions with sugar, sadly.

INTELLIGENT.LY: Do you do New Year’s resolutions? If so, what are they?

Katie: I don’t do resolutions, but I do a vision board for my priorities and goals for the year — that helps me focus and provides a visual reminder of what’s important to me when I leave my apartment every day.

INTELLIGENT.LY: What are you most excited about in the Boston tech space?

Katie: That because of our universities we have a constant influx of new talent, research, and ideas to help us keep improving and growing — I’m constantly amazed by the ideas, insights, and people who call Boston home to learn or teach, and I think that sets a tone for learning and growth throughout the Boston tech community.

INTELLIGENT.LY: Talk to us about the importance of mentors and coaches in your professional life. How did these relationships begin?

Katie: Most of them have been organic in my case. When I started my career in DC, I worked for Howard Wolfson, who now works for Mike Bloomberg and previously ran Senator Clinton’s communications for her campaign. Howard is obsessed with politics and music and taught me the importance of being willing to think and act unconventionally — he was always willing to zig when other people zagged, and I learned a considerable amount from that. Overall, I think people overthink formal mentorships — if you have the attitude that you can and should learn informally from anyone you meet then complement that with strategic advice from people you admire, I think you’ll have the insight, inspiration, and feedback you need to grow.

INTELLIGENT.LY: What is the best leadership advice you ever received?

Katie: My college coach taught me that every person in any organization or team has the potential to change its attitude and performance — she was big on the notion that you don’t get a written invitation to be a leader, it’s a daily practice that everyone is capable of. When you think about leadership that way, you stop waiting for other people to step up and focus more on what you can do personally to help impact a given situation or scenario. Too many people think leadership comes with an invitation and a bow — they underestimate their own power to make a difference.

INTELLIGENT.LY: What’s the most essential function of your job as a leader?

Katie: Hiring and growing exceptional people — everything else is a distant second.

INTELLIGENT.LY: If you could talk to your past self, when you first became a people leader, what advice would you give yourself?

Katie: Don’t get lost in day-to-day “task management.”. It’s very easy as a manager to focus on the busy work, but setting a compelling vision, investing in coaching, motivating your team, and carving out time to think and create is critical to your success — I spent too much time “doing” and not enough time thinking about the “how” and talking about the “why.”

INTELLIGENT.LY: What advice would you give to first time managers?

Katie: It’s not about how much you know, it’s about how much you care — managers spend so much time obsessing over being “right” and not looking foolish for not knowing answers. You can always track down an answer to a tactical question; invest your time understanding what truly motivates and inspires your team, and coach and challenge them accordingly.

INTELLIGENT.LY: What was the hardest lesson you had to learn as a manager/leader?

Katie: You aren’t doing anyone any favors by skipping tough feedback — your team gets better in direct proportion to how willing you are to have hard conversations and help people improve. It’s imperative that you help people who work for you get better, not just ensure that they like and enjoy their day-to-day work on your team.