The attitude adjuster

If attitude is altitude, than Nanci Caldwell must be somewhere up around the peaks of Mount Everest.

Caldwell, the former vice-president and general manager for the North America enterprise accounts organization for Hewlett-Packard, has recently stepped into the role of PeopleSoft Inc.’s chief marketing officer.

“What PeopleSoft was looking for, what I like to do and what I am good at are very complementary,” Canadian-born, Pleasanton, Calif.-based Caldwell said of her career move. “I spent a lot of time making sure that it was the case, because to me that’s going to be a very big determinant of my success.”

PeopleSoft, which provides e-business applications, is moving in a direction in which Caldwell is excited about contributing.

“I wasn’t looking for a move. I was very challenged at what I was doing and felt like I was contributing at HP,” Caldwell explained. “It was the combination of things that came together, in terms of the PeopleSoft opportunity. I knew I could get very passionate about it – looking at what we could accomplish gets a person pretty excited. But also it played very much to my strengths.”

In a recent speech, entitled “Attitude is Altitude,” Caldwell explored some of her experiences as a successful player in the IT world and outlined the three elements that have been integral to her own career path.

“These elements, all linked to attitude, build on each other and help to battle the human tendency to take things a little easier,” Caldwell explained to her audience at the Women’s Television Network and Powerpoint Group’s breakfast series in Toronto. “When these three elements are present, they drive us to achieve what many people think are not possible.”

According to Caldwell, passion in business is achieved “when you combine something you really enjoy doing with the experience of success and a strong vision of what can be, and what is possible. Success was not easy to attain,” Caldwell explained. “If I didn’t love what I was doing or have a vision of what I thought was possible, I am sure I would have given up. It’s not how lofty the goal or the vision is, it’s how strong it is and how real the vision is.

“I strongly encourage people to take the time to figure out what they really like to do,” Caldwell continued. “It needs to be the sort of thing where you’re at a job to do something, not for something to do. This directly relates to passion.”

The second element to success outlined in Caldwell’s speech is the ability to play to your strengths and to think of yourself in terms of an asset that can appreciate or depreciate.

“The best potential for a person’s growth is in the area of his or her strengths,” Caldwell said. “The corollary of playing to your strengths is understanding your weaknesses. Related to both is the need to keep developing yourself. Continual learning and development is more important now than ever. We are living in a much more fluid and dynamic world than even a few years ago, and we’re constantly challenged to figure out how to add value, how to stay competitive and how to prepare ourselves for opportunities that may come. Really successful leaders I’ve known understand that you don’t have to have all of the answers all of the time, but you have to learn new things all the time.”

The final element that Caldwell isolated in her speech is the willingness to take career risks, citing eBay’s Meg Whitman and Handspring’s Donna Dubinsky as examples of successful risk takers.

“It’s my experience in business that you can and you must manage risks. You can set yourself up for the highest possibility for success, but to do so you must understand what drives and motivates you and you should evaluate if taking the risk allows you to play your strengths,” Caldwell suggested. “Taking risks usually means hard work. You need to have the fortitude to stick with it when things look really tough. If it’s something you really believe in, and you’re playing to your strengths, the probability of seeing it through goes up dramatically. My experience is that the probability of success goes up as well.”