Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For keeping teams connected in virtual isolation

Even before the global pandemic hit, Zoom Video Communications was growing fast. But when billions of workers, students and teachers were stuck sheltering in place, demand for virtual meetings—and the company’s video conferencing service—exploded almost overnight. Zoom saw daily meeting participants soar to 300 million, a 30-fold increase in four months. (There’s a reason the term “Zoom fatigue” quickly became part of the vernacular.)

That massive growth spurt has been a game-changer for the company—and for Gregory Daniels, who manages Zoom’s IT project portfolio. He and the 30-person IT team have been tasked with keeping the company’s infrastructure stable as it scales up to serve an ever-increasing customer roster. 

“The trick for me has been to actively prioritize my work,” says Daniels, who tore a page from the agile playbook and began assigning himself daily sprints. “Every evening, before I sign off, I make a list of the three items that I absolutely must clear the next day. Not four. Not two. Three. That’s the magic number for me.”

Project leaders can learn from the chaos and prepare for a more uncertain future, Daniels says. “There are always conditions and changes we can’t predict or preempt. It’s all about staying nimble and making the best decisions we can every day.”

It’s par for the course in The Project Economy—and it will only accelerate.

“Everyone will be a project manager. Everyone’s a project manager today, in that they manage a portfolio of time-bound endeavors that produce unique results,” he says. “I’m suggesting that the most effective, innovative and profitable organizations of the future will blur the lines and push past boundaries. They will treat their very structure for value creation and delivery like a product and continually iterate, improve and change.”

With so many things in flux, Daniels recommends focusing on honest, empathetic communication and building trust on the team—no matter what comes its way. 

“Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it,” he says. “Now more than ever, reliability is a key leadership skill. It’s a stabilizing force.”

As it has for many people, COVID-19 put a fresh perspective on project leadership for Daniels. 

“There are a lot of unsung heroes out there managing projects to keep the lights on, the water running and the things we use every day working,” he says. “The coronavirus pandemic has shone a light on these managers and workers. I hope that once this pandemic is behind us, we continually recognize their contribution.”

 “Now more than ever, reliability is a key leadership skill. It’s a stabilizing force.”

Q&A: Gregory Daniels talks risk, enabling success and LeBron James

What’s your philosophy for leading projects?

It’s a paraphrase of Murphy's Law: “If it can go wrong, it will.” This focuses me and the project team on planning for, mitigating, and responding to risks, which greatly increases our odds of being successful.

What project in the world most influenced you personally?

When I was a kid, I was a Boy Scout. Much of what I learned about integrity and leadership and teamwork, I learned from my time as a Scout. Scouting, and working on all sorts of projects in my community, had a profound impact on who I am today.

What professional accomplishment are you most proud of?

When I reflect on my work life thus far I’m most proud of two things: Doing the right thing even when it’s hard and enabling my team members’ successes. This is how I measure my own professional success.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

Learning how to learn. Success requires a steady pace of continual development throughout one’s work life.

What’s the most influential project you’ve worked on?

In my experience, it’s always the unseen projects that have the most impact, even if they’re not the most influential. If I manage a project to improve a network so that it’s faster and more reliable, this has a real impact but isn’t necessarily seen as influential. Not because I’m not influencing or changing something, but because people don’t typically take notice of a project like this unless something doesn’t go as planned. This comes with the territory in IT.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

LeBron James. I just listened to LeBron James’ “Train Your Mind” program. I really liked his focus on keeping a healthy mindset. Attitude and perspective really are everything.