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Author's profile photo Tim Yannopoulos

Inclusive Leadership: Why Andy Cobbold Believes in Difficult but Honest Conversation

Andy Cobbold has been with SAP for over a decade, and he is a GVP and Head of Support for the Digital Platform. His support team helps assist customers with issues regarding all SAP products including HANA and the Cloud platform. Andy says everything he does starts with his fundamental belief that “people are capable of more than they know”. Andy aims to be regarded as someone who supports the development of individuals and helps them become the best version of themselves.

Like many of the leaders profiled in this series, Andy credits fostering an environment of trust on his team for his personal and team success. In Andy’s eyes, that sense of trust allows everyone to have the honest and difficult conversations with each other that are so productive for innovation and critical for fostering inclusion. People generally tend to avoid tough conversations, but one of Andy’s core values involves having those honest conversations which he views as key for growth. However, to enable this Andy believes that you have to create a safe environment where feedback can be shared. It is the compassion that his leaders demonstrate that creates that safe environment for people to build trust and then have the courage to have the right conversations that balance listening with talking.

  • Believes people are always more capable than they believe themselves

  • Like many inclusive leaders, Andy values trust and honesty

  • Focused on diversity, and believes diversity and inclusion are especially important for an organization like SAP

“The nicest thing you can do for somebody is give them that tough piece of feedback because often its something nobody else would tell them”, says Andy. In his mind, an inclusive environment that fosters innovation is the same environment where people readily have honest conversations.

These conversations are crucial on a team like Andy’s as dealing with customers inherently requires honesty. Part of customer loyalty is telling customers the truth about how challenging something might be instead of sugar-coating. This level of honesty enables customers to get the best value possible and have realistic expectations.

Another method Andy uses to drive inclusion on his team is a process where everyone participates in giving and receiving honest feedback. Since there might be some feedback people might not be comfortable sharing on a personal level, Andy’s team also has a system where people provide anonymous feedback. Andy insists his team leaders go through this feedback process as well as he points out, “A key attribute of leadership is being self-aware.”

Andy also stresses the importance of using a multitude of channels to account for different preferred communication methods. While some team members might be comfortable asking questions and contributing on team calls, some of Andy’s colleagues don’t have English as a first or second language and might be intimidated to speak up. To compensate, Andy’s team uses a variety of feedback channels including conversations on Microsoft Teams that follow the team’s live conversations.

Andy finds there is often a perception that senior leaders are or should be good at everything, but the reality is everyone has weaknesses. He shared, “Nobody is great at everything. Everybody has areas to improve in, and as a leader its okay to showcase that you have made mistakes that helped you learn along the way, and there are things you are not so good at and other things you are much better at.” He shared further that he is continually working to improve himself and all of his leaders because bias is subtle, and we all have it.

Diversity is a key component of Andy’s leadership style as well and it was at the front of Andy’s mind when he was building his new global leadership team and believes a diverse team is likely to be a successful team. He detailed his thoughts when building his team and remembers, “I was determined to make that diversity the strength of my leadership team. That diversity of thought, diversity of culture, diversity of geographic location, it’s really important.”

Andy believes diversity of thought improves leadership team’s decision making, and he knows that as leaders it is especially important to ultimately make the best decision. He notes that the combination of diversity with inclusion is vital for quality decision making and mentions, “It is absolutely necessary that you give everyone that platform where they can share and contribute. Teams need to make collective decisions, and we can’t make those decisions until we have heard from everybody.”

Although we have data confirming that diverse teams are more successful, part of the problem—as Andy says—is “not everybody pays attention to the data”. At a company as global and highly-matrixed as SAP, Andy believes diversity and inclusion are imperative for success and says, “When you are dealing with a global audience you need to have diverse representation embedded in your organization as well as your leadership team.”


Want to learn more about inclusive leaders at SAP? Check out the story on SAP’s new inclusive leadership campaign written by Global Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, Judith Williams: Inclusive Leadership at SAP: How Leaders Drive Inclusion with Collaboration and… Goat Yoga?


A similar story about Andy appeared in June in the Inspiring Leader Series. These stories are similar in that being an inclusive leader is a requirement for being an inspiring leader, but we have taken a different approach to identifying inclusive leaders and are asking different questions. We have asked members of our Employee Network Groups (ENGs) to recommend leaders that employees say exhibit inclusive leadership behaviors based on Deloitte’s six signature traits of inclusive leaders. We acknowledge that there’s some overlap in the series but aim to identify things that inclusive leaders do each day so we all can learn more about inclusion. If you know someone you think is an inclusive leader, please let us know!

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