Michael Nall | Crain's San Diego

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Michael Nall


San Diego-based Biocept is a molecular diagnostics company that develops liquid biopsies for medical and surgical oncologists, pathologists, hospitals, cancer centers, universities and researchers. Michael Nall joined Biocept in 2013.

The Mistake:

Not being careful enough while venting.

Words matter. They matter even more as you get more responsibility. That’s a hard lesson for most leaders to learn. We always want to vent. I’ve learned lessons the hard way that you need to be careful with how you vent and who you vent to because you never know what’s going on behind the scenes.

Two times in my career, I vented to my co-worker about our shared boss, only to find out later that my co-worker was having some kind of personal relationship with the boss outside of work. I realized that it’s better to focus on the positives, because there are positives in every person, and just try to move ahead. I often find that it’s been helpful for me to actually share my positive feelings with others, rather than dwell on deficiencies that we all have.

As my career has progressed and responsibility has increased, I think I’ve learned to do a better job of keeping my eye further down the road than whatever my road bump is today. I do my share of feeling sorry for myself and licking my wounds, but there comes a point where I get sick of myself doing that. I have a little trick, so whenever I have those days where I’m just so frustrated and I can’t figure out what we need to do, I lie awake at night and think, “If tomorrow was your first day on the job, what would you do different?” And it’s amazing how often it solves the problem. Because if you come in and look at it with fresh eyes, rather than be caught up in whatever challenges were frustrating you, solutions appear that you were blind to before.

Words matter. They matter even more as you get more responsibility.

The Lesson:

One thing that I’ve learned in business is that it’s never over. It’s just on to the next challenge. There’s never a day where you say, “Gosh, I’m finally done.” Or, maybe there will be someday. But some of the people that I count as mentors are now in their 70s or 80s, and they’re not done. They’re still working as much as they always have. There’s always a challenge out there. I think the key is, keep focusing on that and don’t get hung up so much on what’s going on today. You need to keep focused on where you need to be in the future.

And it sounds trite, but communication is really always a challenge. We do a lot here with trying to make sure everybody is in the loop. I’m a very transparent leader. We have town halls every month where everybody gets together and we have open questions. That kind of communication is really important. It’s also important because every company is going to have little road bumps along the way. And what we don’t want is people just to walk around gossiping and wondering. I always say, “You just need to come to me. Just ask.” So this communication and the need to be able to overly communicate is one of the hallmarks of our organization.

Biocept is on Twitter at @Biocept.

Photo courtesy of Michael Nall.

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