Born to Be a Female Disruptor Charlene Li

Lisa Buyer
March 7, 2019
Born to Be a Female Disruptor Charlene Li

Sometimes you are just born a disruptor, like Charlene Li. Named one of the Most Influential Women in Tech, I first met Charlene in 2009 when she launched her best selling book Groundswell. It was at the cusp of social media breaking the mold of how we live and work. Charlene was the keynote for SES San Jose, which happened to also be the first time I was speakin on a panel talking about the power of online newsrooms, SEO and PR.

After hearing Charlene’s keynote, I was obsessed and inspired with her thrive for disruption. She was officially the first female disruptor I ever met and from that point forward my groundswell continued. Fast forward, Charlene is launching her latest book “The Disruption Mindset: Why Some Organizations Transform While Others Fail” in June 2019.

I caught up with Charlene and asked her to be part of the launch of I was honored to interview her 10 years later at this pivotal time of female disruption, a time to move forward beyond the corruption and destruction of women in business.

Charlene Li Headshot

Meet Charlene Li, Senior Fellow, Altimeter

Home Base?

San Francisco, CA.

Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After graduating from business school, I wanted to be at the front edge of disruption so I went to work at the San Jose Mercury News. After five years, I became an analyst looking at the impact of the latest technologies on business and have been doing that for the past 20 years.

When did the entrepreneur light bulb go off?

I’d been an entrepreneur for 15 years fomenting disruption in my companies before I struck out on my own. I had been at Forrester for almost 10 years and after writing my first book, I wanted to approach the work in a different way. So I left and started Altimeter.

What advice would you give other women wanting to start a biz?

Be laser-focused on the customer problem you want to solve. Start practicing this NOW — don’t wait until you start a company to figure out how to do this well. The second piece of advice is to think through what you want the culture of your company to be. You can quickly change your strategy, but not your culture.

How do you bring goodness to the world?

Having empathy and compassion for everyone around me.

None of us are able to achieve success without some adversity along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

One of the reasons I joined the San Jose Mercury News is because of two wonderful women role models there who guided me in those first few formative years. They taught me the importance of hitting my numbers, excellent execution (doing what I said I would do) and what it means to be a leader, day in, day out.

Three Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience?

  1. People expect fairness, not niceness – I used to feel bad giving people constructive feedback, putting them on probation or even firing them. But then I realized that not doing this was not being fair to them. That change in my mindset was crucial.
  2. Set clear expectations – Over and over again. I used to think that if I said it once, people heard and understood me. I then realized that they’d forget, get distracted, or outright ignored me. So I ignored the feeling of being a broken record and repeated our purpose, value, strategy, etc. over and over again. I also made sure I’m clear with what I’m expecting (10 slides by 5 pm on Thursday) to minimize misunderstandings.
  3. Live by “Heck Yeah!”- When considering taking something on, I ask myself “Am I ‘heck yeah!’ about doing this?” If not, then I say no. As a leader, I have to reserve my discretionary time and energy for only the things I’m excited about. Because I have to build up my reserves to deal with the not-so-fun aspects of being a leader that simply have to get done.

Favorite “Life Lesson Quote”

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. I try to do something every day that is out of my comfort zone. This could be trying something new in a speech or trying a new food (or not eating my favorite foods). Life and learning comes at the edge, not in the static, stable middle.

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Barack Obama. I mean, come on, he’s Obama. I’d want to know how he keeps it all together.

Secret Talent?

I can train cats to do tricks.

Zodiac Sign?


Currently Reading?

Being Mortal

Where will social media in five years

In the air, anywhere we want and need it instead of buried in platforms.

Favorite Drink Order?

Matcha Latte with almond milk. I know, it’s not coffee.

Must-Have Technology?

Alarms that remind me to be on time.

Favorite Way to Decompress?


Twitter handle?


Women You Admire?

Childhood: Helen Keller.

Young Adult: Hillary Clinton.

Mature Adult: RBG

Let’s follow the disruption path to leadership with Charlene Li, my female disruptor superhero.

Stay updated

Subscribe to our newsletter and never miss an article!
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Lisa Buyer Header image

you may also like