Lisa Graff

General Manager, Intel Server Platforms

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: Business

Lisa Graff works at Intel as General Manager, Intel Server Platforms. During our interview, she shared how she moved from the position of individual technical contributor to that of a manager; how she overcame feelings of inadequacy; and how she dealt with unfair situations at work. Bringing a spiritual perspective to work, finding the good in others, and refocusing her job goals prayerfully brought her peace.

What do you like about the technical industry?
I've always liked a challenge -- puzzles and figuring things out. I've loved math and computers ever since I was in high school. I went on to get a BS and an MS in electrical engineering.

How did you move into management?
This is my 20th year at Intel. My career here has been in three pieces. The first third was as a pure engineer, an individual contributor. I designed microprocessors and wrote software to test processors. When you're an engineer, you sit in your cubicle all day. I enjoyed figuring things out, but I didn't know what people were doing with our product. Occasionally, I got to work with customers, and I liked that because I got a glimpse of how our customers were using our product. So, for the second phase of my work I went into product marketing, and our customers were the largest computer manufacturers in the world. I then moved from being an individual contributor in marketing to managing a team of technical and marketing engineers. Now, in the third segment of my career, I'm in general management, managing engineering managers.

You say you like challenges. What types of challenges have you faced, and how have you overcome them?
The challenge in the early phase, the engineering aspect, of my career came when I moved from writing software to designing microprocessors. That was a tremendous challenge and required a tremendous amount of prayer. I felt as if I were drinking from a fire hose. At Intel, you're reviewed on how well you're doing in relation to your peers. My peers had been designing microprocessors for years. I didn't know what was going on. I was given a data book four inches thick that described the processor. I was told to read it, learn it, and help design the next chip. It was a huge challenge to learn technology without much training.

How did you pray?
I prayed on a couple of different fronts. I identified the problems and tried to counter them with spiritual solutions.

The problems I believed:

  1. I don't have what it takes to do this. These people are smarter and more educated than I am. (I didn't have my masters at the time.) I don't have the intelligence and experience to do this.
  2. I'm going to fail at this job.

How I countered them:

  1. I countered the first set of issues by praying to understand that because intelligence comes from God, I'd be able to comprehend whatever I needed as I needed it. It wasn't just me. God gives me direction, so I'd know where to go, what to look for, and what to do. God provides everyone with intelligence and plenty of opportunity and good to go around, so there doesn't have to be any sense of competition.
  2. I countered the second fear by knowing that God wouldn't put me in any situation where I would fail.

What was the outcome of your prayer and its practical application?
The prayer was both immediate and continual. God was meeting my needs on a day-by-day basis. When I got my performance review within a year, I was rated as progressing faster than most of my peers. So that was very gratifying. After reading that four-inch thick book, I came up to speed and was able to contribute with all of my peers to a design that was taped out (or completed) and didn't have to be revised. And that is very rare in chip design. I was grateful for my individual progress as well as being part of such a talented team.

As you moved up to management, were the challenges and lessons different?
I got an interesting lesson in working with people. I was enjoying working in management, and I got to a point where I firmly believed that those who do the best job get recognized and rewarded. Intel is a great company that way. But there are fewer positions and more competition the higher you go in management; things can become political. So the ability to work well with a broad spectrum of people is increasingly important.

There was competition for a job I was interested in. It appeared that the people doing the hiring were not administering things fairly, and there was a bit of cronyism. I was pretty unhappy with the results because they didn't go in my favor. For awhile, I was incredibly frustrated and just stewed about it: the world was a terrible and unfair place. I did that for a few months, but, no surprise, that wasn't helping much. I don't know what I was expecting -- people to change, maybe, but what needed to change was my outlook and my approach.

So I prayed. I realized I had three problem statements I had to deal with: 1) I was agreeing that I was in a bad situation; I was missing out; I didn't have all good; there wasn't all good available because clearly I didn't have it. 2) I wasn't in control; other people had control over me. 3) I started wondering if I was just not smart enough or capable enough to get this job; maybe I'd hit a wall.

I knew I had to bring a spiritual approach and aspect to this whole thing. I couldn't just stew. I had to take care of myself and some of the other people around me who were being impacted by my attitude. What I tried to do is what I have told Sunday school students to do: "If you have challenges with someone at school or at home that you just don't like or can't get along with, you need to find something good about them. First, you find one thing, then another. You see the person as God sees him or her." Rather than just thinking that I could have done the job better, I looked for, recognized, started seeing, and valued the good qualities from God in the people involved in this issue.

I also affirmed that there's an infinite amount of good, so I can't be deprived! And that infinite good comes from God, so God is the one in control. I shifted my job focus to a spiritual basis. I asked myself, "How can I bring all the qualities of God to work?" I was changing my job. I was redefining the answers to the questions, "What is my real job? Who is my employer?" I decided that my job is to express the spiritual qualities that God gave me, such as honesty, compassion, intelligence, integrity, and humility, and that I needed to actively bring more love and peace to my job and my interaction with others.

At the same time, I had to challenge the fear that I'm not good enough and can't be successful. I just had to let it go. It was just like the other job transitions I'd experienced when I didn't think I had the skills. But I did have the capabilities because they're provided by God, and there's an unlimited supply.

I spent over a year actively applying a spiritual perspective to my job. And then, there was an incredible turn around with the relationships of the people involved, and the results were evident in my job performance and accomplishments. This wasn't just my opinion; it was vividly recognized by my boss, peers, and employees. The progress and the change were visible to everybody, and I felt much more at peace about everything.

And there wasn't a change in job status for you to find a sense of peace?
No. And quite honestly a job change was what I prayed for. But what I got instead was peace and healing in a situation that was so unbearable in the beginning that I didn't think there was any other solution than to get out. Instead, there was a real recognition by senior management that I had made a lot of progress and was successful; I was rated in the top 10% of employees in our division. So there was active, tangible recognition of the results of the change I had made in my approach, which was spiritual. I truly, honestly have a sense of peace about the whole thing. And I have a tremendous amount of genuine respect for the other people involved and their capabilities.

Are there any particular Bible stories that have helped you through these or other challenges?
One of the Bible stories I love for any work issue is about Joseph. Here's this guy who went through a lot -- he got thrown into a pit, was accused falsely, was put in jail. Through everything that happened to him, as an adult or as a child, he stayed close to God, kept the high road, and he progressed. That doesn't mean that he didn't have setbacks; he had plenty, but eventually he was second in command to the Pharaoh. With everything he went through, Joseph just kept going. He didn't roll over and quit. He brought something good to every situation. It's just incredible, especially in light of all the frustrating setbacks he had. I think of Joseph and realize that whatever situation I'm in certainly is not as bad as his. Although I'm not in a pit or jail, it sometimes feels that way, and so his story is an inspiration.

What else have you turned to for inspiration?
I always like the guys who start out as underdogs, like Moses. He really didn't want to go get the children of Israel out of Egypt. He argued: No one will listen; I don't have the speaking ability. The story is an example of how God provides for us. When you dig further into the story, you read about how Pharaoh wanted a miracle, and Aaron threw down his rod, and it became a snake. Then Pharaoh brings in his people, and they throw down their rods, and they all become snakes (Ex 7:9-12). How disconcerting would that be! Moses and Aaron might have even wondered if they were going to get out of there alive. One of the lessons I've learned is that it's not that there aren't any challenges; it's that they will be met. Often time becomes an issue. We were just in Egypt and climbed Mount Sinai. I had plenty of time to think about Moses. What a desolate place it is! It's nothing like deserts in the U.S. There's nothing -- no vegetation. So to trust God for 40 years was just incredible; and he never gave up! The children of Israel got back home. So we have to take out a sense of time on some of our issues.

Any "last" valuable lessons that you can share with us?
You have to watch your thinking about the other guy. It takes diligence to keep an eye out and see the other guy as God sees him. This can be really hard to do at work because of the intensity of the environment. Then the other side is watching your own thinking: What am I doing? Where is God in the equation as I'm going about my work? Once you walk in the door at work, work crowds out everything else. It can be difficult to remember anything from the Bible. And then you walk out the door and think, "Couldn't I have applied something spiritual to this situation?" I'd say that one of the biggest lessons that I've learned is to actively recognize God's presence in what you're doing and in the other people around you.