I spend a lot of my time thinking about corporate culture, and I have some radically odd ideas that I’m confident at least a few Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would disagree with. This post starts a series of posts I intend to write, all focussing on a culture that I’ve dubbed “Selfless.” Disclaimer: all of what you’re about to read is theory; I’ve yet to start a company. And frankly I’ve never been in a board meeting, incorporated, raised money, hired a team, or done anything other than work at and around startups (Redfin, Cloudera, Atlassian, etc.). But what I’ll argue throughout this series is that a selfless culture–one where titles and equity are formalities, where unnecessary politics are relinquished, where everyone is a leader, and where all that’s asked of employees is their best work–would be a fantastic attempt to make employees happy, encourage innovation, and create a productive work environment. Today I’ll talk about multipliers and leadership.
Multipliers is a book by Liz Wiseman that looks at two different types of leaders: diminishers, trying to provide all the answers and in doing so making everyone less productive and less empowered; and multipliers, challenging employees to do their best work, improving productivity and enabling everyone to be a thought and decision leader. I can’t tell you how much I agree with the principals in this book. Leadership is about genuinely caring for the happiness of the people around you, empowering those people to be leaders themselves, and challenging everyone to do their best thinking. Leadership is not about being smarter than everyone else, being the sole decision maker, and holding responsibility for only you and the “management” team. Holding responsibility to oneself diminishes everyone else, and really is more arrogance and ego than leadership.
Lately several friends and I have started building little personal projects here and there, anything from Shibby to Eric’s OneUpMe. Each of us approach these projects selflessly, eager to have fun turning an idea into usable software. We’re all motivated to work on these projects because they’re ours. We thought of them, we’re building them, and we get extreme satisfaction when people use them. And it’s that sense of ownership and satisfaction that breads passion and interest in us, keeping us hacking through the wee hours of the morning. Multiplying leaders instill the same sense of passion and interest in any task or challenge that a company faces. Let people be leaders, give them responsibility, give them an opportunity to fail, give them ownership, and watch them either succeed or learn from their failures. Both outcomes are good for the company in the long run. And no matter what employees will be more productive, more engaged, fully committed, and totally along for the wild ride.
I came to San Francisco to make a difference, not to become rich or famous. I don’t care for the number of Twitter followers I have, the car I drive, nor the clothing I can afford to wear. (Though I admit I do have a few expensive hobbies.) And most of my friends–the same ones I hack with–share my views: we’re all driven to be a part of something big, something meaningful. Something that inspires others and breads happiness within us all. And that something is more than just a product or a service, it’s a company whose values are inline with mine, whose purpose is the same as my own, whose goal is happiness wed with technology. And such a company is not lead by a single person or group of founders. Such a company is lead by every single person involved. Multiplier founders will create other multipliers, and together we’ll all feed off of one and other, making for a happy, productive, awesome work environment.
Ultimately what selfless, multiplying leadership will do is make employees happier through responsibility. Responsibility challenges us, makes us better, gives us that rush when we succeed and that need to learn when we fail. Responsibility keeps us coming to work with a hunger to Get Shit Done, which only makes us happier and more centered around a common goal and dream. Happier employees with a sense of responsibility are more productive, more innovative, more engaged, and ready to jump into the trenches and pursue a dream to change the world. Let employees dream and let them pursue their dreams by giving them responsibility.