Entrepreneurs Should be Respected, Not Loved

Posted on May 13, 2010 | 86 comments


I’ve been thinking a lot about what it takes to be a great leader and seem to be having this conversation a lot lately about Facebook, Yahoo!, Zynga and others.  I wrote several of the characteristics when I did the Top 10 (11) Attributes of an Entrepreneur.  One thing that I’ve realized over the years is that to be an effective leader you can’t aspire to be loved by everybody.  I think people with this affliction have a hard time being great leaders.  They dither on decision-making.  They fudge on org charts to appease people.  Clarity of purpose in leadership matters.

Think of the decisions we face as countries globally.  How much do we cut back public services to shrink our national debts?  How much do we bail out companies that were culpable of helping create our woes and what moral hazards does this create?  How much health care is the right amount to provide?  Who should be allowed to immigrate into our countries and on which basis?  How does the United States deal with 12-13 million illegal immigrants that are already in our country and came here illegally?  My point is that any decision you “actively” make will affect people.  Doing nothing is avoiding real leadership.  It’s kicking tough decisions down the line for somebody else to deal with in the future.  And for every day we put off decisions things get worse.

Companies are the same.  Tough decisions don’t always make you friends.  By default if it’s a “tough” decision some people will think you made the wrong one.  And when it means a change in somebody’s power, money or stature – or canceling a project that somebody has poured 18 months of their lives into – you’re not going to be popular.  Bad leaders want to be loved too much and their companies (or countries) suffer.

Take Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo!  I never worked at Yahoo! and I only met Jerry once.  But his role as “Chief Yahoo!” and his personality type seemed to be as the guy who built a wonderful, warm and fuzzy culture of purple at this new-fangled Internet kinda company.  That suited him when he wasn’t CEO.  But his tenure as CEO (and frankly the whole culture of Yahoo! pre Carol Bartz) seemed to be one of fudging decisions.  Not making hard choices in terms of organizational structure or product direction.  This led to the famous “Peanut Butter Manifesto” by Brad Garlinghouse.

I wasn’t in Jerry’s shoes so it’s easy to “Monday morning quarterback.”  So let me in stead paraphrase nearly EVERY single ex Yahoo! person I’ve ever spoken to on the subject.  “We had such a great company.  In the early days it was such a great company to work for.  Everybody returned our calls.  We were innovating.  Google was n-o-t-h-i-n-g!  We were the game in town.  But we failed to adapt.  Other people got strong.  In the same way that AOL dithered and allowed us to become the Internet darlings we, too, avoided the big, company changing decisions.  And over time our best talent left.  They couldn’t take it anymore.  And eventually I got tired of us being the industry punching bag.  Of not taking tough decisions.  So I left, too.  It was a shame.  I really loved Yahoo! in the early days.”

The way “being loved” manifests itself is that as a CEO you build a great team beneath you each with great ideas and big career ambitions.  And yet you still have scarce resources.  Your sales team is pounding the table because engineering won’t ship new features fast enough.  Engineering is pissed off because they need to do some technical infrastructure improvements and the sales team is always pushing them to deliver too many features.  “Sell what we have!!”  And you want us to work yet another weekend while you’re playing golf with clients and getting fat bonuses?  Marketing wants the sales teams to use the materials they’ve produced.  Biz Dev is pissed off because they can’t sign deals when they can’t get commitments from product management to agree to product integration plans.  Your product team is pissed off because they’re making $120,000 / year and some hot-shot 25 year-olds just made millions from the acquisition of XYZ company that we could have built here!

I see the CEO role of a growth company as often consisting of being “chief psychologist.”  You end up spending a lot of time listening to your staff, listening to customers, understanding human behavior / motivations, reviewing financial plans or GANTT charts and then having to make tough decisions because the one factor we ALL suffer from is limited resources.  Yes, even Google has to make these tough decisions about where to allocate staff and money.

By definition tough decisions produce winners and losers.  It’s your job to make those tough calls with the limited information you have and to soften the blow to the side that didn’t get their way.  If engineering got the shaft because “we need 3 more weekends from you to get this release out the door” … then there better be a solution to make this up to them and to explain your decision.  If you’re not going to release the features a large customer is expecting you’d better be prepared to call that customer yourself and take the bullets in stead of your VP of Sales.

In my experience it takes a really self-confident and resilient individual to make all of these tough judgment calls on a daily basis.  But over time if you make the tough calls with no fudges, if you’re fair and don’t play favoritism, if you explain your rationale publicly and clearly, if you help soften the blow to the side that doesn’t get their way … people will respect you.  And it is far better to be respected as a leader than loved.  In the end everybody will thank you much more for having had the courage – as long as your decisions were more often right than wrong.

Do you have a senior executive on your team that isn’t working very hard or producing results?  Afraid to make the hard decision to let this person go?  You think your team doesn’t notice over time that you can’t move non-performing people along?  People resent “dead wood” because when everybody else is working their asses off they hate seeing people who aren’t digging in.  Letting go somebody you like or who’s nice is never easy.  And I don’t say to do it lightly.  But if they’re non performing, they’re non performing.  There’s no place for that in a startup.  And in public companies we used to mockingly rename their titles to CVO … Chief Vesting Officer.  I often found that when people finally let some dead wood go and you explain it to the company most people thank you.

When I think about “respect” I think about Mark Zuckerberg.  I know a lot of people fear him right now and the popular thing to do is rag on Mark.  People fear his intentions and they’re pissed off at the changes Facebook has made to its privacy settings or channel arrangements.  In this post I don’t want to address those topics – I’m not a Facebook Fanboy.  But I do want to address Mark’s decision-making.  I believe it’s what makes Facebook, Facebook.  He has made decision after decision that was unpopular at the time – I’m betting even within his own organization many decisions were unpopular.  But he hasn’t fudged the tough calls.  He clearly isn’t obsessed with being “loved.”

Back in 2006 Facebook made a conscious decision to encourage the platform ecosystem even if it meant creating large businesses like Zynga (Slide & RockYou were the initial big players) that could make a lot of money off of Facebook.  MySpace dithered.  They felt that they didn’t want to create more Photobucket or YouTube successes.  “Why should these guys get uber rich off of our backs?”  Facebook took the long view.

When Twitter rose to prominence Mark made “the stream” the focal point of the user experience.  This pissed off application developers because it became harder to find apps.  This pissed off many users who were used to interacting with apps and easily finding people’s photos, etc.  But Facebook made a call that the stream was the longer-term core of what people wanted to do inside of Facebook and that he had to combat the growing popularity of Twitter.  I think this decision proved to be correct but history will tell us.  A muddled organization could have never turned on a dime like this.

The effed up on the launch of Beacon – they realized it and killed off Beacon – at least for now.  And more recently they have begun to pressure players like Zynga to use their payments platform and have pushed the security model to be more open.  Both of these decisions are unpopular.  We’ll know in 2-4 years whether or not they were the right call.  But they were each a tough call.  No matter how mad some people become – he is certainly one of the most respected figures in Silicon Valley.  He’s most often compared to Bill Gates.  Who else in their 20′s can you say that about?

My message isn’t to love or hate Mark Zuckerberg.  My message is that the best in companies only comes through making clear and decisive judgement calls in your business.  Embrace not being loved.  Don’t be a dick.  But learn to live with the doubters or the naysayers.  Live with the grumblings of people who don’t agree with you.  Let them air their opinions.  Give them their voice.  Show respect to them by having the tough, internal, town hall style meetings.  But stay the course if you believe in your decisions.  If you’re a good leader and if you make more good calls than bad ones – you’ll be respected.

  • http://www.justinherrick.com Justin Herrick

    Another great article Mark and its also extremely true,

    This article actually goes hand in hand with something Arrington wrote over at TechCrunch about Kevin Rose the other day. ( http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/12/diggs-biggest-… )

    I find myself struggling with this same issue from time to time, always hypothetically as I am not a CEO at the moment, but you have to ask yourself if you have what it takes to make those hard decisions when the time calls for it.

    The same could be said for the director of a film, they need to listen to all of their crew members, but if they forsake the vision if the finished film for what will make Actor A happy and actress B happy and camera guy M happy then the movie will be a total disaster by the end. Some of the most powerful and highly respected Directors have also been some of the most hated by their crew (at times).

    On another note, I'm hoping you're going to be at TechCrunch:Disrupt, but with your busy schedule I can assume you wont be able to make it.

  • http://www.justinherrick.com Justin Herrick

    Another great article Mark and its also extremely true,

    This article actually goes hand in hand with something Arrington wrote over at TechCrunch about Kevin Rose the other day. ( http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/12/diggs-biggest-… )

    I find myself struggling with this same issue from time to time, always hypothetically as I am not a CEO at the moment, but you have to ask yourself if you have what it takes to make those hard decisions when the time calls for it.

    The same could be said for the director of a film, they need to listen to all of their crew members, but if they forsake the vision of the finished film for what will simply make Actor A happy and actress B happy and camera guy M happy then the movie will be a total disaster by the end. Some of the most powerful and highly respected Directors have also been some of the most hated by their crew (at times).

    On another note, I'm hoping you're going to be at TechCrunch:Disrupt, but with your busy schedule I can assume you wont be able to make it.

  • http://twitter.com/karmel_a Karmel Allison

    Nice post, Mark– it's true in business and sovereignty alike: “Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.” (Machiavelli's The Prince: http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince17.htm )

    And to your point that even unpopular decisions, forcefully made, are respectable, I would just like to add that they are especially so when compared to the alternative option of making your decision, and then backing down when users protest; a fickle leader is neither loved nor respected.

  • http://twitter.com/karmel_a Karmel Allison

    Nice post, Mark– it's true in business and sovereignty alike: “Returning to the question of being feared or loved, I come to the conclusion that, men loving according to their own will and fearing according to that of the prince, a wise prince should establish himself on that which is in his own control and not in that of others; he must endeavour only to avoid hatred, as is noted.” (Machiavelli's The Prince: http://www.constitution.org/mac/prince17.htm )

    And to your point that even unpopular decisions, forcefully made, are respectable, I would just like to add that they are especially so when compared to the alternative option of making your decision, and then backing down when users protest; a fickle leader is neither loved nor respected.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Yes, I had read that article and thought of DIGG while I was writing this. But I have another blog in my head about DIGG so I didn't want to dig on them twice! ;-)

    I'm 10% going to TC Disrupt. Right now I'm scheduled to be in Shanghai. But considering my options.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. Yes, I had read that article and thought of DIGG while I was writing this. But I have another blog in my head about DIGG so I didn't want to dig on them twice! ;-)

    I'm 10% going to TC Disrupt. Right now I'm scheduled to be in Shanghai. But considering my options.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    True that.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    True that.

  • http://www.justinherrick.com Justin Herrick

    lol I see, no reason to bury them. (Enough digg puns for this post :P) Well, then I'll have to wait until that post comes out then.

    Shanghai is pretty far from away from New York. Perhaps, in the off chance that you end up going to Disrupt I'll run into you, if so I'll say hello. Take care.

  • http://www.justinherrick.com Justin Herrick

    lol I see, no reason to bury them. (Enough digg puns for this post :P) Well, then I'll have to wait until that post comes out then.

    Shanghai is pretty far from away from New York. Perhaps, in the off chance that you end up going to Disrupt I'll run into you, if so I'll say hello. Take care.

  • http://twitter.com/markettaker Chris Arnoldi

    I'll be at TC Disrupt. Would be nice if Mark could make it :)

    Although 10% are not very good probabilities.

  • http://twitter.com/markettaker Chris Arnoldi

    I'll be at TC Disrupt. Would be nice if Mark could make it :)

    Although 10% are not very good probabilities.

  • Jayant Kulkarni

    I guess that the most important thing for people who have to make hard-decisions is to realize is that not doing something is also doing something. It is doing nothing. And there are consequences to that.

  • Jayant Kulkarni

    I guess that the most important thing for people who have to make hard-decisions is to realize is that not doing something is also doing something. It is doing nothing. And there are consequences to that.

  • http://twitter.com/devahaz devahaz

    After reading http://calacanis.com/2010/05/12/the-big-game-zu… Jason's win-at-all-costs, supreme conviction, take no prisoners, don't care about being liked assessment of Zuckerberg made me think of Gates, Ellison, and Jobs. When someone is trying to rip you to shreds and evokes comparisons to those guys, well, you're probably doing SOMETHING right.

  • http://twitter.com/devahaz devahaz

    After reading http://calacanis.com/2010/05/12/the-big-game-zu… Jason's win-at-all-costs, supreme conviction, take no prisoners, don't care about being liked assessment of Zuckerberg made me think of Gates, Ellison, and Jobs. When someone is trying to rip you to shreds and evokes comparisons to those guys, well, you're probably doing SOMETHING right.

  • Roman Giverts

    Perhaps CEO should be renamed to CDM – Chief Decision Maker. Lack of real decision making is probably the number one reason I hope to never have to work in a large company. I think the entire industry of strategy consultants has been born out executives who don't want to make decisions. One of my mentors always tells the story of when he was an exec at a certain large company, they brought in a big consulting company to help “determine some big strategies.” They took the 10 top people from the company into a room, had some discussions, and said “alright, now let's all take a vote on the best strategy.” So they went in a circle and voted. When it came to my mentor's turn to vote he said, “I refuse to vote. This is not a democracy, I get paid to make decisions. ” We tell this story to everyone who works at my company. Even if you're not the ceo, as far as I'm concerned you get paid to make decisions… so you better make them.

  • Roman Giverts

    Perhaps CEO should be renamed to CDM – Chief Decision Maker. Lack of real decision making is probably the number one reason I hope to never have to work in a large company. I think the entire industry of strategy consultants has been born out executives who don't want to make decisions. One of my mentors always tells the story of when he was an exec at a certain large company, they brought in a big consulting company to help “determine some big strategies.” They took the 10 top people from the company into a room, had some discussions, and said “alright, now let's all take a vote on the best strategy.” So they went in a circle and voted. When it came to my mentor's turn to vote he said, “I refuse to vote. This is not a democracy, I get paid to make decisions. ” We tell this story to everyone who works at my company. Even if you're not the ceo, as far as I'm concerned you get paid to make decisions… so you better make them.

  • http://josephsunga.com joesunga

    This post was great. It kind of reminded me of Arrington's Techcrunch post (http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/12/diggs-biggest-…) talking about Kevin Rose with Digg and Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook. He mentions steadfast nature of Mark going forward with the decisions he makes and Kevin sometimes recoiling on decisions because of the rabid community Digg has. The contrasts of being loved and respected — great way to put it.

    Although, with Kevin taking the reigns now at Digg — he seems to be making hard decisions of late and making them quick. What do you think of their situation at Digg? Going the right direction?

  • http://startupdojo.org joesunga

    This post was great. It kind of reminded me of Arrington's Techcrunch post (http://techcrunch.com/2010/05/12/diggs-biggest-…) talking about Kevin Rose with Digg and Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook. He mentions steadfast nature of Mark going forward with the decisions he makes and Kevin sometimes recoiling on decisions because of the rabid community Digg has. The contrasts of being loved and respected — great way to put it.

    Although, with Kevin taking the reigns now at Digg — he seems to be making hard decisions of late and making them quick. What do you think of their situation at Digg? Going the right direction?

  • http://www.kyjen.com Kyle Hansen

    Thanks for sharing your experince, especially with so many good examples, this gives me more confidence in the hard decisions I must make in running my company!

  • http://www.kyjen.com Kyle Hansen

    Thanks for sharing your experince, especially with so many good examples, this gives me more confidence in the hard decisions I must make in running my company!

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHotchkiss Philip Hotchkiss

    Spot on. I have never seen a great leader that manages by consensus-which is another term for needing to be loved. Being an effective leader, by definition, means you need to see and act on ideas, strategies and tactics that many of the people around you will find counter-intuitive, uncomfortable, etc.

    It's lonely at the top-leaders should get their love at home.

  • http://twitter.com/PhilipHotchkiss Philip Hotchkiss

    Spot on. I have never seen a great leader that manages by consensus-which is another term for needing to be loved. Being an effective leader, by definition, means you need to see and act on ideas, strategies and tactics that many of the people around you will find counter-intuitive, uncomfortable, etc.

    It's lonely at the top-leaders should get their love at home.

  • Claudiuswaveinvite

    General George S. Patton made a similar statement. He believed his troops should fear him. However, making decisive decisions does not make someone respectable. As we know very well Patton made all sorts of unilateral decisions in his career on and off the battlefield. The same is true for many other leaders past and present. What should be the test of whether someone garners my respect is not only making a timely decision, but also one that is correct. The latter is more important than the former. So far in the life of Facebook Zuckerberg and the organization has made correct, and incorrect decisions. Therefore, he (the org.) is not yet respectable, loved, or seen as buffoons – it is a push.

  • Claudiuswaveinvite

    General George S. Patton made a similar statement. He believed his troops should fear him. However, making decisive decisions does not make someone respectable. As we know very well Patton made all sorts of unilateral decisions in his career on and off the battlefield. The same is true for many other leaders past and present. What should be the test of whether someone garners my respect is not only making a timely decision, but also one that is correct. The latter is more important than the former. So far in the life of Facebook Zuckerberg and the organization has made correct, and incorrect decisions. Therefore, he (the org.) is not yet respectable, loved, or seen as buffoons – it is a push.

  • Claudiuswaveinvite

    I disagree. If Suster made the unilateral (tough) decision to invest in x number of start-up in the next 12 months, and they all failed he would not be respected, trusted, or anything else. Respect should be reserved for those who not only make the timely decision, but also the one that is correct.

  • Claudiuswaveinvite

    I disagree. If Suster made the unilateral (tough) decision to invest in x number of start-up in the next 12 months, and they all failed he would not be respected, trusted, or anything else. Respect should be reserved for those who not only make the timely decision, but also the one that is correct.

  • Claudiuswaveinvite

    You have to be correct because, if you are not there will be a mutiny where the incorrect decisive unloved leader will be kicked out, or even worse – dead.

  • Claudiuswaveinvite

    You have to be correct because, if you are not there will be a mutiny where the incorrect decisive unloved leader will be kicked out, or even worse – dead.

  • http://www.freemanlegacyllc.com Ms. Freeman

    This is a good point. When employees try to buddy buddy me at work, it is very off putting. I'm not in this position to be your friend and you acting that way tells me you have an agenda that you want me to get on board with and I have to approach you on the defensive.

  • http://www.freemanlegacyllc.com Ms. Freeman

    This is a good point. When employees try to buddy buddy me at work, it is very off putting. I'm not in this position to be your friend and you acting that way tells me you have an agenda that you want me to get on board with and I have to approach you on the defensive.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. You stole my next blog post! Watch this space.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Ha. You stole my next blog post! Watch this space.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Awesome story.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Awesome story.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, I was thinking about that post also when I wrote this.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Yeah, I was thinking about that post also when I wrote this.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: “it's lonely at the top” – that's what I always said when I was doing it. So I started doing regular lunches with fellow startup CEO's to talk openly about issues. Many first time startup CEO's are too private with their issues but if done in a confidential peer environment it is unbelievably helpful.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    re: “it's lonely at the top” – that's what I always said when I was doing it. So I started doing regular lunches with fellow startup CEO's to talk openly about issues. Many first time startup CEO's are too private with their issues but if done in a confidential peer environment it is unbelievably helpful.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I agree that the decisions need to be correct. I think I said that in the post. A leader who makes tough decisions and they turn our more bad than good will obviously not be respected.

    re: Facebook – say what you want but being the fastest growing software / Internet company in history and having more than 400 million users … I'd say so far it's an overwhelming success – not a push.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I agree that the decisions need to be correct. I think I said that in the post. A leader who makes tough decisions and they turn our more bad than good will obviously not be respected.

    re: Facebook – say what you want but being the fastest growing software / Internet company in history and having more than 400 million users … I'd say so far it's an overwhelming success – not a push.

  • http://www.purchlive.com/ pipitpurch

    Off-topic question … is this a new comment section? It's being presented in a totally new compact format? Very hard to read. Possible it's my Firefox browser?

  • http://davidfishman.tumblr.com/ David Fishman

    Off-topic question … is this a new comment section? It's being presented in a totally new compact format? Very hard to read. Possible it's my Firefox browser? FYI problem was fixed w/ refresh … disregard :)

  • http://sigma-hk.com Mark Westling

    I think you mailed it with this sentence: “But over time if you make the tough calls with no fudges, if you’re fair and don’t play favoritism, if you explain your rationale publicly and clearly, if you help soften the blow to the side that doesn’t get their way … people will respect you”. In my experience, explaining your rationale publicly and clearly makes a hell of a difference in morale and is often overlooked. The effort you put into getting y0ur vision across should be proportional to the effort you're asking from the staff.

  • http://sigma-hk.com Mark Westling

    I think you mailed it with this sentence: “But over time if you make the tough calls with no fudges, if you’re fair and don’t play favoritism, if you explain your rationale publicly and clearly, if you help soften the blow to the side that doesn’t get their way … people will respect you”. In my experience, explaining your rationale publicly and clearly makes a hell of a difference in morale and is often overlooked. The effort you put into getting y0ur vision across should be proportional to the effort you're asking from the staff.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I think Disqus is having technical problems. Already wrote and told them. I'm now using it in Safari – I couldn't read it properly in Chrome.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    I think Disqus is having technical problems. Already wrote and told them. I'm now using it in Safari – I couldn't read it properly in Chrome.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed. “Trust me, I know what I'm doing” doesn't cut it.

  • http://bothsidesofthetable.com msuster

    Agreed. “Trust me, I know what I'm doing” doesn't cut it.