I believe that groups coming together to make tough decisions driven by consensus tend to make poor decisions.
- Should you increase your burn rate by adding 2 senior hires who will help you ship faster or sell more but then have less time for fund raising? Or maybe their existence itself will help accelerate fund raising. Who the fuck knows? But YOU have to make that tough judgment call.
- Should you raise $3 million in stead of $2 million even though it means more dilution so that you will have a longer runway?
- Is it better to have 2 VCs in the deal at 12% each or one at 24%? There’s no right answer.
- Do you ship your product in what you don’t feel is feature complete so that you can be in market first or should you hold back and deliver a product you believe will get better reaction from the market but is 3 months later?
It’s hard being a leader. By definition leaders make hard choices given incomplete information. And by tough decisions I mean it is clear that some people’s views will end up on one side of the fence and others will end up on the other side.
But you need conviction.
It’s why I look for strong leaders in companies that I back. A person who can inspire others to believe in the tough choices she makes and really get behind the tough choices made rather than than half the organization grin-fucking her.
I have seen the sclerotic pace of decision-making by some co-founders who don’t have a common sense of purpose or the ability to resolve conflict when different opinions result in delayed actions.
It’s why I caution people about whom you choose as your co-founder.
I believe in “benevolent dictators.”
They make tough decisions that they believe are in the best interests of the whole even when the collective consciousness of the whole doesn’t perceive it until much later.
I believe in people who are willing to put their reputation on the line and willing to be wrong. People who have a bias for action.
People who don’t always put themselves first even though the fact that they make tough judgment calls often makes others feel they are in it for themselves. People who go the extra mile behind the scenes to make sure that employees get topped up on options because you didn’t get their paperwork done before the 409a valuation even though said employee may not even know you did it for them.
Or firing people. On the surface it can elicit negativity or a feeling that you have a sharp edge yet in some ways your benevolence might come from the fact that you are increasing the probability of success for everybody who stays. Increasing the chances of success for the people who put in their evenings and weekends and sweated their butts off for success when the people terminated may not have pulled their weight.
You’re the leader. It is your job to face these decisions early rather than put off that which is unpleasant. It is your job to absorb the uncertainty so that others can concentrate. Your job to face the naysayers, the haters, the skeptics, the back-benchers, the soft. And to take shit from all of them while still turning up at work with a smile on your faces and moving forward.
You’ll get your accolades. People will notice results. You’ll get public pats on the back and attaboys (girls). But you’ll have an equal chorus of, “She’s difficult to work with. She far too opinionated. Tempestuous.”
Don’t feed the trolls. Know that you signed up for this and it is why you are a leader.
I know, I know.
It’s 2013 and I’m supposed to believe in the “wisdom of the crowds.” We’re supposed to all allow side projects. 20% time. Total transparency. Everyone has a say. Free food. A chef. An on-premise masseuse.
And that’s fine.
Except that all of this “can’t we all just get along” mentality produces slow decisions. Group think. Compromises that lead to mediocrity. Avoidance of bold moves.
Think. Steve Jobs. Marc Benioff. Larry Ellison. Larry Page. Mark Zuckerberg. Bill Gates.
See any common threads?
Decision makers. Visionaries. Leaders. Chart their own course against the constant chorus of second guessers.
How many people thought Jobs was crazy when Apple first opened retail stores? How many lambasted Bezos for not delivered on profits at Amazon in aftermath of the dot com crash. He told people he was building for the long-haul and if they didn’t like the vision they shouldn’t hold the stock.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that you should make decisions without other people’s input.
My motto is “always triangulate.”
I constantly ask people their opinions about topics and listen to how they argue them. By having many views and mixing it up into a pot and then sorting it out with a logic structure that informs my decision I often feel I get better results.
I don’t believe in turning up to a group discussion to form my opinion. I believe in sequential debates with the participants before I arrive. I then have a nuanced view of everyone’s position to make the most informed decision accounting for everyone’s views.
I know I kind of have a gene missing that allows the long, slow, consensus-building required to make infinitesimal progress on what are obvious decisions in side of my head. And it’s why I can never run for public office.
And I know that for every leader with whom this post resonates I will producer others who are affronted.
If you’re one of the ones with me just have the confidence to stick to your guns.
And the temerity to follow through on the vision of the future that is forming in your mind.