Leadership


I came off of a few tough weeks at work. In part that’s why you’ve heard less from me recently. I had some good days and bad days like most of you. I had a very big negative surprise which I’ve mostly worked through but will take time. And I’ve had some good moments, too, for sure.

But through all of this I’m always reminded that in tough times some people pull up their socks and help get the job done while others turn to being critics: Even some who don’t actually take risks or accomplish things but love to opine. And at just the right moment when my head was about to explode Twitter came to the rescue

Remember, it’s better to create something and be criticised than to create nothing and criticise others.

— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) November 22, 2015

Or I guess more appropriately Ricky Gervais came to the rescue with his Tweet. I stepped back and realized how true that was. I took a moment to feel better about some of the things I’ve accomplished and my goals for 2016 vs. being too off put by the critics lest they win. It made me reflect on what is important to me in work environments and teams and I thought:

If I could best define culture of people I want to work with – Doers – Triers – Chancers – Supporters – Empathizers – Laughers — Mark Suster (@msuster) December 5, 2015

Doers: Those more inclined to pick up spreadsheets, code, marketing docs, product designs or even the telephone or hop on a plane to solve a problem vs somebody who tells you all the things wrong with the world.

Triers: People who don’t know if they have the right skills or knowledge but if asked are willing to help in any way possible. They are the people with can-do attitudes.

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The Fourth of July. The day we celebrate American independence. It’s more about our celebrating what we love about our country than it is about winning a war.

Like many who live here I’m proudly American. It is the country that welcomed my forebears when others wouldn’t. My story is different from yours, but the same. We all came from different economic means by relatives willing to risk their lives and their livelihoods to stake out a new beginning in a foreign land that was often not immediately welcoming to people who were “different.”

My family is Jewish.

On my mom’s side they came from Poland and Lithuania and similar such places. They arrived through New York and eventually found their way to St. Louis, then Philadelphia and ultimately to Sacramento, CA. The turn of the last century wasn’t kind to Eastern European Jews so I guess the sacrifices of the pilgrimage were worth it. America wasn’t originally welcoming to Jews either. Even in the recent past we were excluded from many golf courses, country clubs and even universities and jobs.

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Reid Hoffman (founder) and Jeff Weiner (CEO) of LinkedIn are amongst the most famous pair of founder / CEOs to buck the stereotypes that:

The only person who can take your company to it’s final destination or IPO if the founder
That the founder must leave the company if a new CEO comes on board

In fact, Reid wrote the definitive piece on the topic.

Many people don’t know that I actually became Chairman of my first company and relinquishing the CEO role before the company was sold. It’s a topic I’m well versed in personally and I understand the difficult emotional decision of whether to hand the reigns to someone else of the baby you’ve struggled so hard to launch into the world. Will they treat it with the same seriousness that you did through your years of blood, sweat and tears?

Some founders make great CEOs until the end, some don’t. And some (like me) love the first 5 years, first $30-50 million in revenue, leading the first 150 employees but don’t love the role after that point.

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A shortened, better edited and with nicer pictures version of this post first appeared on TechCrunch. But if you want it in it’s full V1 glory read on …

You’ve never been a CEO but might like to be one some day. But how? Nobody sees you as a CEO since you’ve never been one? I wrote this conundrum and the need to take charge of how the market define your skills in my much-read blog post on “personal branding.”  If you don’t create the message about yourself, the market will. And if you want to be a CEO one day you need the messaging to reflect that.

The strange thing is that once you’ve been a CEO even one time the market will see always see you as a CEO but nobody really wants to give a new-comer chance.

Of course you could start your own company. For many people that’s the right answer. As I talked about in “

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Obsession. The drive to succeed at all costs. When second place isn’t good enough because we live in winner-take-most markets. The desire to be better than anybody else in one’s field.

This blog started from a series of conversations I found myself having over and over again with founders and eventually decided I should just start writing them.It would often make my colleagues laugh because they’d hear me like a broken record and then the next week read my ramblings in a post.

Last week’s obsession was about obsession itself.

10 days ago I saw the film, Whiplash, which is one of my favorite films of the year. I would be shocked if it doesn’t win at least one Oscar. I won’t have any spoiler alerts here, don’t worry.

The protagonist in the film, Andrew, is a drummer and the story is his experiences in his freshman year of one of the most elite music conservatories in the country. He wants to compete to be the lead drummer in the competitive ensemble and study under Terence, an obsessive instructor who is hell bent on winning competitions for the school.

I absolutely loved the film. I loved the music.

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One of the vivid memories I have from being a startup CEO is the feeling that most people in your company have a look in their eyes that like they can do your job as well as you. How hard could it be? You just assign out tasks to all of us.

In the early days the CEO is the jack-of-all-trades, doer-of-all, famously the “chief janitor” or coffee maker. But if you level up, raise capital and grow customers, revenue and staff – life changes. Eventually you need a VP of Product to handle your product roadmap, a CTO for engineering leadership and VPs of sales, marketing & biz dev. Most companies that are scaling have CFOs, heads of HR or talent. The “span of control” for a growing tech startup is probably 6-9 people. The “doers” in your organization.

This is when your job function truly starts to match the definition of “leader” because that’s exactly what your role is. You set direction. You hire great people. You help them prioritize their objectives and review the results. You course correct. You motivate, cajole, reassign tasks, hire, fire and push the organization forward.

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