Neophyte leadership

2 min read

As our team as quadripled this year, my role is starting to change. I’m starting to replace “doing” with reviewing and managing. Given the YC mantra to focus on building a great product I feel angst when not directly working on product. I’m on a bullet train in between two South East Asian cities. It’s a rare moment to reflect on what has been thus far in a growing leadership role.

1. 1 on 1s are powerful

BCG taught me to institute process. I am naturally averse to adding process but I’ve found that honest 1 on 1s allow me to manage my people better than any other technique. It allows me to truly hear their dreams, issues and what I can do make it better.

More good suggestions have come from here than any other forum. For example, our current set of publicised metrics are the result of someone’s feedback. Feedback has also helped warned about someone’s unhappiness which allowed me to prevent churn. As we continue to grow, 1 on 1s remain my favourite process activity.

2. Coaching as a method

I’m a wartime CEO. I thrive under pressure, when things hit the fan and I love making calls when things are crazy. However, wartimes require fast decisions from the top executed well – which is a poor method for developing your team for initiative.

I took some coaching classes at Berkeley and underwant some professional coaching myself. I’m now convinced that for me, the 1 on 1 style of gaining rapport, leading by example and coaching through feedback in the first 30 days yields the best results.

3. Hire for long term, fire fast

The hires that have been the best are closely correlated to the ones which we interviewed and closed within a week. The worst performers are the ones we’ve made when we’ve been desperate and an applicant has just been below standard. “He is good but…”

I’m now convinced that even when we’re desperate we have to be patient for the right person. Chemistry has to click straight away. For us that means intelligence, work ethic and ownership mentality. Cultural chemistry normally means an underdog with the humility to learn and the willingness to work harder than all their friends.

4. I have become more impatient

I’ve noticed that my willingness and ability to tolerate bullshit has dropped.  The subconscious frame is that I want to leverage my time well.  If someone comes up with a well thought out problem, proposed solutions with a recommended one based on logic, then time spent with that person has high leverage. I can make an informed decision and trust the assumptions on which it is based.  However, when someone hasn’t done the work to go the extra mile, time spent with them is a wasted hours I’ll never get back.

If someone’s slides don’t meet expectations, they’ll need to humble themselves for review by someone who is good. If people haven’t thought through a problem, then I don’t really have time to think through it for them. I now realise why some of my managers were pissed off – there was a tonne of pressure to perform and people who hadn’t put in the extra mile were more negative than useful for the cost of switching context to talk to them.

It does mean I can recognise performance easily.  It’s easy for me to assess what someone’s strengths and weaknesses are.  In an impatient world, you clearly can see how someone can outperform.  When I ask someone in passing to register a website, they quickly come back with options that I need to care about and then a few days later it’s done and connected to the existing one in the right way. That’s a good leverage on my time.

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