When Travis Kalanick, the chief executive of Uber, was caught on tape berating a driver earlier this year, everyone stopped and took notice. Welcome to the age of the young, smart, technology savvy CEO, tentatively taking the first steps toward understanding the leadership imperatives of the human side of the enterprise.
If this also describes you, you are the new age CEO who has been thrust onto the world stage way before you took your acting lessons. A combination of remarkable talent and a large dose of luck got you here. But the very traits that got you here can often become the patterns that sooner or later trip you up. The strengths that brought you success could contribute to your own unraveling if you don’t watch out for them.
Working with some brilliant young entrepreneurs brought home to me three specific patterns of strengths that can sometimes get over-leveraged and become stumbling blocks to continued success. The tips below are for you young ones out there stepping up to lead in this chaotic and wildly exciting time.
Be smart about smartness.
Yes, we know it: You are smart. That's why you are where you are. But, when you are trying hard to be the smartest all the time, it doesn't help anybody in the room. Adding too much value to every idea that crosses your path is the surest way to make everybody feel demoralized. Because then no one owns the idea. It's yours, and the rest of the organization members just become minions trying to execute your plans.
Smartness also enables you to ruthlessly decimate ideas that come your way because you feel you know better. And, truth be told, feeling smart and better than the others can be an enjoyable experience. Very soon, however, people stop bringing their ideas to you. In the ultimate analysis, being smarter than everybody can be a dumb idea.
A young, dynamic serial entrepreneur who has already funded and sold multiple startups told me, “My job is not to be the smartest in the room but to get the smartest into the room and provide them the resources and freedom to do their best.” Yes, being smart is good. Being wise is smarter.
Slow down to speed up.
Again, speed has been your success mantra. Everything needs to have happened yesterday. There is not a moment to lose. You must create the first-mover advantage. You love the exhilaration of running on pure adrenaline. But, sometimes, an idea needs time to simmer and take root in the organization. Sometimes, you need to hold a paradox in your head long enough before it resolves itself.
An entrepreneur I worked closely with would often make lightning-quick decisions, sometimes even while having a discussion in a corridor. The first casualty was the quality of decision making. The decisions were not fully thought through and had neither input nor buy-in from other parts of the organization. It took him a while to finally reframe his own assumptions about the need for balancing speed with quality, alignment and impact.
Your job is not to get everybody winded by running faster yourself but to synchronize everyone and point them in the right direction so you win as a team.
Use straight talk with sensitivity.
No, we are not asking you to be inauthentic or dishonest. We are not asking you not to say it like it is. But do realize that a message can become either developmental or devastating — not because of the content but because of how it is conveyed. I have often seen a bright person leave an organization because he got a dressing down from a leader he respected. Even when unintentional, these moments can sometimes scar people for life.
Being a little kinder will not hurt you. So, be sensitive. Be gentle. Arrogance will never win you friends. You know better than anyone that, for success, you need only a few great ideas — but a lot of good friends.
In summary, watch what you do well. Play to your strengths, but take care not to overplay them.