Hidden Lessons in Leadership #12

A New York Times interview with Aaron Levie, co-founder and C.E.O of Box.net, reveals the importance of fostering a sense-of-mission to maintaining a viable enterprise and of leading by developing partnerships with employees.

In regard to the first point Aaron said, “everyone has a start-up mentality…so everyone feels really a part of what we’re doing…everyone is encouraged to be entrepreneurial and people tend to be extremely passionate.” An excerpt from It’s the EconoME, Stupid: Cause and solution to many of our difficulties speaks to what Aaron seems to have realized:

S:            Of course I understand if other organizations enter the market offering competitive products or services, and/or if customers’ needs or expectations change, then the market for the idea may no longer be what it was and so the original thinking around the idea may have to change.

Q:            What I think you are saying is, those with authority over the business need to be flexible and adaptive for the business to establish and maintain a share of market to keep the (business) cycle turning.

The approach to leading Aaron seems to follow requires recognizing that the energy in one’s idea can ignite the energy of others if the story the one tells allows others to see themselves in the story—the meaningful part they have.  As Aaron says, “it’s all about capturing people’s imaginations and getting them excited about what’s possible.”   As expressed in It’s the EconoME, Stupid,capital is critical to a business, but we mustn’t forget the idea is the essence of a business…But capital alone is not enough! Developing a business is difficult; it takes tremendous commitment to create a viable business and this commitment comes from believing in—having faith in and commitment to—the idea.

In regard to leadership as partnership Aaron explained, “I’ve made some mistakes in terms of getting involved at the wrong level of the problem or the wrong time.”   We do this more often than not when we don’t have trust in the other, so we try to control.  But when leadership is partnership we recognize the interdependence of our roles and seek effective and respectful ways to support each other.

Thus, what Aaron seems to have learned is that an effective leader can’t and shouldn’t “be involved in every single decision that gets made in the organization.”  If you truly trust those you employ, then you will allow them the space to fully express their talent and capability while at the same time supporting them in their efforts.  Doing otherwise is counterproductive; you would be interfering with what Aaron referred to as a “healthy system that’s emerging.”

To facilitate this emergence and the springing forth of ideas is the practice of critical thinking.  There is no substitute for critically thinking about what you are doing or propose to do.  In describing the practice at Box.net Aaron said, “we often go through a process of thinking about the best way to execute on something…then come back again after a day or two and figure out how can we do this even bigger or better.”

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