Building a successful company requires a motivational leader. This talk on "How to Lead" was given by Ali Rowghani, Y Combinator Partner and CEO of the Y Combinator Continuity Fund. Rowghani shares his observations of leaders at companies like Pixar, Twitter and now Y Combinator and what makes great leaders so great.
My top 3 takeaways are actually the three observations Rowghani makes:
There's no single archetype for a great leader. You have to be yourself. You have to be authentic to who you are.
ー Ali Rowghani
There is no single mold for successful leaders. They come from all walks of life, every occupation and every personality type. Such diversity means anyone has the potential to become a great leader.
Studying leaders provides fertile ground for ideas and inspiration, but in the end, you must walk your own path. You cannot simply imitate those you admire and expect the same outcome. You must be true to yourself and to what you hold dearest. Authenticity evokes a positive response from those you lead and builds a foundation of trust (more on that later).
The list of leadership characteristics that we all admire is long, but Rowghani points out three of particular importance.
Great leaders think and communicate clearly.
ー Ali Rowghani
All great leaders provide compelling, inspiring visions of a company's purpose, and they do so in a clear, concise manner. The inspirational aspect is important early on, but the clarity of vision becomes even more important as a company grows. A clear, simple vision helps ensure that everyone in the company is headed in the same direction and focused on the same outcomes.
One example given on simple, effective messaging is Amazon's retail strategy. According to Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, Amazon customers will always want three things:
I very frequently get the question: "What's going to change in the next 10 years?" And that is a very interesting question; it's a very common one. I almost never get the question: "What's not going to change in the next 10 years?" And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two -- because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. ... [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that's going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection.
— Jeff Bezos (from an Inc.com article)
This simple communication of the company's purpose is powerful, because every Amazon employee can easily compare what they are doing for the company to those three outcomes: the things that do not change. If what they are doing helps achieve one of those outcomes, then they are contributing to the company's success. Crafting a message this simple and effective is difficult but crucial to the long term success of your own company.
A great leader chooses other company leaders wisely. One bad apple can upset the entire apple cart, so favor going without over settling for someone who does not align with your values and vision. Undoing a bad decision can be costly. I can personally attest to this in my own career, just as I am sure every leader can.
You WILL make mistakes as a leader. When you do make a mistake, reflect objectively on the cause and learn from it. Do not beat yourself up. Focus all of that energy on growing and not repeating the same mistake twice. Others will follow your example and reap similar benefits for themselves and the company at large.
Stand for something that resonates with people, honor your word and treat people with respect. That may sound cliche, but it is the foundation of trust and all meaningful relationships.
Be an example of work ethic by giving every task, no matter how small, your best effort. Do not ask someone to conduct themselves in a manner for which you have not already served as an example. The kind of people you want in the company will appreciate and respond to the example you set.
Trust is the success metric for leadership.
ー Ali Rowghani
Rowghani mentions two aspects of trust: the scientific and the empathetic.
The scientific aspect of trust is simply making good decisions. If you are proven to be a good decision maker for your company over time, people respect that and the company grows accordingly with each good decision. Trust also builds with your ability to consistently make the right call.
The empathetic aspect, or the art of trust, is to be consistently objective and wise in your decision making while having the courage to go after things that are bigger than you. Exemplifying humility, empathy and unselfishness while doing so builds trust in your leadership. People know you are good human being who will do what is right when faced with difficult decisions.
In the end, always strive for the things that will establish more trust when facing difficult decisions.
Rowghani authored a companion article to this video that provides additional information on leadership. Y Combinator has a wealth of content for aspiring entrepreneurs, including a section devoted to leadership. They have been a great resource for me personally!