Striking the Right Balance
I think there is an interesting balance that you have to strike of creating this space for people to challenge and voice their own perceptions, interpretations, and anxieties, or whatever, but at the same time maintaining your position as a leader. The responsibility of a leader is to lead, and that means owning the decisions. My feeling is that I want a style where I have really strong, smart, confident people around me who can who can speak up honestly but at the same time can take direction when we have to shift into that mode of action.
There’s another piece of this and I call this concept earned leadership. In the past, in a more hierarchical world, in a more hierarchical business structure, there was this notion of “you are the leader because you have a certain title.” But if you’re going to lead the way that we’re talking about, where you build this really strong, vocal team around you, and you encourage debate, but those those people also fall into line and execute when you set direction, then you have to earn that. You don’t just earn that by virtue of your title at all. You earn it by virtue of your behavior day in and day out.
This extends, then, beyond the people who actually report to you on an org chart. This is where the idea of earned leadership is so timely as the real kind of power, and by power, I mean the ability to make your ideas come to life. The real power lies in being able to lead people who don’t actually work for you and don’t actually report to you. And that’s the potential in an age of networks. Even in the initial conversation—whether that’s with you as a member of some extended network or whether that’s with you as a person that I might hire to join the team—we’re talking in a very transparent way about what’s going to make you successful here and what the obstacles and challenges are going to be and all that kind of stuff.
But that’s just the beginning. I do think it has to start there, but then it also has to extend day in and day out, week in and week out. That’s where we’re walking the walk and maintaining that credibility around the ideas that were part of the conversation from the beginning. And as soon as you lose it, you lose it. Then you have to fight to get it back, and maybe you can and maybe you can’t. But in my opinion, that’s what allows you to have a team of really strong, outspoken people, which is the sort of team that exists here at WeWork, and at the same time for the leader, from that conversation, step forward to say, “Right. Thanks for the debate. Here’s how we’re going to move forward.”