There isn't a structured curriculum that teaches someone how to be a leader. We need leaders of all backgrounds, ideologies and management styles; and accordingly, I'm doubtful that any set of classes or lessons could craft the perfect leader. Instead of conforming to traditional notions of "strength" or "power," leadership for me has been about knowing well one's gifts and abilities and applying those strengths to the cultivation of others.
When I look back at my career and personal development, I see clearly six characteristics or tendencies in myself that I've learned to channel into how I operate as a leader:
1. My brain is wired to constantly be thinking of new ideas.
Many would call this an "entrepreneurial mindset," but whenever I come across a problem my first thought is "How could this be fixed?" This impacts the way I lead and manage in two ways. First, it makes me extremely open-minded to new ideas. When someone comes to me with something that seems impossible or out of left field, I find those situations interesting rather than threatening. The second way this impacts my leadership style is that I am impatient with people reinventing the wheel. If we are working on a new idea and we don't first explore what is already out there to address it, we risk wasting cycles doing what others have done.
2. I thrive when I'm trusted to meet goals without micromanagement.
Because of this, I offer the same to my team. I surround myself with people (employees, advisors, investors) smarter than I am and rely on them to guide me in areas where they are stronger than I. For my employees, that means trusting them to do their jobs. If they need lots of guidance they can always come to me, but I firmly believe the people on my team are the best people to do the jobs they are doing.
3. I have no ego.
This is rare in Silicon Valley, and in the entrepreneur world in general. Ego has helped some leaders get where they are, but in many cases I've found ego to be the Achilles heel of an otherwise talented person. When your ego looms large, you're less likely to surround yourself with people smarter and more talented than yourself for fear of no longer being the smartest person in the room. Because I don't struggle with ego, I thrive in the company of people who are smarter, more talented and more connected, and am energized rather than demoralized when someone has a better idea or does something faster. Knowing there are people out there who are better than I at certain things only makes my company and team stronger.
4. My productivity levels change constantly depending on various factors:
What's going on in my life, the weather, the things on my to-do list. Knowing this is as true for others as it is for me, I let my employees work where and when they want. The question I most often get about this is "Doesn't it hurt productivity and innovation if everyone is working remotely?" We've found a great solution to this that worked well at Silver Tail (my last company) and now at Unitive. We get people together on a regular basis -- once a week or once every two weeks. The benefit of this schedule is that when people have something they need to talk to the team about, they can put it on a list and not worry about it since it will get covered during dedicated face-to-face time. And when we do have in-person meetings, everyone brings their full self to the table, ready to focus for this specifically set aside time.
5. I'm an introvert.
My introversion is a consistent struggle in leading and managing. My ideal day is sitting in front of my computer in total silence. If I have to talk to people, quick phone calls are fine, but otherwise, I'd prefer to be on my own. Knowing this about myself, I work hard to put structure in place so that I am easily accessible and communicate more often than is comfortable for me while also giving myself space to recharge. I've also managed to wield this aspect of my personality as a strength, as it makes me totally comfortable giving my workers as much free reign as they require.
6. I care about the world and am committed to making it better.
I find this is a mutual drive for the most productive workers, so I make sure my employees know that their work has huge impact beyond our bottom line. In my cybersecurity company, that meant conference room names like "Hall of Justice" and server names like "Wonder Woman" that reminded the team we were protecting people's assets. At my current company, it's about real-world stories of our product making a difference in users' lives and regularly talking about the kind of discrimination applicants face in the hiring process. In addition, team members are encouraged to pursue volunteer and passion projects and find ways to give back outside of work; and our group activities often include doing community service.
To those of you who are burgeoning leaders, I urge you to take some time to think about your strengths and weaknesses, and how the way your life has shaped you as a person impacts the way you lead your teams. It's important to understand all dimensions of ourselves and how they can help us be successful in leadership roles.