Leading With a Compass

Leading With A CompassEarl Wilson of The New York Times interviewed Mark Josephson, CEO of Bitly. He contends that effective leadership means empowering individuals to make, and own, the decisions.

Before Mark Josephson joined Bitly last year, it was the first time he had done a job search, as opposed to things just happening organically. It was the first time he stopped and tried to figure out what he wanted to do. A C.E.O. coach he had worked with said: “You need to understand your priorities. What were the three times in your career when you were the happiest, the most successful, the most fulfilled, and what were you doing? Find an opportunity that matches those.”

Here are his answers to three questions:

Q. What is your leadership style today?
A. One phrase I use a lot is “input, not consensus.” Every decision should have one owner, and if you manage by consensus, you’re dead, because consensus will give you slight variations on the same ideas, at best. What you need to do is identify the decision maker for every single thing, and it’s not going to be me. I don’t want to be the owner of all the decisions, because that won’t be good enough. Decision owners are responsible for getting input from everybody, but the decision is theirs, and they’re accountable for the results. I want only one person telling me what the answer is going to be. We will celebrate them when they’re right, and we will hold them accountable when they’re wrong.

I’ve also made changes in my one-on-ones with my direct reports. They bring the agenda because they understand what our goals are. So I will ask: “How’s it going? Are you accomplishing your goals? How can I help you do what you need to do?”

Q. What did you tell the staff on your first day?
A. The first thing I talked about was motivations. You have to understand the whole person. If I don’t understand your motivations and what you’re trying to accomplish, I can’t help you be successful. I need to understand what gets you out of bed every morning.

I talked about my drive and ambition, and I talked about the “greater than” symbol, which has found its way into our values. I do want more. If you tell me you’re going to have something for me on Wednesday, I’m going to ask for it on Tuesday. If you tell me you can get 10, I want 11. It’s not because I don’t believe you or trust you, but that’s in my nature. I want us to do more, and I want to push. I find that if you don’t ask for more, you’re never going to get it.

I also said that I’m going to ask you a thousand questions. It’s not because I don’t believe you or trust you; it’s just that I want to understand your decision-making process. How did you get to that idea? How did you get to that solution?

Q. How do you hire?
A. I will start with: “Tell me your story. Where are you from? Tell me about your mom and dad. What did they do? Tell me about your brothers and sisters.” I love to hear how they tell their stories. And have they given any thought to how they tell their stories? I don’t like taking anything for granted in my personal life or my professional life, and I’m drawn to people with plans. People who make plans are much more likely to achieve them and set goals.

I like to hear about what was hard for them and where they won or lost. People with a history of success and hard work are more likely to be successful and work hard in the future. I’ll ask them, “What’s the hardest you’ve ever worked?”

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James E. McClain is the author of Successful Career Development: A Game Plan, the book upon which some of our training programs are based. He has over 30 years' experience as a corporate HR executive, small business owner with ongoing experience in career development and as a college instructor. His educational background includes a B.S. and Masters degrees Education and Certification in Financial Planning. Our promise is that "you can pay more for training but you can not buy better training." The mission is to deliver the most effective and cost effective training and development programs.

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