Each Sunday in the New York Times business section, there is a wonderful interview with someone who is successful at leadership in business. The interviews are by Adam Bryant, and the questions are, in my opinion, excellent and revealing. I will attempt to reflect on each new article as a way to frame an ongoing discussion and observation about leadership and communication. My goal is to highlight what I see as helpful or especially instructive comments from the interviewee. This week’s interview is with David Sacks, founder chairman and CEO of Yammer. The full article can be found here.
In this article Sacks talks about his “Open door” policy within his company, wherein he states, “Anyone can walk into my office and start talking to me.” In general, this could be a devastating policy for most leaders of an organization. If everyone felt obliged or invited to step in and air whatever grievance, new idea or joke, it would be impossible to appropriately manage time and create a logjam for those issues that need to get through to the boss. However, this is a policy that seems to work for Sacks for two reasons.
1. Clarity and commitment regarding his goals within the organization.
2. Absolute clarity of roles within the organization.
Regarding the first point, Sacks describes a process that he uses to distill his goals and the goals of the other leaders within his company called “MORPH” or “Mission, Objectives, Results, People” and the “H is for ‘How.’” (See full explanation in the article.) I imagine that a lot of companies use similar methods to organize and clarify their mission, even if they don’t specify in an acronym. What makes this so impressive as a tool for his company is that it forces everyone, including himself, to identify what they “own” in the company. This tool is an excellent way to focus a discussion and force people to make important internal choices. It can also help to avoid over processing or what I sometimes call “rolling in the problems” of the company. My favorite quote regarding this is when he says:
If you can’t get this down to one page, then it doesn’t work.
The temptation to write an elaborate report that sounds important or that goes into too much detail about what you have to do and the problems inherent within it is terrific for most leaders. The distillation of mission and goals, identification of problems and offering of solutions is a great method to achieve clarity in communication and in roles.
The second point is the result of the first. Employees will have a greater understanding of boundaries and how to offer suggestions and observations if they have clarity and confidence in their own position and goals. Given the corporate culture that Sacks describes in this article, I imagine that anyone who walks into his office knows that she will be asked to be specific about what she sees and what she has to offer. Also, given his respect for everyone’s opinion, there won’t be the usual fear that he might shut her down simply because it is out of her field. This outlines for me the two most important elements of strong leadership:
Self confidence and trust.
The greatest example of Sacks’ self confidence is in his hiring practices, which is always a good indicator for how self confident a leader is. In this he says:
given a choice between someone with experience in a given area, and someone who appears to be a really good problem solver, I’m willing to bet on the problem solver.
One downfall of hiring is being allured by the illusion of competency. This, of course, doesn’t mean that people with experience can’t be competent, which would be absurd. What it does mean is that he knows what he needs in his company (problem solvers) and he is willing to overlook lack of experience if he feels that he has found someone with this skill. That is the best sign of a confident and comfortable leader.
We could all learn from Sacks about how open and structured communication is a valuable tool to building a trustful and creative environment.