October 11, 2019

Necessity is the Mother of Leadership Innovation

About 8 years ago, I wrote a blog post that talked about the story from my MovieFone days when I went from managing 1 person to 20 overnight and had to completely rejigger my Operating System to the new environment. It was a case of required revolution over evolution for me. Trial by fire.

I feel like I am living in an analogous world now. After 7 days on the job as CEO of LRN (announcement) (first days post) I am realizing that going from leading a company that I founded and led for two decades to leading a 25-year old company in a new industry is going to require some structural changes to the way I lead. For example:

  • I will still be as “retail” as possible with my new colleagues since my natural inclination is to focus on the people in the business, but I can’t possibly get to know hundreds upon hundreds of people all at onece the way I got to know an even greater number over many years of hiring and onboarding them myself. Because I that, I will end up changing my interaction patterns with those colleagues with whom I don’t engage day in, day out. I won’t ever give up being approachable and seeking out input and feedback, but I will probably trade some long-held practices for fewer, deeper, more meaningful interactions
  • It is going to take me a while to be able to interrogate the company’s P&L the way I could at Return Path. Because of that, I will be forced to rely on the judgment and instincts of others to spot looming issues with the business. I want and need to develop those instincts over time, but while it’s impossible for me to have them, I will develop other ways of achieving the same outcomes (still TBD)
  • I used to be able to prioritize things in the business (resource/ headcount allocation, initiatives, on the fly trade-offs) because I had more knowledge of what was going on in the business – either historical, or broad-based cross-functional) than anyone else in the room on a lot of decisions. I won’t have that here for years, probably ever on the historical knowledge front. So I am going to have to develop some new muscle around asking questions to uncover the critical drivers and factors that need to underpin any given decision, situationally

I bet there are a dozen more examples that come up between now and the end of the year. But this sure feels like that time in 1996 when the necessity of the situation forced me to change my management and leadership behaviors, for the better. My hope this time is that this new situation makes me a better, stronger, more scalable, but still responsive and people-first leader.