In this episode, we demystify Leadership and Management: we delve into what sets them apart; typify the different styles; explore values systems, including our own and share our core beliefs. As always, we go below the surface and deep dive into this topic, at a time when it matters more than ever. This episode, on the topic of leadership and management, will be concluded by episode 32.
- Intro (01:34)
- Section 1: Definition (01:58)
- Section 2: Typifying Leaders (06:34)
- Conclusion (38:56)
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Welcome to our Episode 31, the first of two episodes on leadership and management. Bertrand and I will demystify leadership and management, define the difference between both, typify them, explore value systems, and also share our own core beliefs. As always, no BS. We will go below the surface and deep dive into this topic.
Section 1 – Definition
From the ground up let’s start with the actual definition of this and a bit of a caveat emptor. Buyer be aware, as they call it. Obviously we will share what we think are great practices of leadership and management, but by no means these are the only practices, and by no means we aim to be professorial about it.
Secondly, most importantly, probably by sharing our own views, we’re not saying that we are amazing leaders or managers. Obviously, that’s not for us to judge, but for people that have worked with us, for us, with us along the years. So that is not the assumption. Obviously, there is some assumption that we have something to say about this topic, otherwise you wouldn’t be listening. But we don’t aim to be arrogant enough to say that.
Maybe starting with the definition of leadership versus management, and this comes from someone I used to work with, a very good friend, but also someone I worked with for a very long period of time in two different roles. The way she would qualify the difference between leadership and management is, if the objective function is to get to hell, a leader is the person that can convey to people with amazing charisma and presence that we’re going to go to hell and hopefully we’ll come back for sure, hopefully we’ll come back, etc. The leader will likely not define necessarily very much how one will get to hell and back, but they will convince people to go with them, certainly the first time around.
A great manager might lack the charisma, but the great manager will define the steps to get to hell and back, will be clear about what needs to be done to get to hell and back. They might have difficulty in convincing people to go to hell in that first time, but it will be easier for them to convince them to go or try to go to hell a second or third time, even if they fail the first time, because they have a clearer view of the process to get there.
So again, a leader normally, in my opinion, a little bit more linked to… In some ways great aspects of charisma and management is basically linked to great aspects of understanding steps that need to be done and things that need to be done. A great manager might not be a great leader. A great leader might not be a great manager. There are very few great leaders that are great managers. So that’s maybe a little bit more flesh around the definition. Bertrand, do you agree with that definition?
That definition would be fit for Churchill, for instance, Churchill fighting the Germans, fighting Nazi Germany. That’s really what he did to rise to the occasion and convince people to fight. I think it’s an interesting version. I’ve never heard this one. I guess you have different type of leaders, different type of situation, different type of CEO, but this one is the benefit to be very generic and very illustrative.
Yes. We should talk a little bit about the origins of management. Management as a so-called science is relatively young. We should go back to people like Peter Drucker—may he rest in peace—people that started looking at management and formulating what management actually is and the different sides and aspects of management.
I’m a computer engineer by background. I have a Masters in science, computer engineering, and I had a professor for a management optional, but he was an engineer himself, that used to say, “Management arose from engineers not wanting to do management as a science.” I always felt that was interesting.
But certainly I think Drucker is probably one of the precursors to management as a science. Obviously, if we look at management in measured ways, we can even go back to, for example, the origins of McKinsey & Company. Mckinsey & Company in the early days was very much focused on measuring activities, for example, in manufacturing, which was emerging back then in the ’30s and ’40s in the US, and understanding the impact that certain operations would have.
Again, management is a young science. Leadership, I would allege, is still probably not a science, still not at that level. But obviously as a science that is young, it’s a science that some people still feel is a little bit BS. There’s still a little bit of, “Okay, what did you study in college?”
Well, I studied economics.”
And then you have someone else, “I studied management.”
It’s like somehow the person who studied management might not be seen in the same light as the person who studied economics. Economics feels more of a science than management, although one could also say that economists don’t have a particularly amazing track record of impact in society. As a science, it may also have some work to be done.
For today’s definition, we will use both leadership and management at times a little bit interchangeably. But just beware as I said at the beginning, we do believe there is a difference. The leader is sometimes a little bit more charismatic, the person who can convince people without necessarily proof, the person that can go for the moonshot. The managers, sometimes the person is more process-driven, more step-driven. Again, today we’ll use it relatively interchangeable just to make our lives easier and your lives as the listeners a bit easier as well.
Maybe to add to your point about management being a young science, maybe leadership is still an art in some ways.
Section 2 – Typifying Leaders
Indeed, it’s still at art level. Maybe we’ll see developments there that will get it to science level as well, whatever that may entail. Let’s start by typifying the different styles, the different styles that we’ve seen of, let’s call it leaders, managers.
Maybe we can start with one level and go back to leaders, assist manager. There is a typical, let’s call him or her, quote-unquote, statesperson, chairman, visionary. So someone who will be very high level, providing very high level vision, high level orders, maybe some tactics, but we will rely on CEO, managers to really execute per se.
That type of person, it’s pretty typical in many companies that you have a separation between these two roles to function, but some companies don’t have that separation. Of course, you have the same person as chair and CEO. In that situation what you might have, however, is a CEO in the organization, someone who will be more focused on the execution side of the business. Every business will be different. What’s your perspective on the chairman vision?
It’s funny because you can see Chairman Visionary states person archetypes across many large organizations in various different roles, right from VP to directors. Sometimes even individual contributors, which obviously ends up not working very well. Obviously you see it in CEOs.
The archetype is defined by people that are always at a very high level, they’re always at 30,000 feet, etc. Normally they have difficulty in articulating their high-level vision and what they think they’re conveying into actual actions. It’s normally very difficult for this type of leader or manager to convey very specific type of actions.
Now this type of manager, this type of leader, is not necessarily ineffective. They can be effective, but to your point, Bertrand, they need to surround themselves with the right level of talent. If it’s a CEO position and the person is very high level, then they need to have a heck of a COO, they have to have a heck of a chief revenue officer, a heck of a chief product officer, etc. They need to delegate a lot, and they need to work normally with teams that are extremely good at doing that translation, extremely good at understanding high-level objectives and views into actual tangible actions and outcomes.
Again, I’m not a huge fan of this type of manager. They normally skew towards, “Oh, I’m so brilliant that I don’t need to get in the dirt and define actions and processes,” and stuff. They’re also normally that people that behave like chairpeople, chairman or chairwoman, and they show up last minute for meetings, and they show up into a discussion where everything is decided and they are the ones, “No, no this doesn’t make sense, let’s change it all,” having a convincing opinion and decision-making logic
They like to leave decision-making as late as possible. They would be what I would call extreme Ps in Myers Briggs Type Indicator. I’m not a huge fan of that type. I’ve worked with many through my career. Fortunately, nowadays I don’t have many in my life, thank God. But it’s that type of action. It’s the action as if, “You all work for me, this is my high-level vision. If you can’t translate it into processes, you’re not very good.” It’s not my style. I don’t like it very much.
That said, as I’ve mentioned before, it can be effective. There can be people that are driving this style, that are very good at how they do it. But again, they need to have a lot of support beneath them. I think this style is particularly good for moonshot top plays, for companies that really need that level of ambition and looking forward that maybe demand someone who has a huge reality distortion field and doesn’t know all the details and they just hire amazing people around them to figure that out.
We talk about who you need to surround yourself with. One position I’ve seen more and more is chief of staff position, and I think that can go specifically well with this type of profile. To your point around, even VP levels can be statesperson and the like. That’s unfortunately trend I have seen, and I’ve seen VP level as well with own chief of staff, and everyone wants a chief of staff for their function.
I think at some point you have to be careful. For me, nothing has been more painful than to have report will behave like statesperson. That is very painful, and not to have anything precise coming from them, and them needing somebody else from their team to come and explain the details. That’s something that, at least by my book, very difficult to work with.
I expect the ability to dig when needed, and dig pretty far, and it’s always a challenge if people are not able to do that. Again, if you have absolutely fantastic people around you, that works. But you really have to bring the right people and people who enjoy this type of situation, who enjoys that separation between someone on the vision and there’s me on the execution. I understand the role and I like it that way.
And it’s funny that you mentioned, there’s now VPs and even directors getting chiefs of staff and whatever. I always say if you’re in an organization like this where everyone around you starts asking for it, start thinking about this little thing, which I’ve actually given some thought to, which is in some positions, at some point, maybe you should just fire the boss and let the chief of staff take over the role. Talk about a way to create bench. “You’re not very good. This guy is amazing. He should lead.”
Obviously, this doesn’t hold true for all positions, which do require sometimes a lot of more strategic thinking and seniority to be well-led. But there are positions where I do think it works well, this proxy like, “Okay, yeah, go ahead, hire a chief of staff. I think your chief of staff is better at this than you are, so I really enjoy this. But can you leave, please?”
That might be a good lesson for people around and for the peers.
That would make you learn. You just go ahead and learn.
But, yeah, it’s a question of balance. I think if you express strong talent on one side of the puzzle, acknowledging that you might not be as good on the other side will still be better than not acknowledging and running a business to the ground because you don’t care about the details.
Another type that we see quite often, which Bertrand has pointed me in the right direction, because for many years, I was calling it the wrong thing. The helicoptering type of manager, the micromanager, the person that goes normally very deep into the entrails of whatever has been done in a specific project or process, et cetera.
Obviously, the cons of the micromanager are very obvious. If you have a lot of talented people around you and you’re micromanaging them all the time; one, you’re not getting the best out of them, two, it’s a bit of a waste of resources because you’re probably paying them well and whatever. It doesn’t allow them to grow. It doesn’t allow them to have more outcomes.
That said, in defense of the micromanager, because I do sometimes go into micromanagement mode, I think my leadership style certainly has different facets to it and my management style has different facets to it, as these are gradients in different scales in some way.
I think the advantage of the micromanager is sometimes to show by example. It’s the ability to go from 30,000 feet to three feet and say, “Okay, and now I can show you how I would do this, and how I would drive this process, and how I would write this email, how I would put the wording correctly in that press release, how I would evaluate this investment in the right way, et cetera.”
For me, helicoptering and micromanagement, if it’s done systematically, it’s not great for the reasons I just pointed out. But if you have the ability to do that… We’ve listened, for example, Dan Rose talked a lot about Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg and his experiences at Facebook and Amazon.
The best leaders or the best managers normally are very good at that. They’re very good at 30,000 feet. But I can go three feet as well. I can be discussing strategy for the company. I can be discussing that word is wrong there. I think that skill is just an incredible superpower, but it needs to be used very carefully. And getting that nuance right is difficult.
I like to call it actually in nano-management to make fun of it even more when people are going way too much into some details. But for me, going too much into some details, it really depends, because the example of Jeff Bezos going into strategy and then what’s missing an important communication. At some point, if you are the leader of a business, communication is important.
What’s missing? Something that’s supposed to come from your mouth is important. Yes, you will have someone writing it first. But of course, you need to create your own flavor, and to adjust to your own tone, to your own style. And you want to create if you don’t agree with something, even if you have great people, they won’t be totally aligned with you.
That’s one thing I’ve been pretty frustrated sometimes is that some people don’t understand that you aren’t a big picture, but that doesn’t mean you are going to accept everything presented to you and that you will not request some adjustment. At some point, you still need to do some of this.
The question is more a question of percentage. Are you in 90% of your time in nano-management mode, or is it only when it’s really important and you can make a difference, especially for the one presenting, talking, or signing something? That’s another aspect, another style, and probably an extreme you want to be careful.
I think micromanagement, as a tool, has two advantages if it’s well exercised, which is, one, it gives you very deep understanding of what people are doing and what the company is doing at certain levels. Bezos is a famous example of him taking customer service tickets and addressing them to himself. I think that gives you a very granular view at a very low level of how the organization is behaving, what’s maybe not totally right in terms of translation to strategy for processes down your lines. It gives you a very granular understanding of that. I think that’s very powerful if it’s well done.
The second piece that it really gives you is, it allows you to touch key parts of your business that sometimes you wouldn’t touch otherwise. Sometimes that disconnection, that being away too much from your business creates too much reality distortion field.
I think using micromanagement, as a tool, sometimes allows you to moderate your reality distortion field, which is good. Reality distortion fields can be very positive and very well-used internally, but they need to be balanced. They can’t be nuts. There’s nuts, then there might be fraud, or the company goes down the drain, down the road and nobody noticed that, et cetera, et cetera.
For me, the micromanagement tool gives you that balancing act, the pullback of “Okay, now I know the truth and maybe I need to tone down some of the stuff I’ve been saying on the strategic side in terms of objectives and what I’m setting to the team,” et cetera.
Nothing can frustrate more team when someone is asked to disconnect from the business. As you say, you have to be careful because at some point, especially if you’re in the top positions, you have fiduciary duties to the business to the shareholders. At some point you have to sign stuff, put your name on the line. You have to try to understand what’s happening, and more than just understand, go into details when stuff look weird. That’s a key part of the game and you cannot just delegate. If shit hits the fan, at some point, the buck will stop with you.
Maybe another example of leadership style is the revolutionary. We have seen this approach. Some companies tried different ways to run a business, one that some favor at some point in time in Silicon Valley, five, seven, eight years ago was holacracy. Some talk about liberated companies, and of course, it all depends on how you manage it, how you apply it. If we take the example of Zappos, I’m not sure it worked out well to work that way.
My take is that, especially in tech, you’re already at the cutting-edge—or even bleeding-edge—of either technology or business model. Usually, you bet one of the two as why would you be the company succeeding in your space, and why would you be valuable.
When you try to be cutting-edge on the tech or business, trying to be cutting-edge on the absolute latest management fads that are extreme—I’m not talking about a new flavor, but a relatively extreme new approach, especially holacracy—I don’t think it’s right. I don’t think it’s right because there is only so much you can do right in your life solving either a very difficult hard tech, or approaching business in a very new, different way.
You can, at the same time, try some bleeding-edge management styles that have not really been tried elsewhere that is new, where you don’t find people to support you, to explain, to understand views that have not been vetted by others.
My take on the revolutionary approach is extreme caution. Maybe take some bits and pieces here and there that you feel could resonate, but be extremely careful, because typically, it doesn’t end well. If it ends well, it’s really because it has been done very carefully and usually in a very limited way by people who have really deep expertise in managing people.
There’s always been this notion of very flat organizations that are driven a lot by values, but there’s a lot of autonomy given to all the team members. There might be environments where that works better than others. We could be talking about a very small organization. We could be talking about an organization that is very focused on a very key and creative element of the value chain that they’re in.
There’s a lot of reasons why you could do things that are a little bit out of the box. But to your point, Bertrand, I totally agree with it. These things need to be done in moderation and carefully, because if it becomes an archic and it becomes complex, your culture will become, normally, in my experience, the least common denominator. It becomes whoever’s the biggest asshole, worst person in your team that is the most vocal, that’s how the culture is going to be defined because people are going to be bullied all the time.
In certain ways, you need to be quite thoughtful around applying these styles of leadership and management. Again, they might work in certain circumstances, even in some larger organizations. For a long time, there was this philosophy around extreme programming, which in some ways led to the whole advent of Agile as a movement, that the right way to do things is to be relatively flat in engineering. There are great examples of how that can work, but ERK always has a role in terms of cutting through the moment, and making decisions, and getting stuff done.
Maybe that is a good segue to our next type, which is the benevolent dictator. Normally, benevolent dictators are people that are both strategic and tactical. We’ll come back to the benevolent piece in a second. Dictator means that the buck stops in her or him, so the final decision is always with her or him. That makes things very clear. All decisions at the end that matter within the remit of that function, of that operation, are with that person.
The benevolence piece comes when those people normally give space for others to scale. What that means is the benevolent dictator normally manages more by outcome than by process, which doesn’t mean that the benevolent dictator can’t use micromanagement and other tools, but certainly, normally, it’s more managed by outcome-driven pieces like, okay, you come to me and say, “Okay, what’s the conclusion on this project that we were doing?” And then if there’s a decision that needs to be made or strategic direction that needs to be taken, I have the final call.
Again, this is a model that can work very well. The negatives of this model, well, the difference between benevolent and an evil dictator is just a couple of decisions, as I always say. The margins of decision-making are very thin.
The second piece is with that, sometimes it’s difficult to empower people because at some point you need to empower people in actually making decisions. In some cases, the benevolent dictator becomes—by nature—a micromanager, which isn’t the main aim of this type of leadership style.
There’s a couple of negatives to this. I think in terms of the team you’re building around you, you need to have a team around you that normally is extremely self sufficient in terms of getting to outcomes, but at the same time, it’s a team that’s highly motivated by processes and operations and actions, where they are willing to delegate the final decisions and the complexity of decision-making to one person.
There are some cases where through the bench, through the way you manage these teams, you are able to pick up people and let them go into their own leadership challenges and management silences outside the remit of this organization, or business unit, or team.
What ends up happening is, if you’re very good at this as a benevolent dictator, what you’re effectively creating, if you have very good decision-making people as part of your organization, is you’re creating space for those people to go somewhere else. It might be somewhere else in the organization. It might be leaving the organization altogether.
It’s normally a type of leadership that leads to what I would call a very good followership, very good cubs using the Tiger Cubs nomenclature, the people that left the organization and they go on to do their thing. They might actually not be the people that will thrive within the organization because they want to do their own decision-making. They want to create their own things at a certain point in time.
You end up with two positive extremes of people on the team; the people that are very operational, very focused on getting actual stuff done, or the people that actually have different objectives and want to be more decision-making oriented and want to take their own calls. Those people normally tend to actually leave and go somewhere else.
There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re creating just pools of talent around you, and they will have had your tour of duty with you, their war with you for three years, four years, whatever the time is, and then they go and do something else, which is also valid.
If we talk about another profile, I will say the typical Silicon Valley profile, it’s the product CEO, at least if you look at CEOs. I guess we have the example of nearly every big tech founder CEO. Take a Bill Gates, take a Jeff Bezos, take a Mark Zuckerberg, take a Steve Jobs. They were all product-centric CEOs.
Of course, they understand the numbers. Of course, they understand sales, but their core, their love, what they are famous for is the product side of the business, because in the best tech companies, product will define strategy and culture. I think that Dan Rose and some very good threads about this and how he explains it with the CEO of Amazon and Facebook. That’s something that ideally you want to look for in a tech CEO.
At the end of the day, you can optimize sales, you can optimize finance, but if it’s run by the accountants, your tech companies is going to go to the ground at some point to be franck.
Definitely, it’s the defining type of CEO in technology. It is a subtype of a couple of types we’ve already talked about. I think the product CEO style that Jeff put at Amazon, Gates back in the day at Microsoft, not only as the CEO, but also after being the CEO, being the chief software architect, which was the most high title on that organization at that point in time, no pun intended. It literally was.
They are a mix of what I would call benevolent dictators, people where all the key decisions go to them, and at the same time, a bit helicoptering, so people that go 30,000 to three feet, both Jeff and Bill clearly in that camp, people that can go and have a discussion with you on assembly when you’re leading their latest OS development.
Bill was very famous in terms of interview practices and how deep he could go. At the end, it was not to show off. He wanted to test people basically up to the end of their job, and if it works, that’s good. I don’t have to worry about this guy anymore.
I think Jobs was as well this style, a bit the benevolent dictator and the micromanager. I think his micromanagement skills were maybe a little bit more UX-driven than certainly Bill was much more technical. That’s why I think early on, they had this amazing fight because Jobs was more UX, and it was more commercial, and Bill was more techy and more nerdy. But in some ways, they had very similar styles. They just went deep on different things basically.
But again, the product CEOs that we’ve seen work really well are normally around these camps. I would say Mark Zuckerberg—and to a certain extent, Larry Page—slightly different styles. There are areas where I think Mark is the benevolent dictator. Product is probably one of them. There are areas where he’s willing to let others take the decision and just run with it and be very outcome-driven.
I think the fact that Sheryl has been at Facebook as long as she has been is probably a testament of that, that she has a lot of autonomy to drive a lot of things, which is incredible. I think that relationship… They’ve had their own stressors, but I’m sure it has worked very positively in terms of just duration is one of the most incredible relationships.
I think the Eric Schmidt, Larry Page, Sergey Brin relationship also worked along those lines with Sergey maybe going more moonshot special projects at a certain point in time, Larry being more focused on really building the core product of what they were doing around Google, and Eric serving a little bit as the third in the box and normally the CEO in some ways. No disrespect, he was obviously the CEO, but certainly the person that would balance those forces.
But again, always to the point that you were making, Bertrand, very focused on product and products. The notion of how do you address end customers and users, how do you get stuff done to a level that delights them? I think maybe, none other than Jeff, maybe he wouldn’t see himself as a product CEO because he is so broad in terms of his skill set and very analytical. But this customer obsession that Amazon has as a value I think is really coming directly from him. They are obsessed and that’s made them successful.
Definitely. If we talk about another perspective on the different styles of leadership of managers, there is one good distinction that John Doerr from Kleiner Perkins was famous to talk about was the mercenary versus missionary type of profile. From far, for some people, it might look like it’s not too different, but actually I think it is quite different.
It used to say that you have one focus on the sprint of the mercenary. The missionaries, they go for the marathon. Mercenaries driven by paranoia, missionaries driven by passion. On that one, I might disagree because I guess many people read that famous book from Andy Grove, Only the Paranoid Survive. I think he was a great leader. I guess it’s not only mercenaries were driven by paranoia.
Missionaries are, but I think that definitely missionaries have a passion that mercenaries don’t have. They have a love for the business, a love for the company, a love for the team, where mercenaries will be much more tactical, typically obsessed about entitlements as well, motivated by just making money. I think missionaries might recognize and like money, but definitely, they are here for something bigger as well, a bigger meaning, bigger outcome, bigger impact.
So very different type of profile. Ideally, just to be clear, we just want to hire missionaries. I don’t think you want mercenaries in the team. They won’t last as long, and typically, they will have a negative impact on the team. Your best people might be saying that and that’s something that can destabilize your business.
My take on this is please be careful, focus on the missionaries type. The mercenaries won’t be there too long, will jump at the first bump, will jump at the first better opportunities, and they can really negative impact also on them and bring more people like them.
The framework that John has been sharing for many years. Funnily enough, obviously John overlapped with Andy Grove at Intel and was senior at Intel before going to Kleiner Perkins. I have a little bit more of a nuance view on mercenary versus missionary. I think I agree with this assessment of what constitutes each type.
Sometimes you do want to have aggressive transactional people on your org and then it becomes more of a discussion around value system, how to incentivize, and how to get it done. In some pieces of work, some areas like sales and areas like business development, maybe to a certain extent, depending on the type of business development you’re doing, corporate development. I’ve worked in banking for a period of time as well. It’s good to have someone there that is just sharp and they just go systematically for the transaction.
Now, again, it needs to be toned down and needs to be managed. It can’t be someone that goes against all the value system of what the organization stands for. I fully agree with you on that, Bertrand. If someone who is just, this is the value system of the organization and this guy is the opposite, or this person is the opposite, that won’t work. But it’s good to have the transactional person there.
I have had some experiences in my life where people that ended up staying very long—for some reason—in the organization, much longer than I thought they would, systematically figuring out, what’s the point optimization for me on this? Again, normally they are working around transactional work and stuff like that, and maybe a little bit less around day-to-day, in six months, you’re still going to be doing that type of stuff.
So yeah, I think in principle, I agree with missionaries better than mercenary. But sometimes having a little bit of a healthy dose of that, having a few around and being able to manage those people, and being able to have them actually deliver that sharkish transactional point is not a bad thing.
I would say maybe individual sales contributors might be one of these type of position where it might work okay. But you have to be very careful because these people, when they leave, you can discover after that some corpses. You will open your closet and you’re like, “Oh, really? They did that? That’s why my client doesn’t talk to us anymore.”
From experience, you have to find that balance. I think that mercenary, it’s really that yourself and your own personal outcome is way beyond everybody else, including your company, your teammates, your boss, your reports, your clients. That typically doesn’t end very well.
There’s two final points I would like to make. One is, not all missionaries are great. I think the difference between a missionary and a mercenary is a mercenary on their best day, using the notion of, Good to Great. Jim Collins book, Good to Great, he has this chapter on leadership where he defines several levels of leadership up to level 5, which is the best, I think we’ve mentioned in one of our previous episodes.
I think the best a mercenary can get to is probably level 4, whereas a missionary can potentially get to level 5. Those are the guys who really are going to inspire followership and get to the next level.
That said, there are awful, awful missionaries around us. You could hire someone for your organization with the wrong type of missionary. It could be like a level 1 leader, who is someone who’s so focused on the values and on the passion of whatever that they forget at some point their call to action.
At some point they get just totally embedded in value systems and stuff. Again, it’s not that all missionaries are better than mercenaries. It just the highest you can get to is probably different.
To your point, Bertrand, which I totally agree with, if you get mercenaries into your organization, it’s like you just got a wolf inside the henhouse. You just need to be careful. It’s like, “How do I protect the hens right now? I need to be very cautious in how this structure will work.”
Again, as you said, individual contributors might work a little bit better. Checks and balances might work a little bit better. You better have an amazing leader managing that person, et cetera, et cetera. It’s a little bit of that. I feel it’s just a bit more nuanced, the point, than black and white. In some ways it’s more fuzzy logic than binary.
It makes sense if you have a missionary who does not execute and is just focus on the values and other stuff, but not on very delivering business, that’s not going to work either. Yes, some people might disconnect from the practical things. That’s true.
I would say I was more thinking on average, with the same level of execution, I would prefer to rely on the missionary type of guy, because the mercenary, I don’t know when he will backstab me, but he will try at some point, or somebody else, or the client. You never know. They have to be handled with care like a dangerous knife.
Maybe the last discussion we would want to have in this notion of typifying a little bit styles of leadership is, the practitioner versus the manager. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, Bertrand, in your experiences?
In terms of practitioner versus managers is always that question. Do you really know your industry, your vertical? Do you have expertise in it? Or are you just managing people, the people manager?
I think that’s where we go in the discussion of, I don’t want to say, weird but weird level of management where you’re not on the topic side. You are not managing a team directly, but you’re in that middle management layer.
That’s usually where a company dies, when you have too many middle managers. You need some of them to be clear. They, of course, can be very good, but you have to be very careful.
Me, a pure manager with little expertise or functionality or in the industry, that’s typically someone that even if he wants well, will probably do some harm at some point because he will have trouble to really inspire people. If you are more of an empty shell, in some ways, you need to find a balance. But some industry expertise, some functional expertise. I think it’s key to have that.
There’s been a lot of this discussion around the T-shaped leaders and managers, people that are brought on top and then have one very specific area of deep knowledge in.
I prefer pie shaped, I guess, because I see myself as pie-shaped so it’s like I’m very broad on top, and then there’s two areas where I’m super deep. There is a notion of superpower to that almost.
I think both you and I believe that it is better to have an expert functionally or in industry or sub-industry or whatever job they’re doing because that person at some point needs to come down to the team and explain to the team, “Okay, this is how I would do it,” and that sets the standards. It sets the template, it sets how things are going to be done going forward.
If you don’t have that capacity, the ability to go down and say, “This is how it’s done,” one, it will be very difficult to lead by example, which I think leading by example is a very, very good thing in general. Again, if it’s not too much micromanagement. If it’s not too much my way or the highway, but there is a value in that for sure.
The second piece is, if you don’t have that, then at some point in time, your ability to even assess what the people that are working for you are telling you disappears. In some very technical areas, for example, if we’re talking about engineering or product, there are areas of product management in engineering where you can be played around by your team all day long without knowing that they’re screwing around.
You just literally would need to move the leader and the manager of that team and the team would necessarily perform better, even without changing the team, because just you can push people a little bit more hard, how things are being done and how they should be done, et cetera.
I think this version of the very broad manager, very elastic manager, I’m not a huge believer in. I do believe there are people that have more than one spike. There are people that have several spikes, and they can go from business development to product, and they’re exceptional at both. But I have difficulties in believing in someone who’s an exceptional manager in a relatively complex area or technical area that doesn’t have any or any real knowledge of that area, as a practitioner.
There are maybe some areas where you can get away with it. I won’t go into details on what, because I’m sure I’ll get some nasty messages and email after that. But there are definitely some areas in my mind that I believe are a little bit broader in terms of the dimensions that you, as a manager, can bring without having necessarily expertise in that space or in that function, but there are others where I think it’s impossible.
For a period of time, we saw a lot of dimensions. I remember Google, later on Yahoo, with Marissa, that they wouldn’t hire product managers who didn’t have an engineering background, because they’re like, “You need to be talking to engineers all the time. You need to call them on their BS.”
If you don’t understand the limitations of the work they’re doing, even at a high level, even if it’s not in depth, it’s very difficult for you to push back and have arguments on prioritization, on what needs to be done versus not, on whether this is a good schedule to get stuff done on or not.
To this point, I think, the perfect example is if you’re a product manager, a lot of companies, take Google, for instance, Facebook as well, you cannot be a product manager if you don’t have a technical degree specifically in computer science and if you have not spent some time doing computer engineering. You are just not going to be product manager in these companies.
In some ways I believe it’s probably a bit too extreme because I think there are exceptions, people who can do a great job as product manager without that deep technical background. Obviously, you can have people with deep technical background who are horrible product managers, but I subscribe that, by default, expecting technical understanding of what’s happening by your engineering team.
When you’re in a product manager position, you are not directly managing them. It’s quite important, as you say, you cannot get bullshitted. You understand, you can challenge, you can discuss, you can negotiate, can appreciate. That part is, I believe, is quite important. As usual, I believe you have to make exceptions for people who can be very talented even without that technical background.
I think it goes without saying everything we’re saying has exceptions. There is incredible people out there that have not studied computer science but they’re incredible at product management and a bunch of other amazing examples. Obviously, we’re not instituting some type of religion fundamentalism here, but rather sharing what normally works versus what normally doesn’t work.
Section 3 – Conclusion
This concludes episode 31, our first episode on leadership and management. In our next episode, episode 32, we will focus on how to execute, as well as, what are the key elements to make a great culture, what are the right key values that you want inside your business? Thank you again for listening to this episode. See you next time.