In an interview for serial entrepreneur Elad Gil’s new book High Growth Handbook, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has dispensed some interesting tips for what a board of directors should look for in potential CEO candidates when it has lost faith in the abilities of the current incumbent.
As reported by Business Insider,  Hoffman – who has sat on the boards of Microsoft, PayPal and Airbnb – stresses, “The key dynamic – and it’s super hard – is one I’ve learned through LinkedIn: You're actually looking for a co-founder.” Hoffman explains: “You’re looking for a co-founder who may have a different skill set than the people who are part of the initial ‘family’ or ‘tribe.’ But you’re looking for, essentially, a co-founder.”
Hoffman notes that one of his favourite progress-interview questions is: “Would you do this job if we paid you half of what we're paying you? … That's not to say you should pay them half, but you want someone who sees this as the thing they want to do.”
He adds: “People frequently say about hiring a new CEO, ‘Well, I'm hiring a skill set.’ Skill set’s important – which level you’re at, your ability to make it work. The reason you're hiring a new CEO is because there are new skill sets that are critically important. But if someone doesn’t have the founder’s mindset, they’ll be fundamentally, at best, in asset management. They’ll make sure that things keep running, keep going on a trajectory.
“But the ability to change the curve means taking a risk that a founder would take. That requires moral authority, but it also requires a mental willingness – including risking hearing: ‘You really screwed up, you're doing this really badly.’ You have to be willing to go through that in order to make it happen.”
Hoffman has experience in this area – indeed, he was required to recruit his own replacement on two occasions at LinkedIn amid management changes in which he left the firm, then returned, then left again.
To what extent is Hoffman on target, here? Is a more personally and emotionally invested CEO the way forward, or is it in fact more helpful to have a leader who will maintain some objective distance?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “In my view, Hoffman’s identification of this desired archetype is quite unusual, and in practical terms is going to be difficult to deliver. What he is effectively saying is that an organisation should be able to find someone with that sort of drive and then insert them into somebody else’s idea.
“So the business isn’t yours, it has someone else’s DNA running right through it and it’s inextricably linked to that individual – but you are expected to treat it as though it’s your own. The problem with that outlook is this: if there’s someone out there who does indeed have the passion, purpose and willingness to take risks that Hoffman identifies, then it’s highly likely they’ll already be doing it for themselves. That’s probably why you get a sense from Hoffman’s words that he considers that type of person rather rare.”
Cooper explains: “my thoughts on the potential solution here is to ensure that when you are in your post as leader, you judiciously buy in the skills you require in those sorts of areas so that the organisation can run smoothly without you. Above all, leadership is a collaborative endeavour, and if you rely too heavily upon one individual, then to all intents and purposes, you are leaning on an illusion – because in a huge company, one person can’t be doing everything. Even the most charismatic figureheads with the biggest reputations have fantastic teams behind them every step of the way to support their work.”
She adds: “If you think you need the PR that a big personality will bring, then by all means recruit for that. But people who will be happy to treat someone else’s idea as their own are, by and large, thin on the ground.”
For further thoughts on assuming responsibility, check out these learning materials from the Institute
For thoughts on taking initiative, click here
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