Cracking the Culture Code

with Kim Malone Scott

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Leadership is a communication style, which can scale.

Kim Malone Scott

CEO Coach, Management Manager, Author

Lessons Learned

The type of communication that does scale is leadership, not management.

Management is relationships, which does not scale.

Startups need management after 20 people


Lesson: Cruel Empathy with Kim Malone Scott

Step #10 Leadership: Leadership is a communication style, which can scale

I think the leadership management dichotomy is a bunch of bullshit actually. At least, the way that people talked about leadership often in the academic literature over the last couple of decades, it's very dangerous. Leadership threatens to become the bullshitters who never do anything, and then the managers become the small-minded grunts who execute orders. It's not very flattering to either side.

I don't think it's actually a very useful dichotomy, but I will say that there are things that do scale. There's a type of communication that does scale that is not management. I guess if I had to draw a distinction, which I would be reluctant to do, I would say that management is the relationship part. It's very important, and it's, at a human level, very satisfying, but it doesn't scale. The leadership stuff is the stuff that can scale, that you don't have to do one-on-one.

As a CEO, you do manage people. You have a team of people who report directly to you, and that team of people is going to have an enormous impact on the company, so making sure that you're developing a trusting relationship with those people is going to be crucial to keeping the company on an even keel. Making sure that you're giving those people feedback, and that you're getting feedback from those people on a regular basis is just as important for the CEO to do as it is for somebody who's just become a manager. Making sure that you're not telling those people what to do, but that you're all lined up going in the same direction is incredibly important because it's so destructive to the company if a CEO's direct reports are all pulling in different directions. That makes for misery in a company.

Really important, more important is for the CEO to make sure the right people are in her boat or in his boat; just more important there than any other level of the company, but the direct reports of the CEO are going to have an enormous impact on the company, so making sure as the CEO that you are constantly upgrading your team, pushing your people to do better work. If a direct report of a CEO is subpar and everybody sees it, mediocrity is going to spring up like mushrooms at that company.

All the manage stuff that I talk about, I think, is more important for the CEO to do than anybody else in the company. The CEO has a lot of other responsibilities as well, but it's a big part of the job.

I believe that a startup needs management when there are more than 20 people. Up to 20 people it can be pretty loosey-goosey. But after 20, given in the early stage, I don't know if you need management, but you certainly need to give each other feedback. You certainly need to figure out what your direction is, and you certainly need to think about how you're building the team and what roles people are playing. Do you need to assign managers when you're less than 20 people? No, but you still need to do the things that managers do when you're less than 20 people.

With my coaching, I focus on management. Management is actually what interests me, developing those relationships that help people do the best work of their lives. My coaching, I focus on feedback. I focus on sort of organizational design, how do you think about structuring your team. I work with people on how do you think about the people you have on your team and how to develop them, so feedback team. And then how do you coalesce people around a particular direction without telling them what to do?

And then there's a whole host of other things that come up. I think the role of being a manager whether you're a CEO or a recent manager is lonely. There are a lot of things that are inappropriate to talk to the people on your team about that you don't really want to bring home. So all kinds of stuff comes up and I'm there to be the person's friend, the thing that doesn't scale.

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