Hard on the issues, easy on the people

I will judge my success at Moov based on the experiences of my employees. Not how many people we hire, how much money we raise, or how many dollars we move through our platform. Of course, these things are essential. But the milestones related to these areas of the business don’t matter if my people don’t feel challenged, accepted, safe, respected, inspired, and like they are doing the best work of their lives. For me, that’s the end goal—to make Moov the best place anyone has ever worked.

With that in mind, I want to share some thoughts about leadership. And I can’t talk about leadership without talking about trust. Trust is one of the most crucial aspects of a startup. Heck, it might even be the most important. The speed at which the team can run—make decisions, collaborate, ship features, execute plans—is entirely predicated on how much trust everyone has with each other.

At Moov, we seek a positive exchange of trust. We strive to give first, treat others with respect, and are hard on the issues but easy on the people.

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Let me be clear. This thinking does not come from the traditional best sellers on management. And you know which ones I mean. I could give you my own 48 Laws why these “leaders” got it wrong. These books’ pages read like how-to guides on how to be a prick, destroy creativity, and stifle innovation. They may have worked at some point in history, but not today.

Compare those books to the leadership wisdom of John Doerr, Clayton Christensen, or Eric Schmidt. The difference is polarizing. Why? To understand, let’s look at what Brené Brown calls power over versus power with.

  • Leaders who work from a position of power over believe that power is finite and use fear to protect and hoard power. They believe that being right is more important than getting it right.

  • Leaders who work from a position of power with believe that power becomes infinite and expands when shared with others. They believe that getting it right is more important than being right.

Power over environments allows people to become replaceable cogs in the assembly line. If you can justify a machine over the wage worker, you do. This mindset assumes that the wage worker creates no value outside the task they were assigned to complete. However, in the new economy, creativity is what wins and keeps companies thriving.

Think of the creation of Gmail. Regardless if Paul Buchheit created it in Google’s 20 percent time or not (it’s the legendary policy of allowing engineers to divvy off part of their work hours for personal projects), it doesn’t matter. What does matter is this: In that environment, workers are responsible for any aspect of the value creation—not just a single task. Anything those smart creatives needed to do to make the system better was more important than any singular task.

On an assembly line, we drive costs out of defined product offerings at a specific price. It’s a mindset of scarcity. In a creative culture, and specifically at Moov, we take a different approach—a mindset of abundance. We believe there is always more to accomplish and more value to create. Because of this, we empower everyone here to embrace their epiphanies and act on them.

When you bring on new teammates, trust them to do what you hired them to do, then get out of the way. It’s magical. They go, and they go fast. Not because I told them to, but because the culture and our environment encourage them to do so.

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When you get the environment right, everyone can do remarkable things. And getting the environment right means that people have a deep sense of trust and cooperation. But this only happens when leaders—when I—put everything on the line to protect my people.

As Simon Sinek said in Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe, “Great leaders would never sacrifice the people to save the numbers. They would sooner sacrifice the numbers to save the people.”

Leaders who prioritize the wellbeing of their employees end up with a more loyal workforce. If you inspire and support your people, they will do whatever it takes to see your company’s vision become a reality. Why? Because they know their leader would do the same for them.

Of course, there are challenges along the way, and it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. But something that moves us forward is the principle of disagree and commit. Once we have a decision, everybody commits to it, and we work together to execute. This simple framework allows for healthy tension throughout our various teams but keeps everyone aligned on what needs to be delivered.

So, back to that hard on the issues, easy on the people statement. For me, that’s my foundation, connecting all of these aspects of leadership. I want nothing more than to create a blame-free but problem-aware environment. Being tough on the process and easy on people allows us to stay focused on resolving the issues at hand while maintaining relationships and respect for each other.

Together we agree on how we work and how we respond to problems. And we’re uncompromising in establishing these process norms. We follow the agreed process and work together to improve it. The pace of change in technology is inevitably forcing all companies, especially startups, to focus energy battling the marketplace and not wasting it on internal politics. And if you can’t do that, then it’s time to find another gig somewhere else.

At Moov, we set standards that are fair but non-negotiable. We treat people with respect. We support and develop everyone towards personal and organizational goals. And when we do all of that, when we put people first, communicate openly and honestly while giving and demanding our best from each other, we outpace our goals and move on to the next one.