Managing Chaos around the Tech Founders

I recently came across this Blitzscaling session in which LinkedIn’s own Reid Hoffman interviews Eric Schmidt. I found it to be ridiculously full of leadership insight, so wanted to share how it resonated with me.

I’m certainly not alone in being a fan of Schmidt as a tech business leader – but my personal angle is specifically about the leadership model he represents. Here is a successful senior corporate exec coming into a messy, high-flying engineering-led startup, and rather than trying to do things the way he’s used to, throws his ego aside and focuses on how he can help clear the runway for the obviously brilliant founders. As he says several times during the session, he knew it was their company, and he acted that way.

He doesn’t spew generic-sounding, common-wisdom advice, either, for example recommending to his younger self to “do things sooner and make fewer mistakes” -rather than embracing failure for failure’s sake, like so many bloggers urge us to do these days.

Other examples: challenging the commonly-agreed narrative in the Jobs-Scully story, ending with “it was a very Steve Jobs thing to do”; claiming that marketing, sales and distribution are better ramped at the last possible minute, when the product is truly ready; and recommending managers to go ahead and “hire the divas”.

But going back to the main point, I genuinely admire this leadership model: humble professional CEOs/COOs like Schmidt, Sheryl Sandberg and so many less well-known others, that are vital at helping tech startups scale dramatically. I love Schmidt’s definition of his task at Google, “My role was to manage the chaos. You need to have someone to run fast and have a good product sense. That was Larry and Sergey. My job was to organize the world around them.”

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