When people think about leaders, they usually think about the individuals who are leading. If asked for examples of great leaders we hear suggestions like Jack Welch, Bill Gates, and Winston Churchill. While it is true that these were the “leaders”, they would never have become the famous examples they are without people to lead.

You can’t do leadership alone. It is meant to be enjoyed as a group.

Seems obvious right, but somehow it appears to be lost on many leaders today.

Leadership Is A Team Sport

Let’s pick two current leaders to see the difference.

Donald Trump is the President of the United States, perhaps the most visible leadership role in the world on a daily basis. He clearly believes that leadership is a solo act, driving his agenda regardless of the thoughts of others resulting in the longest government shut-down in history. Even with the end of the shut down he is threatening to use his unilateral power to get what he wants, further illustrating his “solo” leadership style.

Reid Hoffman was the founder and CEO of LinkedIn, and unless you follow Silicon Valley you may never heard of him. Reid doesn’t spend time patting himself on the back. When asked about the success of LinkedIn he doesn’t take credit. When asked about the his success in business, he credits his mentors and team members. Reid is a perfect example of a leader who recognizes his place on the team.

Let’s take a look at their histories.

Donald Trump – Solo Leader

Donald Trump got his start working for his father, Fred Trump, who was a successful real estate developer and investor (Elizabeth Trump and Son). Taking over the company in 1971, Donald Trump continued in his father’s footsteps and expanded the real estate investments to include casinos and large office building projects. He showed no shame in flaunting his riches and his leadership style, penning several business leadership books like “The Art of the Deal“.

Under his leadership, the Trump organization has filed for bankruptcy protection six times.

One quote from the book is particularly telling of his approach to “solo” leadership:

Even in elementary school, I was a very assertive, aggressive kid. In the second grade I actually gave a teacher a black eye—I punched my music teacher because I didn’t think he knew anything about music and I almost got expelled. I’m not proud of that, but it’s clear evidence that even early on I had a tendency to stand up and make my opinions known in a forceful way. The difference now is that I like to use my brain instead of my fists.

Making one’s opinions known in a forceful way is the opposite of teamwork. Imagine working for a leader who took this approach. How engaged would you be in bringing your ideas to the table? How likely that you would give extra effort when called upon (unless you really had no other options)?

Now, as President, Trump has repeatedly turned his back on former colleagues and team members, actively denied his own positions (which are available to anyone on Twitter), and backed the government of the United States into a corner over the construction of a wall. Who’s having fun working there today?

Reid Hoffman – Team Leader

Reid Hoffman was raised in Palo Alto by parents who were lawyers. He was a Dungeons and Dragons playing teenager who developed a passion for strategy and role playing, and a bit of entrepreneurship. He studied at a boarding school in high school and returned to California to attend Stanford where he met Peter Thiel. After Stanford, Reid went on to Oxford and received a Masters in Philosophy in 1993.

In 1997 Reid started SocialNet, one of the first social networks, but he abandoned the project in 1999 after joining his former friend Thiel and Elon Musk building PayPal which they eventually sold to eBay for $1.5B.

In 2002, Hoffman returned to his Social Networking ideas and founded LinkedIn. In founding and building LinkedIn, Reid leveraged a collaborative and learning leadership style to build a strong culture. He understood the business fundamentals of finding a competitive advantage, but he was also aware that he needed to be flexible and that his network (his team) was invaluable to his success. As he writes in “The Start-Up Of You“:

Relationship builders, on the other hand, try to help other people first. They don’t keep score. They’re aware that many good deeds get reciprocated, but they’re not calculated about it. And they think about their relationships all the time, not just when they need something.

Reid stepped back from the CEO role in 2007, eventually handing day-to-day operations at LinkedIn to Jeff Weiner who carried on in his footprints as a collaborative leader. In 2016, LinkedIn was purchased by Microsoft for $26.2B.

Today, Reid is one of the most successful venture capitalists in Silicon Valley, he shares his thoughts on leadership on his podcast “Masters of Scale”, shares his experience as founder of non-profit “Code for America”, and is an active philanthropist with millions in donations to worth causes around the globe. 

And you still may never have heard of him.

Leadership is meant to be a team sport. People want to be engaged with leaders who recognize that. And over time, leaders who play as a part of a bigger team will enjoy more success.

You can’t do leadership alone.

About Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.

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