Our ninth foundational principle is:
The best way to teach is to listen. The best way to lead is to be.
Unlike most of the preceding principles, this one is, as we say in German, Marke Eigenbau - essentially "own construction" or "private label." We kind of came up with it ourselves over time, though I'm sure you can find instances of similar sentiment online.
There are very common and wrong assumptions about what teaching is. For example, you have knowledge, you inculcate that knowledge, they regurgitate it to prove they've learned it, done. Rinse, repeat.
There are similar misconceptions about leadership: you make a plan, you set incentives, you tell people what to do, they do it because of the incentives. Rinse, repeat.
But that's not how people work. Prescriptions are useless when you teach and when you lead.
Teaching at its best is an interactive process that depends on information being tailored to the specific audience. The key is to understand the student. And the only way to understand the student is to listen to them intensely and sincerely.
The teacher may choose to adapt the learning process by offering small tidbits of information that make the process more memorable and fun. Or the teacher may choose to withhold a key piece of information to encourage the student to arrive at the necessary conclusion themselves.
We don't learn by being told. We learn by ingesting, evaluating, trying out, realizing. The only way to encourage this process is to start with listening: what is really being asked? How can I guide them along their journey?
Similarly, leadership is not about telling people what to do. The most cynical definition of leadership that I know is that it's "getting people to do what you want." Of course there's a part-truth here: leadership is certainly about setting a direction and the end result is multiple people working towards that direction.
But telling people doesn't work. Instead leadership requires three main ingredients: a vision, a purpose, and values.
The vision is about a future that's desirable not just for the individual, but for all potential followers. It doesn't need to be a future that directly benefits all followers, but it should be one that's exciting to work towards. Hence the "big hair audacious goal": humans love a big challenge.
But there needs to be a point to the challenge of getting to the envisioned future: a Why. We grow bored with games that have no stakes. So having a purpose for working incredibly hard isn't just a "nice" add-on: it's core to great companies, great movements, great lives.
And finally: values. These are the answer to the How questions: how we work, how we collaborate, how we show up every day. And of course the guardrails of what we don't do (cheat, steal, lie, slander, etc.). From a coherent set of values grows a culture, and you can feel that culture at many companies as soon as you've spent 15 minutes at reception.
As a leader you can tell your people all three of these. In the case of vision, you should: you are the keeper of that flame and only you can keep it truly alive. Being able to condense vision, riff on it, iterating the narrative so that you really nail it is key.
But in the case of purpose and values, the only way to transport them is to live them. People don't learn through prescription. But they are persuaded by example. That's what we mean by "the only way to lead is to be."
And so I urge you not to adopt an inauthentic purpose or to put some values down on a piece of paper that everyone will forget as soon as they read them. The purpose of the company needs to be the, or at least a, purpose of your life. And the values of the company need to be based on your own moral code.
I know we are talking a big game here. And that what we're asking requires great self-awareness and introspection. And that maybe the place you get to when you think about these things isn't one of egalitarianism or collectivism. And that's ok, too. The world needs great individuals to take us to great new heights. Follow your heart (as in courage, will).
Founders first. Always.
#1 No fear, no greed
#2 We're the coach, not the athlete
#3 It is only with the heart that one can see rightly
#4 Energy attracts like energy
#5 “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
#6 "Love people, not things. Use things, not people.”
#7 Ask, don't tell.
#8 "Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be generous; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men."