What I’ve Learned from LinkedIn’s CEO Jeff Weiner
Jeff Weiner currently serves as the CEO of LinkedIn. Previously, Mr. Weiner served as an Entrepreneur in Residence at Greylock Partners and Accel Partners, where he advised the leadership teams of its consumer technology portfolio companies and worked closely with partners to evaluate new investment opportunities. Additionally, he worked in key leadership roles at Yahoo! and Warner Bros Online. Fortune writes that “Jeff Weiner has mastered the art of advancement.” Below is what I’ve learned from Mr. Weiner as an avid fan, user, and investor in LinkedIn:
BE SELF-AWARE AND SURROUND YOURSELF WITH GREAT PEOPLE.
In today’s networked and hyper-connected world, working with great people is imperative. While the person you work for, your mentor, your coach, etc. are all important, even more so is everyone you’re associated with – day in and day out. “Surround yourself with only the best you can find,” Mr. Weiner contends.
In his New York Times interview, Jeff explains that, “Managers will tell people what to do, whereas leaders will inspire them to do it, and there are a few things that go into the ability to inspire. It starts with vision, and the clarity of vision that the leader has, and the ability to think about where they ultimately want to take the business, take the company, take the team, take a particular product.” While things will ultimately become challenging, it is pivotal for a leader to be courageous and stand by his / her convictions. Jeff also states, “There are going to be doubters, because if the vision truly is unique, there are going to be a lot of people who will say it can’t be done. In order to inspire people, that’s going to have to come from somewhere deep inside of you.”
This ability to lead and inspire has developed throughout his career with the help of various mentors. One is Ray Chambers, who currently serves as United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and for Malaria. Chambers essentially created the modern-day leveraged buyout as the former Chairman of private equity firm Wesray Capital Corporation; however, he gave up his role to pursue a life of philanthropy.
Ray has taught Mr. Weiner four key rules for happiness:
- Live in the moment.
- It’s better to be loving than to be right, and if you’re in a relationship, you know how challenging that can be.
- Be a spectator to your own thoughts, especially when you become emotional, which is almost impossible to do.
- Be grateful for at least one thing every day, and the last is to help others every chance you get.
Even as a child, Mr. Weiner knew where he was going. Despite maintaining a virtually paperless office, Weiner keeps in his drawer a three-page, single-spaced memo addressed to “Dad.” The memo is a “mock cover letter” he wrote to his father, a TV executive, 20 years ago when he was a management consultant at Braxton Associates. The letter reads, “Dad, I enjoy the world of business and the process of problem solving … I don’t just want to make money. I want to add value and feel as though I am making a contribution to the world around me … I get bored quickly … I’d rather be making movies than making the little plastic things that go on the end of your shoelaces.”
Such declarations are what Mr. Weiner describes today as his key values and mission. His goal was to get a job in film, TV, or technology, and eventually figure out “which path I’d like to follow down the interactive highway.” He is savvy and self-aware enough to know that his own career path is the epitome of LinkedIn’s promise to its members: that archiving and articulating your accomplishments is the first step in achieving and managing your goals.
Former LinkedIn CEO Reid Hoffman, who hired Weiner as interim president at the end of 2008 and promoted him six months later, also explains, “He really focuses on a culture of leadership, especially how to ask people to step up as leaders.” The advice Jeff gives them about their career paths begins with a simple question: “Looking back on your career 20, 30 years from now, what do you want to say you’ve accomplished? Go.”
Jeff explains that failing to answer the question in 15 seconds likely means they have not previously thought about the answer. “They either never asked themselves that or they got swept up in a stream of opportunity that led from one thing to another – more titles, more money – and they just didn’t stop to ask themselves that simple question,” Weiner states.
Thus, the most important piece of advice Mr. Weiner gives to young people is to think about and try to know what they ultimately want to accomplish. If one is struggling to find the answer, he advises to optimize for passion and skill – not one at the exclusion of the other.
ALWAYS BE LEARNING.
As a child Weiner devoured his father’s media-industry trade publications. “I used to come home every night with Variety and Hollywood Reporter … I’d be looking at the box office grosses and the television ratings. I grew up with media in my blood.”
A voracious reader, he became enamored with Nicholas Negroponte’s Being Digital, which described a future of technologies that would disrupt traditional media. As a result, Weiner volunteered to write the business plan for what became Warner Bros. Online and, in the process, he caught the eye of Warner co-CEO Terry Semel, who became a key mentor.
Mr. Weiner also enjoys Joi Ito’s, the head of the M.I.T. Media Lab, frequent reference to the word “neoteny,” which means a delayed state of adolescence. Jeff explains, “With animals, it’s not a good thing because the animal has not fully matured. But with regard to people, it can be an incredibly positive thing.” Maintaining a childlike sense of wonder throughout one’s life is crucial.
One of Weiner’s favorite quotes is Albert Einstein’s statement that, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Jeff describes how he prefers to lean toward the latter and is drawn to other people who do so.
CREATE THE TIME FOR STRATEGY.
Solving challenging problems requires creating the time to carefully strategize. Mr. Weiner states, “As the company grows larger … you will require more time than ever before to just think: Think about what the company will look like in three to five years; think about the best way to improve an already popular product or address an unmet customer need; think about how you can widen a competitive advantage or close a competitive gap, etc.”
To do this well requires uninterrupted focus, a thorough development of assumptions and synthesization of all available data, utilization of respected colleagues for additional ideas, and iteration through various scenarios. Additionally, it requires removing oneself from tactical execution to allow room for strategic planning.
Mr. Weiner explains, “If you don’t take the time to think proactively you will increasingly find yourself reacting to your environment rather than influencing it. The resulting situation will inevitably require far more time (and meetings) than thinking strategically would have to begin with.” Thus, if we don’t allocate the time to proactively analyze situations and consider the big picture, “we start to build up innovation debt.” While the repercussions of constant busyness are often not immediately opaque, they soon can become daunting.