After getting a master’s degree in philosophy from Oxford in 1993, Reid Hoffman was ready to enter the world of academia. But a job at Apple started a career in tech that eventually led him to cofound LinkedIn in 2002.
Today, Hoffman is a Silicon Valley power player with an estimated net worth of $4 billion, and LinkedIn has a market capitalization of about $26 billion. He serves as the executive chairman of LinkedIn and partner of venture capital firm Greylock.
Entrepreneur and author Ben Casnocha has worked closely with Hoffman since 2010, collaborating on the books “The Start-up of You” and “The Alliance,” and serving as Hoffman’s chief of staff from 2012 to 2014.
In Casnocha’s new blog post, “10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman: Lessons on Business and Life,” he reflects on the time spent with his mentor. We’ve summarized seven of the leadership lessons he learned from Hoffman.
1. Recognize that everyone has flaws, but acknowledge their strengths.
Casnocha writes that Hoffman doesn’t fall into the easy trap of seeing people in a binary way, as in brilliant or an idiot, ethical or conniving.
Hoffman, Casnocha writes, “appreciates the full spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person. He’ll comment on a friend’s character flaw — say, self-centeredness — but in the next breath note one of their unique strengths. Flaws that cause others to completely disengage are, for Reid, ‘navigable’ (to use a Reid-ism) en route to their better side.”
2. The best way to get powerful people’s attention is to offer them value.
“As chief of staff, I reviewed thousands of requests for Reid’s time/attention/money. It was stunning how few requesters offered to help him on something,” Casnocha writes.
If you’re looking to connect with someone important, offer them information that only you can provide, Casnocha says. You’re fighting for the attention of someone who is tremendously busy. Stand out from the crowd by explaining why you’re worth their time.
3. Move fast, keep things simple, and trust your employees.
Casnocha says that Hoffman has never formally studied corporate strategy, but he’s developed his own three-tiered approach based on speed, simplicity, and empowerment.
“If you move quickly, there’ll be mistakes borne of haste. If you’re a manager and care seriously about speed, you’ll need to tell your people you’re willing to accept the tradeoffs,” Casnocha writes.
Hoffman told him that he’s willing to accept a mistake rate of 10% to 20% for the sake of speed, with one caveat: While startup managers should move extremely fast, they need to slow down their decision-making process as the company grows.
Along with speed comes focus, which means that your company’s direction should be clear enough that you and your team know exactly how to move forward.
And finally, trust your managers to make their own decisions. Communicate that the strategy you pass onto them is subject to any changes they think will work best. Maximize efficiency, and avoid micromanaging.
4. Let people know they’re appreciated.
There are times when you praise someone’s work simply because they deserve it and you’re being kind. It’s important to understand, however, that your superiors appreciate flattery the same way that your underlings do, even if they act as though they don’t.
“Reid is a student of self-deception behavior and builds mental models for specific people and the areas where there tends to be a gap between their self-perception and reality. One common case of this has to do with flattery,” Casnocha writes. Even if someone acts like they’re above compliments, use them at key moments and things will go more smoothly.
That said, only offer these compliments if you mean them, Casnocha writes, since your superiors can easily detect when you’re sucking up and not think the better of you for it.
And finally, treat everyone you encounter in your career with respect. Casnocha remembers the time when former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer warmly introduced himself to him and Hoffman, while a tech exec’s publicist shook Hoffman’s hand but acted as though Casnocha didn’t exist. Sometimes the lower-profile people you encounter are more powerful than you think, or will be one day.
5. Be upfront with any misaligned objectives you may have with whoever you’re working with.
When Casnocha and Hoffman met with Random House for their first book, they made it clear that they were more interested in getting readers than reaping a profit, and floated the idea of offering a free ebook version, which the publisher didn’t like. “This misalignment didn’t torpedo the deal. But being aware of it helped us better navigate the ongoing relationship,” Casnocha writes.
“Make misalignments explicit with yourself and the other party so that if and when they rear their head, neither side is surprised.”
6. Prioritize personality over skill set when hiring.
Casnocha says that Hoffman believes you should, “Trade up on trust, even if it means you have to trade down on competency a bit.” That is, the trust you have in someone is ultimately more important than their résumé, since if they’re capable enough, they can always learn a new skill.
Casnocha says he benefited from this personally. After he and Hoffman built a strong degree of trust in each other, Hoffman would give Casnocha assignments that he wasn’t necessarily the best qualified for on paper, but they moved forward with “lightning speed” because they knew how the other worked.
7. Surround yourself with people you admire.
This is the most important lesson of all, Casnocha says.
“[T]he people you spend the most time with will change you in ways you cannot anticipate or ever fully understand after the fact. The most important choice of all is who you choose to surround yourself with.”
You can read the full essay, which includes an in-depth look at 16 lessons, at Casnocha’s blog.