Boring Leaders > Mr. Charming

05Oct09

First off, you should really check out this piece on Mark Zuckerberg from VentureBeat’s Matt Marshall. For the lazy butts out there, it’s a good overview of the evolution of  Zuck the Leader versus Zuck the Coder – discussing how the Facebook founder  is maturing into his role as CEO.  Part of this transformation includes a new focus on interpersonal and the more managerial tasks associated with his title.  Here’s part Marshall’s summary of Zuckerberg’s maturing process:

So absorbed has Zuckerberg become in running the company that although he feigns wanting to code, and pledges he’s going to go home and work on product features, it’s rare that he actually codes anymore, say those around him. Instead, he’s making himself accessible for things like interviews of candidates, talking strategy, and putting together deals. Before acquiring Friendfeed, Zuckerberg briefed up with his legal and business team, and formulated the deal terms to buy the company, negotiating it personally.

The fact Marshall calls out Zuckerberg’s transition, from coder to performing standard CEO jobs like negotiating deals, exemplifies how the Facebook founder is not your stereotypical leader.  While most people do not think this would be news (including the vast majority of all Facebook users) it shows that good leaders are not necessarily all that charming.

During San Francisco tech events, if you’re having a boisterous conversation with someone that involves stories of Ibiza, limos, and yachts you’re either speaking with a floozy, a reporter, a flack, or a wannabe.  Instead, the real interesting people are quietly sitting at a table,  on the sidelines, or not even present.  The real interesting people usually aren’t very good at networking, or find it particularly interesting, because they’re busy thinking about work and they’re smart enough to hire someone else to network for them.

However, there comes a time when a leader needs to acquire basic social skills – no easy feat for a developer whose most meaningful relationship is with his or her’s code.  But typically, it’s easier to learn how to work a cocktail hour versus acquiring the discipline required to manage an international company/corporation.

Like any good revolution, start-ups and companies founded by misunderstood eccentrics will have a better chance of survival.  Revolutionaries and successful founders have one thing in common – they are crazy enough to avoid rational advice.  However, once people jump on the revolution’s bandwagon, there’s a brief window when the company/cause has to amend its messaging for broader appeal or face extinction.

What if John Adams was not able to tone down his dogmatic beliefs in order to quit making enemies and start making friends?  Would Microsoft be as successful if Bill Gates maintained his geeky, socially-awkward persona by hiding his benevolence?  While being boring can lead to good things, nothing amazing will happen without some effort to appear likable to your supporters.

Even if a boring leader stumbles at the mass appeal juncture, it’s probably safe to assume that they saw more success over time than a naturally charismatic leader with a half-baked idea.

So, try this new cocktail trick – ask your friend which person they think will make more money within the next year, or contribute something meaningful to society.  Chances are, they’ll pick the person exuding the most charisma.  Meanwhile, feel confident in your pick of the person in the most ill-fitting clothes and continually avoiding eye contact.  There’s a higher probability that this is your winning ticket when there’s someone better dressed besides them getting red in the face after trying to get the misanthrope to socialize.

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