Note: this was originally written as an internal email to my team at &yet.

- - -

You want to know why I don’t want to be your boss? It isn’t fun or useful for either of us.

You don’t get to grow and use the maximum of your talents because of your fears for your job and I don’t get to work with a brilliantly gifted *you* as an invited collaborator. Instead you’re an order taker and I’m an order placer. Ugh.

Folks who I do not have any fear about this are those I’ve worked with the longest—Amy, Fritzy, Nate, and Henrik, particularly. But that’s a pretty small corner of our team of soon-to-be-17 at this point. I do feel like I work with them completely differently than I work with most of the rest of you—and it’s so frustrating and discouraging to me. I feel like I’m often trapped in a role that I just keep living out and it’s one that I seriously don’t want.

(Sidenote: I read the Steve Jobs bio and let’s just say the working title could well have been, “Asshole: The Movie!” Sure, Apple makes great stuff we all love, but I have no interest in working together like that and I won’t call Steve Jobs a role model as a leader.)

Do I have opinions? Do I care how things are done? Well, of course I do! What kind of a place would &yet be to work if we weren’t passionate enough about the work we did to be strongly opinionated about it?

But here’s the important thing: I expect you to be ridiculously opinionated as well. And I expect you to express those opinions—and when you feel you aren’t being heard or understood, to blockade the door until you have been, if it’s important.

We were discussing this in general yesterday and Fritzy pointed out something. He asked, “Who’s a ‘C’ on our team? It’s the most vocally opinionated people.” (By which he’s referring to the “Chief” in some folks’ title—himself as Chief Architect, Nate as CTO, Eric as COO, me as CEO, although I know he’d extend the same to non-C titles like Henrik’s as “President” and Amy’s as “Art Director”.)

But it’s not the C that means anything—it’s the willingness to care enough to do the work of being honest when you think I’m wrong.

To continue the same line of thinking, Adam Baldwin has served &yet without title as the most important company advisor we’ve had for years. For three and a half years solid, I’ve called him, IM’d him, and emailed him to challenge my thinking and tell me what’s stupid about what I have in my head.

I expect the same from you.

As I’ve said before in conversation, I like to think of my job as to have as few original ideas as possible, hire the best teachers I can, listen and learn as often as possible, and help facilitate decisions that bring together the best of what our team as a whole can do.

I can’t claim ownership for most of the best ideas our company has ever had—all I can claim is just often enough picking and working like mad on the right ones.

Now, by saying “I don’t want to be your damn boss”, I’m not saying I wish I could reject my responsibilities.

I will reluctantly *be* the boss when it’s necessary. And I will (and do) undoubtedly worry the heck out of the things that a CEO ought to—particularly answering questions like:

  1. Where are we going tomorrow?
  2. How do we need to work today so that we have money in the bank tomorrow?
  3. What hard compromises must we make right now in order to balance #1 and #2?

And even those questions are team questions. I don’t think I’ve ever involved fewer than two or three other people in making those calls, explicitly *because* I take the responsibility quite seriously.

As I’ve learned and ever since have frequently said, leadership is about responsibility more than authority. Those who act with a high degree of responsibility will be provided whatever authority is necessary for them to carry out the responsibilities they’ve taken on.

The other reason I don’t want to be your damn boss is I don’t consider myself a very good manager. Can I get a group of folks to get things done? Yes, but that’s not management, that’s leadership and there’s a huge difference.

Management is a methodical process of setting expectations, measuring them, and making adjustments to plans based on results. It has as one goal to turn workers into replaceable components in a machine. I completely suck at working that way.

I’ve said it over and over again: “Most problems are a problem of leadership.” I prefer to solve pretty much all problems this way and, in fact, I want every single person in our organization to see themselves as and to be a leader of our company. (Coincidentally, it’s one of my secret goals that everyone who has the desire and necessary responsibility to lead should have the opportunity to play a C-level role.)

I want to work with creative, intelligent people who know how to manage themselves—and me (along with the rest of their teammates). That’s an easier skill for some than others, but it’s something that can most certainly be acquired. I think the biggest step is actually realizing that’s an essential part of your job, and most certainly a central aspect of doing the best job you possibly can.

VISA founder and CEO Dee Hock has a concept of what he thinks this looks like. Here’s an excerpt from an article (What’s below is also quite similiar to a section that’s also in his book which I highly recommend over and over.)

Leader presumes follower. Follower presumes choice. One who is coerced to the purposes, objectives, or preferences of another is not a follower in any true sense of the word, but an object of manipulation. Nor is the relationship materially altered if both parties voluntarily accept the dominance of one by the other. A true leader cannot be bound to lead. A true follower cannot be bound to follow. The moment they are bound they are no longer leader or follower. If the behavior of either is compelled, whether by force, economic necessity, or contractual arrangement, the relationship is altered to one of superior/subordinate, manager/employee, master/servant, or owner/slave. All such relationships are materially different from leader/follower.

A vital question is how to insure that those who lead are constructive, ethical, open, and honest. The answer is to follow those who behave in that manner. It comes down to both individual and collective sense of where and how people choose to be led. In a very real sense, followers lead by choosing where to be led. Where an organizational community will be led is inseparable from the shared values and beliefs of its members. True leaders are those who epitomize the general sense of the community - who symbolize, legitimize and strengthen behavior in accordance with the sense of the community… A true leader’s behavior is induced by the behavior of every individual choosing where to be led.

Over the years, I always ask each person to describe the single most important responsibility of any manager… Management inevitably is viewed as exercise of authority - with selecting employees, motivating them, training them, appraising them, organizing them, directing them, and controlling them. That perception is mistaken.

The first and paramount responsibility of anyone who purports to manage is to manage self: one’s own integrity, character, ethics, knowledge, wisdom, temperament, words, and acts. Without management of self no one is fit for authority no matter how much they acquire, for the more authority they acquire the more dangerous they become. It is the management of self that should occupy 50 percent of our time and the best of our ability. And when we do that, the ethical, moral and spiritual elements of management are inescapable.

The second responsibility is to manage those who have authority over us: bosses, supervisors, directors, regulators, ad infinitum. Without their consent and support, how can we follow conviction, exercise judgment, use creative ability, achieve constructive results or create conditions by which others can do the same? Devoting 25 percent of our time and ability to that effort is not too much.

The third responsibility is to manage one’s peers - those over whom we have no authority and who have no authority over us - associates, competitors, suppliers, customers… Without their respect and confidence little or nothing can be accomplished. Is it not wise to devote at least 20 percent of our time, energy, and ingenuity to managing them?

Obviously, the fourth responsibility is to manage those over whom we have authority. The common response is that all one’s time will be consumed managing self, superiors and peers. There will be no time to manage subordinates. Exactly! One need only select decent people, introduce them to the concept, induce them to practice it, and enjoy the process… It is not making better people of others that leadership is about. In today’s world effective leadership is chaordic. It’s about making a better person of self.

The obvious question then always erupts. How do you manage superiors, bosses, regulators, associates, customers? The answer is equally obvious. You cannot. But can you understand them? Can you persuade them? Can you motivate them? Can you disturb them, influence them, forgive them? Can you set them an example? Eventually the proper word emerges. Can you lead them? Of course you can, provided only that you have properly led yourself. There are no rules and regulations so rigorous, no organization so hierarchical, no bosses so abusive that they can prevent us from behaving this way. No individual and no organization, short of killing us, can prevent such use of our energy, ability, and ingenuity…

In the deepest sense, distinction between leaders and followers is meaningless. In every moment of life, we are simultaneously leading and following. There is never a time when our knowledge, judgment and wisdom are not more useful and applicable than that of another. There is never a time when the knowledge, judgment and wisdom of another are not more useful and applicable than ours. At any time that “other” may be superior, subordinate, or peer. People are not “things” to be manipulated, labeled, boxed, bought, and sold. Above all else, they are not “human resources.” We are entire human beings, containing the whole of the evolving universe, limitless until we are limited, whether by self or others.

Footnote: I definitely don’t have the answers. I’m just sharing the thoughts I’ve come to. :)