John Donahoe: What’s Still Not Well Understood in Silicon Valley

eBay Inc. Staff

By eBay Inc. President and CEO John Donahoe, as posted on LinkedIn:

“The real secret of Silicon Valley is that it’s really all about the people.”

This is the sentence that jumps off the page for me in the opening chapter of “The Alliance”. I believe this deeply. But in all that is written about the magic and success of Silicon Valley, the people management practices of innovative, leading companies is little discussed and not well understood. Ultimately, building an enduring success is about people. And co-authors Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh show us why in their fabulous new book on managing talent in the networked age.

hohnnThe Alliance touches on leadership themes that I have tried to practice throughout my career. These include combining the best practices of Silicon Valley with what I call the “timeless principles of leadership.” Let me highlight three themes that are particularly important to me: having a founder’s mindset; always learning from everyone and in every situation; and being open, honest and direct, which builds strong, trusting teams and relationships.

Having a “Founder’s Mindset”
Not everyone can or will be a founder (I’m certainly in that group!). But I love the founder’s mindset – and founders have a lot to teach us as leaders.

Founders have clarity of vision and purpose. They have deep passion for what they are trying to create. They are maniacally focused on their customers, on the product details and on the overall user experience. They are tireless in their commitment to achieving their goals.

Perhaps most important, founders have a relentless commitment to innovation, often disruptive innovation and to driving change. They have the courage and conviction to take risks, a fearlessness to do what has never been done before. So regardless of your role or stage of your career, develop a founder’s mindset. It will make you better.

Always Learn
My dad taught me the importance of learning from everyone. And it’s a lesson I have embraced and honed throughout my career. Always learning requires listening. It demands humility. And it encourages empathy and openness. Too many of us only look above us for what we can learn. But I’ve found that everyone and every situation can teach me something, as long as I pay attention.

This is particularly true when you think about the power of networks. Strong networks are reinforcing; they feed off of deep interaction, collaboration, sharing and engagement. Strong networks are diverse. And they constantly change and evolve. Strong networks provide a great opportunity for accelerated learning. Building a strong network has made me a better leader, so I’m always looking to connect with others and strengthen my network effect.

Be Open, Honest and Direct
For me, this is one of the most important principles of all. Being open, honest and direct builds trust, which deepens relationships, enhances networks and creates high-performing teams and companies. Being open, honest and direct takes courage. But the payoff is tremendous.

Being open, honest and direct isn’t about being mean or critical or rude. It’s about being clear and concise. It’s about getting to the real issues and tackling the real opportunities. It’s about seeing things through someone else’s eyes and being constructive with your feedback. And about helping each other learn and grow. That makes entire teams and companies better.

The world today is more competitive than ever. And as “The Alliance” points out, lifelong company loyalty is a thing of the past. But people create loyalty to one another; that’s how strong alliances are formed and how talented people and great companies thrive.

In today’s networked age, we need to understand this to successfully manage our own careers, learning new techniques and applying timeless principles. Companies that get this will be the ones who successfully attract and retain the right talent, and create the right networks and alliances to drive enduring success.