Courage is a prerequisite for truly great leadership. While it has many faces, at the heart of courageous leadership is the willingness to take action amid uncertainty; to do what is right over what’s expected and to risk failing and falling short in the process.
The reason is unless leaders are willing to lay our psychological safety (i.e. pride and power) on the line for the sake of those we serve, no amount of brilliance or showmanship will suffice.
One such leader who demonstrated courage was Reid Hoffman co-founder of LinkedIn. Despite many people initially telling him they will “never use LinkedIn,” he forged ahead with the creation of the company and turned those doubters around”.
His life’s mission was to enable how we communicate through networks, emotions and stories. The irony is while he has been incredibly brave – he now facilitates braveness and helps others unlock courage in others.
Reid’s first act of corporate courage came from walking into a magazine’s editorial office at the age of 12, having red penned an article. When he presented to the editor, he was that please, Reid was offered a job.
He took a view of seeking out people, not like him but who opposed his view, when studying at Oxford at a time when Apple’s stock price had plummeted was to invest in them and in a new product he developed called socialnet.com in 1996. It started out as a dating site, connecting sports clubs and friends. Having launched an early version of a mobile payments platform, now known as PayPal, he combined payments with an early PDA called “Palm Pilots” mobile computing device. It attracted eBay sellers unintentionally; he fought off fierce opposition from his investors to get rid of these sellers as they were not their target customers.
On convincing the investors to be courageous, he pivoted entirely away from the mobile device but focused on email payments using PayPal on the eBay platform. This was an entirely courageous move as he had to convince eBay not to drive them off the platform (as they had their own payments system), Visa to withhold payments and shut them down and had to persuade the Federal Government that he was not a bank. This resulted in true disruption of very established and heavily regulated industry.
Faced with being sued by the Fed for money laundering, Reid met with them and asked crazy questions of them such as, “what defines a bank?” It changed the banking licence reform. PayPal became such a force, the only way eBay could control PayPal was to buy them and marshalled the support of eBay customers to validate the case for eBay’s acquisition, which was his inflexion point in his career.
Part of what’s known now as the “PayPal Mafia” which he calls the PayPal Network included some web superheroes like Elon Musk and Steve Chen who all made a fortune but unlocked other courageous brands. He was about to take a year out but recognised there was a problem that needed fixing and his early social collaboration space could be the answer.
When he first went to his well-established Entrepreneurial friends with the Idea of LinkedIn, most said, it will never work, why would I allow access to my established network. He convinced 20 of his friend to sign up on the service.
Reid described founding setting up LinkedIn as like throwing yourself off a cliff and assembling the airplane on the way down, building it as you learn and as you develop.
Now a multi-billionaire and known as the start-up whisperer of Silicone Valley, he has made early investments against the status quo including Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, Flickr, AirB&B
He is now a Partner at Greylock, essentially a Venture Capital firm which is now worth over £10bn in its own right, which includes companies like Instagram, Dropbox, Pandora and Workday in their portfolio. His premise for all his investments is:
1) Does it solve a problem that people don’t know they have
2) It is transformational and disruptive
3) Is it a great scale mission
4) Does it have an interesting application
5) Will it create world-class entrepreneurs
Q: So what sets Reid apart from others? A: Action and a lack of fear in failing.