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7 lesser-known laws of leadership


The Masters of Scale team brings you a special blend of leadership tips from Season One guests — including clips we haven’t aired yet. In this bonus episode, we’ll share our favorite insights from Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, Zynga’s Mark Pincus and more.

About the guests:

Sam Altman is the president of OpenAI, and the past president of Y Combinator, the legendary Silicon Valley incubator that gave life to Airbnb, Reddit, Dropbox, and more. He previously founded Loopt, a groundbreaking location-services mobile app, as a student at Stanford.

Josh Elman is a venture partner at Greylock, having been part of multiple companies that have grown to more than 100 million users. He was the VP Product at Robinhood, building tools to broaden access to financial systems.

Josh Kopelman is an entrepreneur, venture capitalist, philanthropist, and inventor. He’s the managing director of First Round Capital.


Nancy Lublin is the founder and former CEO of Crisis Text Line, which has grown to include 3,000 volunteer counselors. Previously, she was executive director of and founded Dress for Success, an organization that helps women on welfare dress for their first job interviews.


Mark Zuckerberg is the founder and CEO of Facebook, the social network that he originally launched as a student at Harvard which now serves 1.8 billion people worldwide.

About the host:

Reid Hoffman is the host of Masters of Scale. A Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor, he’s known for his spot-on insights on how to scale a startup. He’s a partner at Greylock and co-founder of LinkedIn, and co-author of the best-selling Blitzscaling and The Startup of You.

Transcript of Masters of Scale: 7 lesser-known laws of leadership

DAN KEDMEY: Hey there, listeners. I’m Dan Kedmey, a producer on Masters of Scale.

While we’re between seasons, we’ll be sharing some exclusive material that we think you’ll find useful.

In this bonus track,  we’ve pulled Seven Lesser Known Laws of Leadership from season one — including a few of our favorite clips that haven’t aired yet. 

Now as we start, I have to share that one of things I love about working on this show is that our host, Reid Hoffman, is also our star reporter. As you probably know, Reid is the co-founder of LinkedIn and an investing partner at Greylock. He doesn’t have to file reports on the scene. He is the scene. Send him a few steps out of his office door, and before you know it, he runs into a potential guest, like Josh Elman — an investing partner at Greylock.

REID HOFFMAN: I’m here with Josh Elman at Greylock. We have had our typical very busy partner day, this one being the first day at the beginning of the year so we’re canvassing many companies, and both Josh and I have been running around. So hopefully we’ll be able to nip in a few minutes here. 

KEDMEY: A few minutes later, Reid has his story. Josh Elman used to work at Facebook, back when the social network had just 1 million users. But the founders talked about the future incessantly. And here we come to our first lesser known law of leadership: Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. You may think that’s a Fleetwood Mac lyric. It is. But it’s also  a leadership law. And when you really follow this law to the letter, conversations will sound a bit out there, at first. 

Josh explains how the Facebook team started talking about users in the billions, and just how strange and useful that was … 

ELMAN: You know billions was this new number that 10 years ago people didn’t talk in the billions for reaching with any product, internet or otherwise, billions of people, 

and yet have a very pragmatic approach to drill it all the way back down to what are we doing today and how are we making users lives about a little bit better today?

And that ability to kind of hold both things in your brain, this great big ambition of what the world looks like when we’re touching hundreds of millions or billions of people and yet I only have a million people on our product right now, how do I actually get it one step further and take one more step on the path?

That way of product driven thinking of really user and customer centric thinking, translating everything back down to user stories, both in the future and today? When I see that in a founder I just can’t help but want to work with them. 

KEDMEY: Leadership law #2: Just don’t do it. If you listen to enough Masters of Scale episodes, you’ve probably noticed that our guests have a bias for action. They see a problem. They pounce. 

And this bias for action came up again and again in Reid’s interviews with our season one guests.

Nancy Lublin, the CEO of Crisis Text Line, says she was “born that way.” 

NANCY LUBLIN: I have always been entrepreneurial, which is, I guess, another way of saying I get bored quickly. I was starting lemonade stands, and starting all kinds of things in high school, and just making weird decisions — always.

KEDMEY: Facebook CEO and Co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg also has this bias toward action.

MARK ZUCKEBERG: So I think good engineers and good technical entrepreneurs have that instinct where when there’s something they want to build, just go do it right. Be entrepreneurial about it. And you know be a hacker and go do it

KEDMEY: But Mark warns that at a certain point, a penchant for action can be a promising founder’s undoing. He had to break that habit for himself — and then ensure that managers across the organization followed his lead.

ZUCKERBERG: I mean this is a really interesting shift from being an engineer to running an organization. Because one of the great things about being an engineer is that you can actually go build something yourself. Right, it’s one of the few professions where you can sit down and code something right and then at the end you like have a product.

What you learn is that you’re doing a bunch of different things and that you can’t do things yourself and that if I want to accelerate the development of something, the best thing that I could do is NOT go work on it myself to make sure that a really good person is working on it full time.

KEDMEY: Leadership Law #3: Promote everyone to CEO. Mark Pincus is the co-founder of Zynga,the game company that created Farmville. He shares a clever trick to give every employee an instant sense of accountability. The way he sees it, CEO is not an exclusive job title. It’s a state of mind, accessible to anyone. 

MARK PINCUS: I thought I had this instinct that maybe the company would work better if I made everyone a CEO.

And so I put this big sticky page on the wall and wrote all 35 employees names and said “CEO of what?” I said by the end of the week everyone needs to write next your name what your CEO of, it should be something people think is important. And now we’ll know what everybody does. And you need to figure out what it is you’re doing that is really important to where we’re trying to go. And they did it, and people loved it and all the way to the receptionist. You know everybody had an important job and was an owner and that was a principle that I took way later into Zynga as you know where one of our core values was “be a CEO”. 

KEDMEY: Leadership Law #4: Silence is golden. This law may come as a surprise to you. As you’ve probably noticed, our guests tend to be gifted communicators. They have to be. But Margaret Heffernan, the former CEO of five companies, observes that the best leaders embrace long periods of silence — and in that silence they make their smartest decisions.

MARGARET HEFFERNAN: They’re very very good at asking good questions but then they’re even better at staying silent long enough to hear a range of answers or to hear the silence that ensues from the very good questions. But they ask questions that they genuinely want to know the answer to, not the questions which they have an answer to and they’re just waiting for other people to guess it.

KEDMEY: Leadership Law #5: Follow the leaders. Josh Koppelman, a partner at the venture capital firm First Round Venture, says founders have to go the distance to find great leaders, quite literally. He often sees startups moving to Silicon Valley just to scale up their leadership team.

JOSH KOPELMAN: In the beginning most of these companies are so early that they’re hiring generalists. And you know they’re looking for these Swiss Army knives. So in the morning they’re scissors, in the afternoon they’re toothpicks, in the evening they’re a knife. You know once you get above 20, 50 employees you go from generalist to specialist and that’s where you want the damn best toothpick and the damn best scissor and the damn best knife. And like you’re so if you’re looking for someone that’s scaled enterprise SAS or if you’re looking for someone who has gotten a mobile app to the top 10 of the iPhone app store, like that is in. You know you’re not going to find that in most of these other ecosystems, so you have to learn that. And there’s a penalty. So in general you know that’s when we see. So I’d say a large number of the companies, maybe even half the companies that we discover in cities outside of the valley, ultimately within two years move to the valley. 

KEDMEY: Leadership law #6: Work life balance is a personal decision. You may work 24/7. Your newest team members may not. And if you want to scale your team, brace yourself for a growing range of views on this tricky balancing act. Sam Altman is the President of Y Combinator. He recognized at an early age that when it comes to work and life, the team will never reach a single point of equilibrium. And that’s fine.

SAM ALTMAN: I don’t even think I’m super easy to work with today. But I was like sort of infamously difficult to work with when I was 18 or 19 and I would have put more effort into trying to be better about that 

HOFFMAN: And what specifically would you have done to be easier to work with?

ALTMAN: I think a lot of it is how you set and communicate expectations with others and also realizing that if you’re the founder of a company and you want to work 100 hours a week and be super focused and productive that’s cool but like most other people you hire especially as you get bigger. Have other lives and you need to understand that. Again, Everyone learns this lesson quickly but it would have saved some you know pain along the way if I had learned it earlier. 

KEDMEY: Leadership Law #7: Your team completes you. There’s a myth in popular culture about the entrepreneur as the sole driving force of the company, but we heard over and over again in season one that founders are only as good as the team they hire. Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, makes the case for cognitive diversity. Their strengths complement your weaknesses, and vice versa. 

SHERYL SANDBERG: If you are a white male who likes to code and sci-fi movies, you probably don’t want your whole team to be that. I think about David Fischer. David Fischer and I have worked together at Treasury, at Google, and at Facebook. Personality types were just very different. I’m much more up and down. I will get nervous if something’s not moving fast enough. I will be exuberant, and I will be down. Not David. David is absolutely calm. Over decades of working together, that balance has really been important, because sometimes I’ll look at David and say, “This is an emergency.” He’ll say, “No it’s not Sheryl, calm down.” 

And sometimes I’ll say, “David, you’re not moving fast enough,” and he’ll say, “You’re right.” I think Mark and I have that too. We are very different. We are separated by — obviously gender, 15 years, he’s my boss, he’s 15 years younger. Completely different personalities, completely different working styles — and I think that served Facebook well. 

KEDMEY:  So those are the seven lesser known laws of leadership. We hope you enjoyed this special remix, and we have one more tip for you, before we go — and it’s ridiculously easy. You can do it in one click: Follow us on Twitter or Facebook at MastersofScale. 

We’ll be back with Season Two  episodes — in our signature format — starting in the fall. Until then, keep an eye out for more exclusive excerpts and full-length interviews.

I’m Dan Kedmey. Thank you for listening.

Masters of Scale’s mission is to democratize entrepreneurship. Launched in 2017 as a weekly podcast featuring Reid Hoffman, we’re now two weekly podcasts — Masters of Scale with Reid Hoffman, and Masters of Scale: Rapid Response, hosted by Bob Safian — as well as an award-winning daily learning app, a best-selling book, virtual and live events, and more, serving a global community of founders, funders, and leaders looking to innovate at scale.
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