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Navigating Difficulty

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Lessons learned from leadership through difficult times.

The last couple of weeks (and months!) have undeniably not been easy for many in the tech industry. Numerous high-profile layoffs from what some would no doubt considered some of the safest organisations to work for have left many people looking for jobs in a time when companies are buttoning down the hatches.

Across the board there has been a stark contrast in ways in which these layoffs have been handled. Whilst Twitter is on peoples minds for all the wrong reasons, I think there have been some good examples of strong leadership that we can learn from. These are the sorts of leaders, who despite making hard decisions now are keeping their integrity.

One of the best examples of these is the email sent from the Collison brothers to their team at Stripe, communicating that the company was about to say goodbye to 14% of their folks.

The full email can be read here, but I am going to extract the parts I think show strong leadership and guide us on how to best navigate through difficulty.

Taking responsibility when necessary

For those of you leaving: we’re very sorry to be taking this step and John and I are fully responsible for the decisions leading up to it.

Strong leaders take the responsibility rather than looking to pass the blame on to someone or something else. This is a good practice regardless of your role, but especially important when leading a team of people.

John and Patrick are ultimately the ones responsible for making the decision to hire more people. Whilst they may not have directly been the ones to say “yes, let’s hire more”, they take the responsibility over passing the blame to other executives, middle-managers or outside factors. Sure, whilst the flailing economy is a big factor, it would have been very easy to pass the blame, they took ownership of their companies decisions.

As Tim Cook says in his 2019 Stanford Commencement address, “If you want credit for the good, take responsibility for the bad”.

Always demonstrate empathy & respect

There’s no good way to do a layoff, but we’re going to do our best to treat everyone leaving as respectfully as possible and to do whatever we can to help.

We want everyone that is leaving to know that we care about you as former colleagues and appreciate everything you’ve done for Stripe. In our minds, you are valued alumni.

Whilst there has been an evident lack of empathy or respect from Musk towards affected “Tweeps”, I believe Patrick does a good job of showing that his affected staff are respected and that he understands he is dealing with ‘people’ rather than just resources. Whilst a generous severance package is certainly one way of doing so, there are other ways respect and empathy can be shown, such as organising career support and setting up ex-employees with alumni email addresses.

For many people, they love who they work with and leaving a company is leaving close friends. This was clear to see with folks at Twitter, and appreciating that these relationships are going to potentially be affected and offering support for that shows upmost respect.

Treat people as people, not as disposable resources.

Be honest

We’d go further than that. In our view, we made two very consequential mistakes, and we want to highlight them here since they’re important.

Honesty is often hard, but not being honest is detrimental. It goes hand in hand with taking the responsibility of a problem, but honesty allows people to keep their integrity. Patrick and John show transparency about what lead to this happening as well as sharing the exact numbers of folks being let go.

Again, a stark contrast to Musk, who denied the rumours he was going to fire 75% of the Twitter workforce. Whilst technically that was correct, it feels dishonest because regardless of the exact numbers a huge amount of Tweeps were let go (50%). Not being honest gives people false hope, and false hope leads people to be disappointed.

Trust is one of the most valuable things you can build as a leader, and even if that means making hard decisions or having tough conversations at times, it is something you should fiercely protect.

Good leadership is simple, but often hard to execute on because it means facing tough situations head on.

Whilst layoffs are tough, how they are handled by leadership now can have an outlasting affect. Imagine in two years time, when the economy has picked back up and the industry is in a good spot. I imagine many people will think twice about going to Twitter, knowing how leadership handled this situation - but would be more inclined to speak with companies that despite making these hard decisions handled them with integrity.

I saw this summarised in a Tweet (that I am unable to find, but went something like this): “We see who you are now, and we never want to work with you again”.


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