August 16, 2022

Corner Office: Bing Gordon: Power? Thanks, but I’d Rather Have Influence

Q. Were you in leadership positions early on?

A. I ran the high school newspaper and was in student government.  I played sports my whole life but was never picked as captain.  But even as an 18-year-old, I had to grow comfortable with my leadership style, which is that I was really impatient with under-motivated people — extremely impatient, to the point where I was counterproductive as a manager of underproductive people. And that hasn’t really changed.  If people need to be motivated, I’m no good.

Q. What happens?

A. I get cranky. I stop being polite and I stop looking for win-win opportunities. It’s just: “What?  You’re doing this thing and you’re not trying to do it really well?  I just don’t understand.”  As you grow up, you become more comfortable with your own peccadilloes, and I’m bad with people who aren’t self-motivated.  And now, when I see them coming, I run the other way. 

Q. Tell me about the first paid management job.

A. The first time I had a secretary, I was sheepish about being demanding or even asking questions.  A woman was assigned to me named Sandy Fitzgerald, and she said, “You don’t know how to manage an exec assistant, do you?” And I said, “No.”  And she said: “Well, I’m going to teach you. You have to ask for this, you have to do this and you have to do this.”  So it was like Secretary 101.  So it’s actually a lesson for management.  It’s hire people who can teach you how to be their manager and to be real explicit.  I think what a lot of managers know is that you’re owned by the people you’re responsible for.

Q. You were the chief creative officer at Electronic Arts. Now you’re in a different kind of leadership role as a venture capitalist. Can you talk about the differences?

A. Early on, I learned that I’m better with influence than power.  And, in fact, I’m not power-hungry.  My sense is that to be a good operator, you need to be power-hungry.  You need to care more about power than prestige, and probably more about power than money, and more about power than intellectual stimulation.  And people who are good operators tend to want power so they can get stuff done.  They want to wield it.  And there’s a cost to having power, which is that the people you have sway over actually own you, especially if you’re in a business where there are more jobs than there are good people.I like having influence.  I like being with interesting people and helping them become better and being part of the flow of ideas.  And that’s a little bit uncomfortable, as a boss.  It doesn’t make sense to people that the boss, who is kind of a figurehead and maybe a confidence-giving parent figure, just wants to be an experienced helper. As a person of authority, I’m kind of teacher-consultant more than wielder of power.

The fitness function of a venture capitalist — meaning the metrics of performance, the report card — is pretty pure.  You show up with money, and one way or another more money has to come back than goes in.  So I just do stuff I’ve learned over time and work with people who I like who are really motivated, who want to listen to me most of the time and take feedback and then make it their own. And I work in areas that I want to learn about, areas that are fascinating, because fascination is a good thing. 

It’s better to work with people who you would pay to be able to work with.  So if you’re working with someone in an area that fascinates you, with people you can add value to and have good conversations with, who are capable and really motivated and you would pay to hang out with them, I’m pretty confident good things would happen.

Q. What were some other important leadership lessons?

A. One is, test yourself at extremes as early as possible.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. The interesting thing about team sports is that it’s hard to win all the time, so it’s kind of a true test.  Even Michael Jordan couldn’t win all the time.  You can take yourself all the way to the extreme and you start finding out that with billions of people on the planet, no matter how good you think you are, there’s always somebody better and you can’t bring it equally every day.  So sports is a good real-world test.  I think that living in cities is a good real-world test.  Trying to make it in business is a good real-world test.So I’d say, first, be tested somehow in a way that feels legit.  And I don’t think being tested by grown-ups is a legitimate test.  I’ve seen people go to certain universities and get kind of a stamp and that gives them confidence. I’m not sure that that’s a sufficient test.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=99bd479b0d3e91590f332930e7049001

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