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When Jeff Weiner became CEO of LinkedIn in 2009, he came into an interesting situation: replacing company founder Reid Hoffman, who had temporarily hired another CEO, but then taken the chief executive spot back.
Since then, he’s earned a reputation as being a particularly inspirational and effective leader.
Recently, he sat down Hoffman as part of a Stanford class called “Technology-enabled blitzscaling” that Hoffman co-teaches with other tech-world superstars Chris Yeh, John Lilly, and Allen Blue.
During the wide-ranging conversation, Weiner revealed one reason why founders sometimes struggle to help their startup scale.
“Founders tend to be people who do stuff, so their knee-jerk reaction is to solve problems, rather than coaching people to solve them,” he said. “You have to coach people to solve their own problems, and coach people to coach people to solve problems. That’s how you achieve scale.”
Hoffman has said in the past that he knew that he wasn’t the right person to be coaching people: He felt passionate about the product, not necessarily deciding who deserved promotions or organizing weekly staff meetings.
The mythical COO
“To be a successful growth-stage CEO, you need to be ready to manage a 1,000 person organization and devote substantial time to time consuming things like running meetings and other business process,” Hoffman wrote back in 2013 about his decision to replace himself. “You can’t just do the exciting stuff like making the final call on product and speaking at conferences, while shuffling off everything else to the mythical COO who loves doing all the dirty work and doesn’t want any of the credit.”
Hoffman hired Dan Nye in 2007, but realized that he still wanted to be even more involved in the product process, so he took back the CEO, before finally finding Weiner.
During the interview process, the two men had over 30 hours of conversation.
“We had developed a relationship based on trust before I started the job,” Weiner said during the lecture.
Not that Weiner was the only coach at LinkedIn. He ended up hiring Yahoo’s Fred Kofman, who’s now a VP and the company’s resident philosopher.
“Run of the mill coaches try to give you energy,” Hoffman said of Kofman. “Fred tries to give you conceptual tools to solve problems.”