- Jackal Pan/Visual China Group/GettyImages
- Arika Pierce is a Gen Z and millennial success coach who helps younger generations succeed in business, leadership, and life. She is the author of “The Millennial’s Playbook to Adulting,” a one-stop resource on everything from personal branding and networking to job hunting, finances, and health. Follow her on Instagram.
- In November 2019, WeWork announced its cutting of 2,400 employees in an effort to cut costs after staggering losses, after cancelling its IPO in September.
- While there are a number of factors that have led to WeWork’s fall, many are now taking a deeper look into the impact WeWork’s cofounder and former CEO Adam Neumann had on the company.
- Pierce argues that millennial leaders can learn a few things from Adam Neumann’s failed leadership.
- She says to not treat your office like a frat house and not be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you. She also recommends leading with a strategic plan first, and pursuing radical ideas second.
- “Companies need structure, and while leaders should always be looking toward the future and coming up with new and innovative ideas, it’s important to ensure that there is a clear plan for the path forward,” she says.
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In November 2019, WeWork announced its cutting of 2,400 employees in an effort to cut costs after staggering losses. This comes as no surprise, as the company canceled its initial public offering in September 2019, and its valuation dived significantly from $47 billion to about $5 billion.
While there are a number of factors that have led to the company’s fall, many are now taking a deeper look into the impact WeWork’s cofounder and former CEO Adam Neumann had on the company.
- Arika Pierce
Neumann was just 31 when he launched WeWork in 2010. And at 39, he was given a massive payout ($1.7 billion, to be exact) to leave the fledgling company. While some may say screwing up never looked so good, what this also reveals is how much the investment firm backing WeWork wanted him out and how much of a liability he had become for the company.
Is Neumann a serial entrepreneur, a visionary with great imagination and new ideas? Of course. Was he ready to lead a multibillion-dollar company, manage and guide employees, and take WeWork to the next level? I think we know the answer to that.
Unfortunately, many millennial leaders don’t have the right tools to lead effectively. Some are able to figure it out with on-the-job training, and some quickly stumble much like Neumann. Whether you are leading a team of two, 25, or 200, here are three leadership lessons that we can all learn from Neumann’s fall from the top.
Lesson #1: You aren’t in college anymore, and your office is not a frat house
- Jackal Pan / Getty
Seems like an obvious one, right? Well, this is probably one of the areas I see new millennial leaders struggle with and was certainly one of Neumann’s weakest as a leader.
While reading about WeWork having a party-like atmosphere is highly entertaining – Neumann was said to walk around the office barefoot, jump on the conference tables, and yell at people, and tequila was free-flowing at all times – it also shows a lapse in his leadership judgement.
I was named to my first vice president position at 31. I probably spent my weekends a little bit different than some of my older colleagues, but I have always made sure that I showed my team that I took my job and my role as their leader seriously. This meant showing up on time, being prepared, and learning the art of bragging humbly.
It’s important to remember that you set the tone for your team, and your actions will usually mirror their actions. There are ways to still have fun and make work a more relaxed experience without crossing the line into risky behavior that can get you or your team in hot water.
Lesson #2: Lead with a strategic plan first, insert radical ideas second
- Michael Kovac/Getty Images for WeWork
One of the most important roles of a leader is to ensure your team understands the big picture and the strategic direction for both your team and the company. All employees, even those in entry-level positions, should understand where the company is and where it is going. At a more granular level, a strong leader makes sure each member of their team understands how their role fits into the larger organization and their individual goals, objectives, strategies, and tactics.
Neumann was known for his imagination, outrageous ideas, and sweeping claims. His message was that he wanted WeWork to think and be bigger. He made impulsive decisions regarding employee policies, such as banning employees from expensing meals with meat.
This type of leadership puts your team at risk. Companies need structure, and while leaders should always be looking toward the future and coming up with new and innovative ideas, it’s important to ensure that there is a clear plan for the path forward.
A strong leader makes it clear that everyone is working toward a bigger goal, that everyone is pulling together, and that decisions about the direction of the company are not just being made on the fly.
Lesson #3: Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you
- Ben Hider/Getty Images
Neumann was known to believe that he was smarter than everyone else. He said things such as he wanted to be elected president of the world, live forever, and become humanity’s first trillionaire. These types of beliefs about himself likely trickled down into his hiring practices and resulted in him being surrounded by a “yes” team. If I had to make a guess, this “yes” team was likely pushed out with Neumann because they failed to push back on him.
Millennial leaders should not feel threatened or intimidated at the prospect of leading someone smarter than they are. Steve Jobs once said that he built his success by investing in finding A players and not settling for B or C players.
You don’t need to have all of the answers and be terrified if you don’t. Your job is to set the stage and bring your team together – and to let the people around you know you want to learn from them.
This might sound crazy, but the bottom line is this: While it sounds good in theory, you don’t really want to become a leader that’s paid $1.7 billion to go away.