In 2011, Stanford senior Lucas Duplan started mobile-payments app Clinkle, and proceeded to raise $30 million -- the largest seed round in Silicon Valley history -- from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz, Peter Thiel, and Richard Branson.
Clinkle, for all its bells and whistles, seemed to be predicated on one feature: rewards that were given the more the app was used. Off this alone, Duplan declared that, “Clinkle is a movement to push the human race forward by changing how we transact.”
Fast Forward To 2016
Fast-forward to 2016, and after an unsuccessful product launch and scores of employee layoffs and resignations, Duplan presides over the smoldering wreckage of one of the biggest Silicon Valley flops ever.
What brought Duplan down was his hubris -- the hubris that led him to pose with hundreds of dollars on camera when his company hadn’t grossed a dime, the hubris that led him to act standoffish and aloof with his own employees.
Said one in an anonymous interview: “He doesn’t want to know you, he doesn’t want to care about you, nor does he want to lead you; he simply wants to control you. You’re a pawn on his chessboard."
Duplan’s leadership style could be characterized by one word: arrogance. It’s not all his fault, though -- because of films like The Social Network, we’ve come to think that the aloof, evil genius 22-year-old is the ideal entrepreneur. American celebrity culture often extols narcissism and arrogance, when in reality, real leaders are usually older, rolling up their sleeves, and wading into the muck with their employees.
As a counterpoint, the leadership style that makes entrepreneurs succeed could be defined as “humility.”
Avery Roth, founder and CEO of The Startup Consulting Group, has split the humility leadership style into three pillars: active listening, service mentality, and acknowledgment.
The Three Pillars of Leadership
The First Pillar: Active Listening.
Active listening is more than a leadership skill -- it might be the most vital people skill. We all know how terrible it is to talk to a bad listener, and having a boss that doesn’t listen to your concerns is a nightmare.
Active listening is not only important within the company, but it will ultimately produce a better product if one lets the customers’ thoughts guide the product’s direction. As Roth writes: “Real, genuine insights and effectiveness result from empathetic listening.” This includes insights you will find for your business, and also for your personal life.
The Second Pillar: Service Mentality.
It’s often said there’s two types of leadership: love leadership and fear leadership. The difference is that if people fear a leader, they’ll leave him or her when they’re no longer scared -- but if they love a leader, they’ll stay by their side forever.
Great leaders remember names, remember birthdays, and show compassion when it’s needed.
Every couple months we hear a story of some CEO who divided his yearly bonus and shared it equally among his employees. These aren’t just feel-good stories: they engender loyalty and make people feel like they’re part of something special, a family, a group -- which, after all, is our most basic social need.
Mark Zuckerberg, for all that’s been said about his aloofness, works at the same workstation setup as most of his staff, oftentimes staying longer hours than anyone else.
The Third Pillar: Acknowledgment.
Finally, humility requires acknowledgment of others’ efforts, acknowledgment of problems, and acknowledgment of mistakes. Lucas Duplan of Clinkle had multiple opportunities to acknowledge -- to his employees, his investors, and his executives -- that the product wasn’t going right. Instead, he engaged in a game of layoffs-and-hiring and has nothing to show for it.
Both A Leader And A Boss Can Tell People What To Do. A Leader, However, Inspires People To Follow
Would you want to follow YOU? Just think about it: would you want to follow an arrogant leader?
Or would you want to follow someone who acts with grace and humility, dignity and courage, compassion, toughness, and -- fairness? Someone who, as Obama recently articulated about his own sense of accountability -- takes all the credit for the failures, but shares all the credit for the successes?
The greatest leaders throughout history—Gandhi, Mandela, MLK, Malcolm X, Abraham Lincoln—were paragons of humility.
As Oliver Stone said, the greatest leaders were the ones who had the bravery to show compassion.