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Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff discusses culture and leadership at the GeekWire Summit.

My head almost exploded at the recent GeekWire Summit in Seattle. Two full days of mind-blowing views on the future of business and technology; entrepreneurs and technology leaders offering “been there, done that” perspective; and jaw-dropping innovation everywhere.

Also everywhere was the theme of leadership. There was a steady drumbeat stressing what some might have viewed as soft skills: the importance of developing leadership ability, of building teams, of creating cultures and environments where people can do their best work and sustain work-life balance.

Here are some comments that jumped out at me:

  • Steve Singh, CEO, Concur Technologies: “Culture is the sum of nature of human beings in a company…Be yourself. A company is nothing more than the individuals. It’s the relationship between human beings that exists there.”
  • Eric Sprunk, COO, Nike: “A leader’s role is to create an environment where employees believe they can do their best work…Collaboration and communication are the key to getting things done with a company and team.” (He also said that you’ll soon be able to make shoes at your home with a 3D printer. I can’t wait for that…)
  • Spencer Rascoff, CEO, Zillow: “Always hire better than yourself. You should want those reporting to you to outshine you.”
  • Dave Cotter, Co-founder & Board Member, SquareHub: “Culture needs to be driven from the top down. Empower employees to speak up.”
  • Bob Hohman, CEO, Glassdoor: “To build a great organization that lasts 100 years, you need to allow people to be good fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers.”

So why the emphasis on leadership and culture among this high-powered group of entrepreneurs, innovators and business chiefs?

Concur CEO Steve Singh on stage at the GeekWire Summit.
Concur CEO Steve Singh on stage at the GeekWire Summit.

Perhaps it’s because the characteristics that make great entrepreneurs are different than the attributes and skills required to build and lead strong, effective teams. Focused, hard-driving entrepreneurs can sometimes forget that they’re not just building a business. They’re creating a living, breathing culture, along with their team.

People, especially young employees in today’s workforce, join—and stick with—cultures. Not companies. Not managers. Maintaining a healthy team culture requires care and attention. It doesn’t build itself. It takes conscious, deliberate work for an individual to charge successfully down the entrepreneurial trail and built a vibrant, effective company culture full of engaged, thriving employees.

Two leaders stated it powerfully at the Summit: “It’s not about the product; it’s about what you achieve together,” said Singh. “Great cultures get great people. Great people build great products,” said Rascoff.

caroline-150x150Caroline Kay is COO of BECAUZ, a global firm of growth, change and performance experts headquartered in Seattle, Wash. BECAUZ specializes in accelerating breakthrough change and results for leaders and teams in large, complex organizations. Caroline directs the firm’s international operations, its signature Accelerator Programs and its global team of facilitators, coaches and consultants.

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