Drivers, Not Passengers

“Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity”

Frank Slootman is Chairman and CEO of Snowflake. He recently wrote a short book on business management “Amp It Up”, sharing his experience from days at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

In his book, Chapter 6 talks about “hiring drivers, not passengers” and below is some excerpts from the book:

Passengers are people who don’t mind simply being carried along by the company’s momentum, offering little or no input, seemingly not caring much about the direction chosen by management. They are often pleasant, get along with everyone, attend meetings promptly, and generally do not stand out as troublemakers. They are often accepted into the fabric of the organization and stay there for many years.

The problem is that while passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting. They avoid taking strong positions at the risk of being wrong about something. They can take any side of an issue, depending on how the prevailing winds are blowing. In large organizations especially, there are many places to hide without really being noticed. …

Drivers, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from making things happen, not blending in with the furniture. They feel a strong sense of ownership for their projects and teams and demand high standards from both themselves and others. They exude energy, urgency, ambition, even boldness. Faced with a challenge, they usually say, “Why not” rather than “That’s impossible.”

These qualities make drivers massively valuable. Finding, recruiting, rewarding, and retaining them should be among your top priorities. Recognize them privately and publicly, promote them, and elevate them as example of what others should aspire to. That will start waking up those who are merely along for the ride. Celebrate people who own their responsibilities, take and defend clear positions, argue for their preferred strategies, and seek to move the dial.

What I like about this view is that while it’s not analytically refined, it’s intuitively understood. Of course, not everyone will be 100% driver or passenger all the time across all things. But the roles we play, especially in leadership roles, we absolutely need to be drivers.

In the management classic “High Output Management”, Andy Grove defines the following:

📌 A manager's output = The output of his organization + The output of the neighboring organizations under his influence

This does not mean that manager should take credit for all of the organization’s output, but more so highlights the importance and risk of having a right/wrong manager for an organization. An organization’s output is capped (and multiplied) by the capacity of the manager, so having a wrong leader in place will hinder the organization’s effectiveness and create drag for everyone in and around that organization.

So it’s critical to organization’s existence that everyone in the leadership positions be drivers, and not passengers.

Then how do we identify the drivers? What are the qualities and traits of those who are drivers?

Drivers…

  • Deliver outcomes, not activities. They deliver great outputs to completion. They don’t focus on checking off a todo list, sending an email, having a meeting, meeting a prospect, or being busy. They deliver great outcomes = increase customer, hire A+ players, build highly qualified pipeline with real opportunities, close a great deal, completes & launches a project that makes an impact, ship quality code into production, writes a well-written blog post or article and get a lot of people to read it.
  • Raise the bar proactively, continuously, and frequently, not occasionally or sometimes when asked. Without any request or prompts, they come up with new ideas to improve, make things better, help improve others, and be a constructive change agent. They don’t just point out problems, they provide solutions and actually take it to their hand and drives it towards full completion.
  • Motivate and energize others, not wait or request to be motivated or energized. They increase the pace, are fast, and they create motivation for others, not asked to be motivated.
    • One person asked a partner at McKinsey & Co.: “How do you motivate your employees?” The answer? “We don’t motivate our employees. We hire people who are motivated and who can motivate themselves constantly.”
  • Are relentlessly resourceful. They don’t stop. They deliver despite the challenges, roadblocks, and constraints. They know how to problem solve, and not let set backs and failures stop them, ever. They know when and how to get things done, ask for help, pull in resources, and even when it’s not available, figure out ways to best deliver the outcomes.

This phrase summarizes drivers the best:

You’d rather work with someone you need to pull back than someone you have to push forward.

In reality, drivers are rarer than passengers. It can be stressful to be a driver. Imagine the pressure F1 drivers feel compared to the audience who are there to watch the game and cheer. The pressure (and the thrill) of a driver is exponentially greater than that of a passenger or an audience. And that’s why it’s essential that organizations place drivers in leadership positions so that the rest of the organization that leader is responsible for can thrive and win. We owe it to the teams that we have drivers as their leaders and managers, so that the team’s potential is maximized and realized into great outcomes.

So if we aspire to be, or are already in a position of a leadership, we need to ask ourselves “am I a driver? and do others acknowledge that I am indeed a driver in my role?”

Scaling Leadership through Two Management Frameworks

As an organization reaches certain scale, it is inevitable, at least due to the current limitation set by human interaction mechanisms (e.g. verbal communication, synchronous meetings, groups, hierarchies, physically independent) that there is a certain level of structure that needs to be put in place to manage the organization.

There is a few frameworks that can be useful when scaling the leadership. It’s local applications of the general management frameworks, so let’s explore how they can be relevant to scaling leadership.

1. Convergence <> Divergence framework

This framework demonstrates how to navigate within the horizontal layer (x-axis) of management.

As your organization scales, one thing you constantly run into is the overall increase in diversity within the organization. The proportion of diversity may increase or decrease, but the absolute number of diverse entity (in this case, employees) will simply increase as your headcount grows.

Continue reading “Scaling Leadership through Two Management Frameworks”

Situational Leadership Matrix (Simplified version)

After managing different teams of various background and scale over the years, I’ve always thought the question “what is your leadership style?” is almost a trick question. An executive from another company once shared with me a framework he learned at one of the leadership classes he took at Harvard.

It seems like the original version of Situational Leadership is a bit more complex, but the simplified version he shared made more sense to me and felt more applicable to everyday managers.

Continue reading “Situational Leadership Matrix (Simplified version)”

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