We believe that work should be much more than something you do for a living. Work should not only be interesting and exciting, but more importantly it should help you grow as a professional and as a person. Mastering your job’s hard skills (how to code for an engineer, how to sell for a salesperson, etc.) is of course indispensable, but so is mastering communication and leadership, especially in a high-growth company.
At its core, leadership is about getting people to do something because they want to. This is very similar to the concept of traction in a startup: people work with much more enthusiasm when they genuinely believe in the direction than when they’re simply told what to do. That leverage enables strong leaders to have more impact, more easily.
For example, since the early days our view that commerce should be a source of progress and those small companies deserved the same tools as large ones were shared by many people outside Alma. As a result, many people outside the company (some even working at a competitor) have been helping us (talking about Alma publicly, referring leads etc.), not because we asked them to but because they believed in our vision. Little effort, big results.
As you can see in the example above, leadership is not management - you don’t need to be the boss to be a leader!
To quote Captain Obvious, everyone is different. So it makes no sense to expect everyone to behave in the same way, and to be the same kind of leader. More than copy-pasting someone else’s behaviour we believe that everyone should work to discover their leadership style, to understand what works best for them and the people they work with.
While too many rules destroy individual initiative and prevent progress, it is hard to improve without guidance. We believe that Alma should help everyone on this journey by providing:
Frameworks and tools → there are tools out there that have been iterated on by many people and can save you a lot of time, such as the Leadership and Communication Principles we share below, but also career paths (and what is expected in terms of leadership at every level) and 360 feedbacks.
Perspectives and insights → help everyone broaden their horizon, realize they can become much more than what they are, realize that limits are largely self-imposed. Many ways to do this in particular inviting extraordinary people to speak in front of the team and sharing interesting articles.
Trainings → we learn better by doing and Alma-stamped trainings are a good starting point.
Ultimately, nobody can force you to improve but yourself. You can look at other Almakers for inspiration, you can read the frameworks and take the trainings, but you need to be in a growth mindset, always aiming to learn and improve. We do not ask for everyone to be that obsessive but the more senior the position, the higher the expectations especially in terms of leadership and communication.
This is the spirit in which we wrote these Leadership and Communication Principles: a set of principles that are easy to understand yet very powerful. A guide that not only shows you the north star, but also helps you along the way. Each of these principles touches upon one idea and one idea only (that’s why the list is long!). They are easy to remember, easy to test a candidate, easy to use to give feedback to a colleague (e.g. “in this situation you could have done a better job leading from the front”) … or to yourself.
Actions speak louder than words. Leaders show the example and act as they want to see their colleagues act. There is nothing worse than expecting from others what you yourself are not willing to give.
Own your projects end to end, and be accountable. If you fail do not waste your and other people’s time making excuses, acknowledge it and find a solution. If someone on your team messes up, that is your responsibility too (to help find a solution, to make sure they don’t mess up next time, or to find a more suited role for them).
Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy, be ambitious. But do not get stuck in analysis paralysis, it is almost always better to get started quickly, gather feedback and iterate. If you are afraid to fail now you will fail later, on a much larger scale.
Make sure people understand why they - and you yourself! - wake up in the morning. At Alma, we work to help commerce be a source of progress, not just move a few KPIs up and to the right. That applies at a sub-company scale: every team and project needs a mission.
Make the people around you feel valued and recognized, put them in a position to be successful, help them win. Give credit where it is due, people will want to keep working with you. And you will feel good, too!
Nobody is perfect. People will respect you all the more if you accept your flaws and if you are transparent about what you don’t do well. Being authentic simply also makes you happier!
Trust is leverage - you can’t accomplish great things without it. Trust your colleagues to do their job well, and to own their sh*t. Do not micromanage your team, help them shine on their own. Trust your gut.
Trust and empower your team and your colleagues, but be always ready and willing to take a deep dive when necessary. Sometimes the best way to help someone is to simply do the work with them.
Whenever something goes right (or wrong), the root cause is always that you had (or did not have) the right person in place. Be relentless in hiring the best people you can find, the ones that truly impress you, and help them improve.
To move fast and decisively, you need to know that you are going in the right direction. A project that is moving slowly or in circles is a sign that you don’t have enough conviction yet. Build it. Read, talk, think ; then act.
You should never compromise for the sake of social cohesion - if you truly have forged a strong conviction you should fight for it. But you should always recognize when there is no more value in the debate and move forward wholeheartedly even if your solution was not adopted.
Certainties are very dangerous: you don’t know everything and the world is always changing so what you do know may become irrelevant tomorrow. Always be open to change, strive to learn, improve every day. Seek people who disagree with you.
Have a clear view of your goals (forge your convictions) and obsess about achieving them. What matters is the impact you have on the world, not how much effort you put in.
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Be it orally or in writing always start with the conclusion, with the important information. Only dive into details afterwards. This will force you to be crystal clear about what matters, and save your colleagues time.
Do not tolerate ambiguity, write and say sentences that have one meaning, and one meaning only. It is always easier to agree with you when you stay fuzzy - but it also has no value. Pro tip: being precise is much easier in writing than orally.
No one cares how knowledgeable you are, there are no bonus points for more (more words, more slides, more minutes spent talking). Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
The key to good communication is active listening. Make the effort to understand what your interlocutors say - and what they don’t say but mean. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions.
Oral communication is essential to solve difficult problems quickly and to create a cohesive team - the latter point being essential in a fast growing environment. That is why we refuse to be a totally decentralized team and ask full remotes to spend at least 3 days a month at the office. But:
Oral doesn't scale: an undocumented decision / project needs to be explained again and again while a document could have been sent
Oral makes it hard to align: everyone leaves the meeting with a different memory of what needs to be done
Oral makes it hard to be precise: it's easy to agree verbally while remaining vague, writing forces precision and highlights the areas of disagreement
Oral is resource intensive: it requires the other person to be available
Oral gets forgotten
Get into the habit of writing it: project tracker, product brief, meeting minutes etc.
Help your peers learn and grow by giving clear and honest feedback. It is often easier not to say anything especially with negative feedback, but this lack of courage robs your colleagues of their opportunities for growth.
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