Jim Whitehurst of Red Hat shares his best leadership advice

Too many CEOs say they must drive performance, says says Jim Whitehurst (@JWhitehurst), president and CEO of Red Hat, the world’s largest open source software company in our 8th Boatside Chat with @Martenmickos.

Traditional management theory subtracts emotion out of the leadership equation. This is a mistake, says Jim Whitehurst. A CEO needs to make a connection with the people in the organization. Rather than drive performance, it is about creating a context in which people can perform at their best. This requires building an emotional connection through human interaction.

The three levels of leadership:

  1. Getting people to do something because they have to.
  2. Getting people to think what you want them to think and act based on their own volition.
  3. Getting people to believe what you want them to believe. Then they’ll walk through walls for you.

A great CEO gets people to walk through walls in order to be successful.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT

Marten: I’m sitting here with Jim Whitehurst, CEO of Red Hat, the largest open source software company in the world. Welcome to the School of Herring, Jim!

Jim: It’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Marten: What advice do you have for a young startup CEO?

Jim: I think the mistake that a lot of young CEOs have is they feel like they need to grow up. What I mean by that is traditional organizations become a lot more buttoned down, more staid.

In fact, traditional management theory says people aren’t emotional so let’s subtract emotion out of the equation. But actually, I would like actually to argue that’s a mistake of the traditional management model. To be effective, the primary thing a CEO needs to do is make a connection with the people who are working for them. Rather than thinking about driving performance, it’s all about how do you create the context in which your people can perform their best. Doing that requires building an emotional connection, a mission of company, a reason for the company to be successful. That’s human interaction.

I do worry that too many CEOs say, “I got to drive performance”, or ultimately, a Jack Welsh isn’t worried about emotion. Actually when you’re managing an educated workforce that you need to go above and beyond to be successful, you do want to leverage emotion. You want to assume people are irrational beings and have emotion and drive that. Rather than trying to say, “Ooh! As I get bigger and add more employees, I need to somehow become more disconnected.”

You really have to think even harder about how do I get more connected with your people. How do I make sure that everybody is connected back to the mission of the company and what you’re trying to accomplish.

Marten: Wonderful. You’re saying: Recognize that people have emotions and use that as a leadership method and drive with purpose and mission for the organization towards the goals.

Jim: Absolutely. The best advice I ever got is: There are three levels of leadership. Getting people to do something because they have to. Getting people to think what you want them to think and therefore, acting based on their own volition. And then getting people to believe what you want them to believe and then they’ll walk through walls for you.

A great CEO gets their people to believe what you want them to believe and they’re going to walk through walls to make you successful.

Marten: Thank you, Jim. Great advice for young CEOs. I really appreciate this.

Jim: Thanks it’s been really fun.

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