Jeff Weiner: Leading with Compassion
Updated: Apr 27
Jeff Weiner’s career achievements to date read like the laundry list of a Silicon Valley overachiever: CEO and Executive Chairman of LinkedIn, executive in residence at Accel Partners and Greylock Partners, EVP of Yahoo!’s Network Division, Warner Bros. – and the list goes on. Yet the main message he wants to spread in the world is that of Compassion.
Jeff admits that in the past, his aggressive approach to leadership meant he was good at getting people to do what he wanted; however, this style of leadership had its limits and was actually counter-productive.
“rather than lift people up, it was a good way to shut people down”.
In a world of “increasing tribalism”, compassion can be an effective antidote to this type of confrontation.
This is an important message from someone who has had such an overwhelmingly successful career. He served as LinkedIn CEO for nearly 12 years before becoming the Executive Chairman. In this time, he expanded the company from 338 to more than 15,000 employees, grew LinkedIn into a holistic professional network of more than 772 million members and created and pursued LinkedIn’s vision to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce.
Prior to this, Jeff was an executive in residence at Accel Partners and Greylock Partners where he advised the firms’ consumer technology portfolio companies and evaluated investment opportunities. He also served as Executive Vice President of Yahoo!’s Network Division – which generated more than $3 billion in annual revenue. Before that, he played an instrumental role in developing the initial business plan for Warner Bros. Online in 1994.
Looking back on his colourful experience, Jeff said, in a keynote address at Wharton in 2018, that one piece of advice he would give his 22-year-old self would be to be compassionate.
He is so passionate about the subject that he wants to ensure that compassion is taught in every primary school in the US via The Compassion Project, a collaboration between Jeff and global education innovator EVERF.
In his LinkedIn blog "Managing Compassionately" he plaudits Howard Cutler's "The Art of Happiness" book about the Dalai Lama’s teachings as having helped him understand the difference between empathy and compassion.
Empathy is understanding the feelings of others. Compassion is feeling what the other person feels AND doing something about it. In other words, compassion is empathy plus action.
Jeff also openly admits that acting in a compassionate way is
"harder to practice consistently than others"
But that is something he ‘aspires’ to do more of.
Companies are often a melting pot of different opinions and beliefs, but are also extremely vulnerable to groupthink. Underrepresented cultures and opinions can be stifled, choking innovation.
Leading with compassion can offer psychological safety which is so crucial for open and collaborative environments. When employees feel heard, and are treated with respect, even when there are disagreements, they are more likely to bring more of themselves to work, generate more innovative ideas, and work more collaboratively. When there is less fear, individuals, teams and companies are more likely to reach their full potential.
Jeff's Managing with Compassion may have been the motivation behind LinkedIn’s recent announcement to pursue progressive policies to tackle inherent bias. It may have also influenced Jeff's past decision to donate $14 million to LinkedIn employees following a drop in the company's share price.
By putting oneself in another’s shoes, Jeff believes it is possible to achieve less hostile and more collaborative experiences – and that such experiences, in turn, lead to better results.
So, whilst it is necessary for leaders to achieve outstanding results, it is also just as important for them to build up their teams.
Jeff's understanding of compassion shows us that a more human approach and outstanding results are not in conflict with each other. In fact, the two go very well hand-in-hand.
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