Leadership Lesson in Co-Founding a ‘Learning Company’ with Patrick Cootes

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Leadership Lesson in Co-Founding a ‘Learning Company’ with Patrick Cootes


Patrick: We are based in London and we do have an office, but we have engineers in Portugal and Ireland, and not all members of the team come into the office regularly there have been a number of learnings arising from that remote experience, and also some things that have come out of our values. We are of course a learning company and so we want the team to be learning all the time and to be developing and growing.
So we have a very robust system of feedback, situation, behavior, impact, and suggested improvement. And every member of the team who has a 1 to 1 is expected to give that. And it goes both ways. It goes up to the CEO as well as down to the most junior member of the team. And when the CEO gets a tough piece of feedback, when I do, the first thing I do is share it with the whole team publicly. This is the feedback I got and these are the steps that I’m going to take. And the value of that is that other members of the team can look at that and they know two things.
Number one, nobody’s scared of feedback in this company because, whoa, he just got some really tough feedback there and he just shared it and he didn’t have to. So, wow, that’s great. And number two, Oh, I do that sometimes. That applies to me, too. And so by making it public, everyone in the team can benefit instead of just the one person who received it. And crucially, when other members of the team see that they are not emotionally involved so they can dispassionately look at it and go, okay, well, that’s interesting.
And they can learn from it in a way that when they receive the feedback yourself, you might be upset, it might be difficult. Yeah, but when you put it out there, it has an amazing power to diffuse the emotional element and supercharge the whole team’s learning. And this is something which when new members of the team joined and they heard that this is the way that we do things, there was an attitude of, okay, well we’ll see. And then the first time they actually see it happen, it’s like, Oh my God, they really mean it.
But you know what? If your leadership team and that’s obviously me as a co-founder, the chief exec, if your leadership team believes in a growth mindset of personal development and change and in radical transparency, then this is the way to go.
And this idea that we must be able to fail and screw up and not just admit to failing and screwing up, but actually embrace it and say, here’s what I learned. Everyone loops back to what I was saying before about how the education system is really bad at this, because in education if you get something wrong, you failed. That’s a bad thing. But in life, if you can only learn from it, then getting things wrong is never a failure. It’s learning, it’s growth. Yeah. And that’s who we want to be as a company because that’s the values we want to represent to our users and our customers.

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