12 Leadership Lessons from Nextdoor CEO Sarah Friar
How her executive roles at McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Salesforce and Square have shaped her as a leader today.
In my ongoing series with Entrepreneur, "If I Knew Then: Leadership Lessons," I host virtual fireside chats with high-profile CEOs of major brands like Indeed, Blue Apron, Waze and Warby Parker. During these warm and lively sit-downs, I ask these prodigious leaders to share invaluable lessons and practical career advice learned during their career trajectory. These rare, candid insights into the lives of remarkable catalysts for success in the business world are accessible as a resource for current and future entrepreneurs and are not to be missed.
For the latest episode, I sat down with Sarah Friar, CEO of Nextdoor — the hyperlocal networking hub for neighborhoods. Hers is the compelling story of a CEO who came from a small town in Northern Ireland to take the world by storm with her unique, remarkable career path, which took her from Wall Street to her executive roles in the tech industry at Salesforce, Square, and now Nextdoor. In fact, she was CFO at Square during its highly publicized IPO, so she knows a thing or two about managing sudden hyper-growth. Friar sits on the boards of Walmart and Slack and is the co-founder of Ladies Who Launch, a nonprofit that celebrates and empowers women entrepreneurs. Friar discusses everything from starting meetings with meditation in Silicon Valley to how job performance reviews impact men and women differently, and her best practices on how to run one-on-one and executive team meetings.
Here are 12 essential takeaways from our discussion:
1. Every part of your backstory can help you become an incredible leader
Friar’s own is inspiring. Her father was an HR manager and her mother was a nurse, and she says she “won the lottery” and ended up attending Oxford. Friar says it was the power of the close community she grew up in that forged in her a desire to help others.
2. Have at least three mentors you trust at every point in your career
Friar suggests that one should be a mentor at your current job who can give you advice specific to the role you’re in and the history of the company you’re a part of. Another should be a mentor from a prior work environment who can give honest and tougher feedback they might not have given you when you worked with them. And remember to have at least one close, personal mentor who will still give you that tough feedback but will wrap it in love.
3. Be prepared for one-on-one meetings with Friar’s “three Ps”
Friar has a document for every meeting, prepared every two weeks, that she calls “The Three Ps,” which covers people, performance and product. It includes enough essential information that allows her to “answer things for you before you walk into our one-on-one, so we can shorten the time that we meet.”
4. Team performance is based on nature AND nurture
Although everyone on the team is there because something in their nature makes them the right fit for the job, management must also nurture and amplify individual skills so that team is pushed forward. It’s important for leadership to understand where the intersection of passion and ability is for each member of the team.
5. Your hiring philosophies will evolve as your company grows.
The people are the thing that will add the most value to the company over time. During the initial spurt of growth, don't overthink hires. Some early hires won’t grow at the same rate and might not be around for that later, bigger iteration of the company. When interviewing for new people as you expand, screen applicants for the company’s core values.
6. Diversity leads to better business outcomes
Diversity is one of the smartest ways to affect the bottom line. “Diversity should be a business imperative," Friar says. “Facts are facts: Boards and executive teams that are more diverse do better. And companies with diversity receive more return on investment.”
7. Whenever possible, build and use your platform for good
Nextdoor solves for a problem that our society has slowly manifested over the last half-century: We just don’t know our neighbors like we used to. “I think what is really special about Nextdoor is that you really see how much people want to help each other in the bigger picture,” Friar says. “For me, one of the things that really shines about Nextdoor is how positive the platform is versus a lot of other things that we interact with on the internet.”
8. Numbers are critical in leadership
Friar says she’s never met a number she didn’t like. People in general still aren’t good enough with numbers. “For example, if we have 10 new neighbors on our platform, is that good? Bad? Numbers without context are dangerous,” Friar says.
9. Don’t be afraid to fail publicly or take risks
If you don’t get an adrenaline rush every day, maybe it’s time to look for your next role. Friar backpacked through Asia at the age of 18. That curiosity fired up a need in her to keep going, finding ways to take educated risks.
10. It’s okay not to be perfect
Failure and vulnerability are relatable to everyone and can be a major source of learned wisdom. For women and young girls in particular, perfectionism comes to life because you feel like you have to be better than everyone else, and that holds you back from being a risk taker. When asked what she would tell herself in her early 20s if she could go back in time, Friar shares: “I would tell myself to not feel like I have to fulfill the mold of what people around me wanted me to do.”
11. Don’t get caught up in the money that coincides with high expertise and leaves you with low passion
Remember that the place where high passion and expertise meet is your zone. It’s easy to stay at a company because you’re good at what you do, but don’t let the fear of leaving a company be the thing you become good at. Having joy and passion for your trade is also important. Although Friar was excellent at her well-paying job on Wall Street, she admits to staying there for five years longer than she should have. “I kept staying; I don’t know if my life would have been different, but I wish I had the confidence to jump sooner.”
12. It’s okay to jump off the treadmill sometimes
CEOs can face job fatigue or regrets that they didn’t take some time off in the midst of their career. After Friar had her children, she says she wishes she had done just that: “It’s okay to pull back to rest, recover and then lean back in again. Your career will be long.”
Get inspired by watching the full webinar to hear more pearls of wisdom. It is no surprise why this incredible leader has received top ratings from her employees on Comparably, a platform at the forefront of building transparent workplace cultures and known for our Best Places to Work Awards.
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