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The 'Do Nothing' Approach to Leadership In taking your startup to the next level and becoming the CEO, consider adopting this more unconventional management style.

By Walter Chen Edited by Dan Bova


Mark Zuckerberg may be the poster child for entrepreneurial success as a young person, but he had to take CEO lessons.

Along his meteoric rise, he had to figure out how to be a manager. Being the CEO of Facebook wasn't enough. He'd have to manage people and, when needed, attempt to unearth their potential.

To be sure, leadership is tough. That's because it feels unnatural. You have to train yourself to overcome the innate responses that accompany regular social interaction and contend with the instinct to be liked while continually evaluating and providing feedback. You also have to fight the inclination to always be producing. That hard work likely got you this far, but once you take on the CEO reins, your job as a manager won't resemble work as you know it. In fact, it may not resemble work at all.

To Andy Grove, a management legend and former CEO of Intel, a manager's fundamental job of information gathering can be one of the most unnatural and awkward. Yet dealing with that awkwardness, even inviting it, is also a fundamental part of being a good leader.

Related: Facebook's Lessons in Leadership

Grove tells us, that there's an efficient -- but underused because it's uncomfortable -- way to get and disseminate information: To be out in the open in your company, doing nothing.

Wha? Really do nothing?

For start-up founders, this is anathema. After all, it was you who got your idea to this point. It was you who met and mingled with the right people to land funding. It was you who put everything on the line for your company. And though some founders decide to bow out at this point -- ceding the CEO title to a professional manager -- for those who want to stick it out and maintain a leadership role, you'll have to let go.

This method sounds ridiculously easy -- or just ridiculous -- but it requires you to be quite vulnerable to appearing and feeling like you're not really doing anything at all.

Related: How to Build a Better Brainstorming Session

Young leaders are a driven, passionate, industrious bunch. And while that same drive can be hard to reel in, you should try. When you're only focused on your own output, or setting an example for your team by burning the midnight oil, for instance, you're also unavailable for conversation. Employees feel like they're bothering or interrupting you, and when information exchange does happen, it's a weightier, less frequent event.

Your openness and true accessibility lowers the barriers to conversation and takes obstructive formality out of the exchange.

Conversation and word-of-mouth communication are vital, says Grove. So taking time and effort to do this "non-work" is essential, even when it's awkward and feels unnatural and even if it means feeling like you're standing alone at a party, without the social safe haven of your phone -- open and vulnerable.

Related: Why Being "Good' Can Help You Build a Successful Startup

Here are another three tips to consider when you're trying to "do nothing:'

1. Take a stroll around the office, without a specific task in mind. Practice that leisurely pace, and overcome the natural inclination to always be and be seen working.

2. Talk to employees -- even if you know they're on deadline for something. Find out their pain points and make a real effort to resolve them. That way, people will know they can come to you -- their manager -- to get things done.

3. Try to get more comfortable with not being friends with everyone. A manager shouldn't be viewed as biased -- even if you grew up together and spent long hours toiling on a business idea in a garage somewhere.

What's your best managerial tip? Let us know in the comments section below.

Walter Chen

CEO & Co-founder, iDoneThis

Walter Chen is the founder and CEO of iDoneThis, the easiest way to share and celebrate what you get done at work, every day. Learn the science behind how done lists help you work smarter in our free eBook: The Busy Person's Guide to the Done List. Follow him on twitter @smalter.

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