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Pushing Past Pushing: How to Create a Pull Culture of Leadership with David Cancel

Kristen Craft on March 30, 2018 · 3 minute read
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Read almost any job description and “driven” is likely to figure in it as a desirable characteristic. So why do most leaders (perhaps yourself included) end up having to push their teams towards goals with either deadlines or numbers? Where does that inner drive go? It’s still there; problem is most leaders leave it untapped.

David Cancel has discovered how to tap into that drive so he never has to push his teams towards shipping deadlines or targets. And he’s got the resume to prove that his method works.

David has so far founded five different successful tech companies, several of which have been acquired.  His previous company, Performable, was acquired by marketing tech giant HubSpot. With the acquisition, Cancel became Hubspot’s Chief Product Officer and helped position the company (which is now worth over $4 billion) to go public. His current company, Drift, is the world’s leading conversational marketing and sales platform.

So what’s his secret sauce for not pushing teams? Harnessing employees’ inner drive through autonomy.

I’ve taken away the burden of dates and I’m giving you the autonomy to decide when something is ready to go out. I’m giving you the autonomy to prioritize what you work on.

Autonomy to prioritize, David explains, doesn’t mean team members aren’t held accountable for results. In fact, they’re more accountable since they’re the ones who decide on the work. And setting the expectation of accountability up from the beginning is important—or you may run into trouble.

Autonomy comes with the responsibility of accountability for your actions. Autonomy with no accountability isn’t autonomy—that’s anarchy.

So how can you build a team that functions on this autonomy-cum-accountability model? David has a two-step process. When you apply both steps, as David does, (and as he’s trained his managers to do,) you’ll be able to harness your team’s inner drive and pull each team member forward by their own volition, rather than push them on with the traditional stick and carrot method.

  • Step 1: Check for inner drive. True inner drive to succeed translates to a desire to learn and grow—a desire not to remain stagnant. Not everyone is going to have this trait, though David finds the current generation of workers is much more interested in personal progression than people of his generation. That’s the easy step.
  • Step 2: Understand what propels that drive. Understand what truly propels an individual’s drive to learn and grow. The process is harder than it sounds, David warns, because often people don’t understand this themselves. But it’s your responsibility as a good leader to tease it out of them. When you do, you’ll be able to understand if you have a fit between their motivations and your goals. You need alignment between what you’re building and challenges that pull them towards achieving their own goals (without having to push them once).

When these two things overlap, then this pull model begins, and magic happens. All of a sudden this individual is all in and consumed with whatever the task at hand is. Not because they’re necessarily trying to hit a number for the company or get something shipped, but because the challenge is moving them forward on their own personal progression, and that’s when that passion kicks in.

In our podcast conversation, David shares with us the exact steps he’s developed for building teams on the pull model of inner drive. He walks us through his process with candidates and the types of questions he asks them. He also explains what he’s looking for and how he approaches goals that are tough to quantify (which is not a bad thing!) We talk about abandoning derivative processes that don’t work and going back to first principles for building a successful team.

If you’ve disliked being pushed by others or pushing your team to perform (like David has), then this is the episode for you. Click play to get David’s best tips, and don’t forget to subscribe to Org Uncharted on your favorite podcast player for more insightful conversations with innovative business leaders.

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Enjoy the episode? Review us on iTunes 😉

CRO at Tettra. Reader, long-walker, Sloanie, beer brewer and drinker, 'villan, parent, spouse, friend, human. Previously at Ovia Health, Wistia, and Transparent Language