Seeking Wisdom: Reading, Leadership Principles, and Drift Sabbaticals

Seeking Wisdom Leadership Principles

ET is filling in on Seeking Wisdom for DC while he’s wrapping up his sabbatical.

And oh, about that…

On this episode, ET and I talked about the Drift Sabbatical program, why it’s three years vs. five, and how the company scales as the founders take more time off.

We also talked about the Drift Leadership Principles and how they set up new hires for success.

And we talked about READING! Why Elias used to hate reading, how he’s addicted to it now, and his tips for reading and learning more.

Three topics for the price of one. Here are some highlights.

1) The Importance of Sabbaticals at Drift

Early on, David and Elias, the co-founders of Drift, decided to offer sabbaticals at three years instead of five. The idea was to work hard and play hard.

Now, David’s proving he was serious by taking time off, when otherwise he’s never gone. It shows the company that the benefit is for real.

The company has scaled to the point where things won’t break if any one person takes a month off. As Elias shared, nothing should stop moving if he’s out. The goal, instead, is to create systems and checklists.

Personally, I love to have complete control of things and be very close to how our systems are working. But you can’t scale a Type A personality like mine, which scared me at first. I just took a vacation for a week, though, and found out that nothing broke while I was gone. It was liberating.

“You need to know that if you take off, things will still work,” Elias said. “You’re not that important. None of us are.”

Elias - taking time off

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And if you are that important, then you probably hired wrong. Maybe nothing urgent happens while you’re out, but nothing bad should happen either. If you’ve built a culture of accountability, your team won’t need you every second of every day.

2) Leadership Principles Set Expectations

The two founders have always had certain leadership principles in mind. Communicating them wasn’t easy at first, though.

It used to be that when someone was hired at Drift, they would start whenever they were ready. As the company grew, all of a sudden five people would start at the same time. So we moved into a class model.

“We’ve been studying Amazon,” Elias said. “It’s not just random leadership principles, it’s the way we would like people to work, to think, to hustle.

Elias - Leadership Principles

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It’s amazing how the best experts in a given field are able to explain things so clearly. Elias said he could understand a lot of principles he wanted to convey, but couldn’t explain them as clearly. So he and David wrote them down.

Sharing these principles with new hires changes the game. When you set the expectations upfront, then everybody knows how to act, and they act differently. They know what they’re going to face from the beginning and they aren’t taken off guard.

3) Reading Is The Secret to Growth

The story goes that in the early days, Elias said reading was stupid.

Since then, he’s changed his mind.

DC has always been an avid reader. ET is just now realizing how much time he’s wasted when it comes to learning. Before he was always a doer. At Drift, in order to help DC more, he needed to understand the source of all of David’s vision—and he did that by reading.

Now, with both of them reading, they can impart knowledge to different parts of the organization. Everybody at Drift now seems to be reading in a contagious way. It’s actually fun.

I never read when I was younger. It was boring and didn’t seem to apply to me.

Then I got marketing books and saw how they could help me make more money, be more successful, and help the company be more successful. It was easy to see when I read something how I could go apply it.

For example, if you read books on scaling organizations, you learn that at a certain revenue you should have x amount of employees. The earlier you know this, the better you can prepare.

Another insight about books – the lessons in them mean different things at different stages. I read Aaron Ross and Jason Lemkin’s From Impossible to Inevitable: How Hyper-Growth Companies Create Predictable Revenue two years ago and then again recently. It feels completely different now because I’m living it.

As for when to find time to read with busy jobs and families? Yeah, that’s a tough one.

For some, it’s getting up early. For others, it’s carrying the book around and reading whenever you’re waiting in a line. Or reading when you would otherwise look at your phone.

You know how much you could read in 20 minutes if you’re not looking at your phone?

If you want it, you can make it happen.

Want to be a fly on the wall as Elias and I talk through these topics? Watch the full video here.

And here’s the Seeking Wisdom podcast episode to take with you on-the-go.

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