Among the many driving forces of ambition, curiosity may be the most critical.

Four-time CEO John Donahoe has seen that play out numerous times. Companies and leaders that maintain a deep sense of curiosity are the ones that are able to continually innovate, create products that customers want, and have a solid understanding of the people around them.

“The biggest danger of success is when you stop being curious. And the biggest risk is rapid success,” says Donahoe, who now serves as CEO of Nike. “I think that’s true for any organization, any leader – it’s human nature.”

Throughout his career, Donahoe has been known for his relentless push for wave after wave innovation. He joined Nike in 2020, following CEO roles at ServiceNow, eBay, and Bain & Company. His career trajectory from longtime consultant to multiple CEO roles taught him to keep an outsider’s perspective, which he credits with his ability to keep a good idea of where the puck is going when it comes to business innovation. Since taking the reins of Nike, Donahoe pushed for digital transformation across every aspect of the historically in-person retailer’s business, including the use of data science and digital tools to product design.

Unsurprisingly, a large part of Donahoe’s approach to leadership comes from his lifelong love of sports – and admiration for coaches. Some of his most influential mentors include coaches, from his high school basketball coach to legendary figures such as Phil Jackson and Michael Krzyzewski (Coach K). His experience with sports shaped his leadership significantly.

“I like getting players who are far better than I am, and then getting them to buy into a direction and a goal,” says Donahoe. “I like to encourage them and help them be better. I didn’t even think of my career in terms of wanting to be a leader – I wanted to be a coach.”

Donahoe joined me as part of Greylock’s Iconversations speaker series, where we discussed Nike’s digital transformation in recent years; the lessons learned as a four-time CEO; and his “head coach” mentality to leadership. You can listen to the conversation on the Greymatter podcast at the link below, or wherever you get your podcasts.



Reid Hoffman:
Hi, everyone. Welcome to “Iconversations.”

I’m Reid Hoffman, a general Partner here at Greylock. Joining us today is John Donahoe, the President and CEO of Nike. As a four-time CEO, John is well known for leading organizations through wave after wave innovation, and his time at Nike is no different.

Since joining Nike in 2020, John has pushed for digital transformation across every aspect of the company’s business. The historically in-person retailer has embraced numerous new technologies to better understand its massive (and growing) consumer base in the digital realm. This includes the increasing use of data science and digital tools to push the boundaries of product design, and adding increasingly sophisticated features to its popular apps.

Last year, Nike entered into the next level of the digital world with the launch of Nikeland on Roblox, the acquisition of RTFKT, and the creation of Nike Virtual Studios. As of March, nearly 7 million people had visited Nikeland on Roblox. And Nike also expects to reach a 50% digital mix of its business by 2025.

Prior to Nike, John was president and CEO for ServiceNow and eBay, and he continues to serve as chairman of the board at PayPal. Early in his career he worked for Bain & Company for almost 20 years, becoming the firm’s CEO in 1999.

I’ve also had the extreme pleasure of working with John in various capacities and have been consistently impressed with his keen ability to both foresee and lead tech transformations.

Thanks, as always, John, for joining us. Welcome.

John Donahoe:
Thanks, Reid. Great to see you.

Let’s start by putting your role as CEO of Nike in context. Nike is one of the most recognized businesses in the entire world, and this has been true for decades. The company has maintained that stature throughout numerous social, cultural, economic, political shifts, market shifts, globalization, the whole thing. That was especially true when you joined the company in January 2020. What did you come into the role thinking, and where does that stand today, a little more than two years later?

Reid, when Phil Knight and Mark Parker called me, I’d been on the board for six years. And they called me and asked if I’d consider being CEO. I had to kind of reflect on Why would I want to do this?

And what became really clear to me – and you’ll relate to this, you and I have talked about this so many times – is that the world is more polarized than any time in my adult life. Polarization is political. I hate it. It’s antithetical to everything I believe in. And if you think about it, sport is one of the few things that still brings people together.

Sport brings people together within countries. Sport brings people together across nations. Think of the Olympics or the World Cup. Sport is the ultimate Diversity & Inclusion playing field. If you can play, you can play. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin, your background, your height, your weight, whatever. And perhaps most importantly, in this day and age, in sport, you have a civil set of rules that you play by. You can hate your archrival. You can hate your opponent, but you play by a civil set of rules. And at the end of the game, you shake hands.

And so, as I reflected on it, Reid, I feel like the world needs sport more than ever before. And in many ways, Nike is sport. Nike is synonymous with sport, and our purpose as a company is to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete and athlete asterisk (and the asterisk is if you have a body, you are an athlete in the world).

And so over the last couple years throughout all the chaos and upheaval, that’s what we’ve tried to do. During the dark moments of COVID, you remember our brand campaigns were out bringing hope and inspiration to people, whether it was sharing, people working out in their homes on Nike train club or that “You Can’t Stop Us, You Can’t Stop Sport” campaign, or even the Drake campaign (Drake was out on our campus), or through racial justice and mental health.

We’ve tried to be a voice that brings hope and inspiration through a lens of sport. I’m so impressed by how much Nike takes that purpose seriously, takes that responsibility seriously. And it’s sort of what gets me out of bed every morning.

If you were to draw some kind of straight lines from sport into like a hope for a cultural refresh, whether it’s in some more unity, whether it’s the US or whether it’s globally – obviously we’re living these [challenges], not just pandemic, but we’ve got such massive tragedies such as Ukraine. What would be some of the things that you would think sport could help there? And then part of the Nike, as it were jumping ahead, running ahead, (I’m deliberately punning). What would that lens be?

First of all, it brings people together. Although they’re rivals on the court, they get to know each other as humans. The labels create a certain sense of polarization and difference.

And when we understand we’re all humans first, and then we have our different experiences, backgrounds, and so sport forces people to come together, whether it’s at the Olympics, whether it’s in a global football match or whether it’s a tennis match. And so, I think it’s a really important platform.

There are very few platforms that bring people together anymore. And we feel that strongly.

Now there’s a variety of other things around what sport does. [For example], Youth movement/youth activity making for a healthier lifestyle. They’re all sorts of things, but on this global geopolitical lens, in a bizarre way, I think sport is one of the few institutions that has hope of making people remember they’ve got that commonality called humanity and a love for the sport.

Yeah. Well, we’ll come back to much more about Nike, all kinds of interesting things. But let’s start with the background that got you there in the first place. What were your earliest career interests?

Well, I can think about early influences in my life that had an impact on my career, although I didn’t know it at the time. The first was my father. Our parents mean so much to us. And my father had a much bigger impact on me than I knew at the time.

There were two things about my father that I remember so clearly. One was, my father never had the word “I” in his vocabulary. It was always about “We.” It was always about asking questions about others. He always kept the attention on other people, “Hey Reid, how are you doing? What’s going on? Tell me more about that.” And I used to watch people respond to him with that interest. It was never about him.

I later learned the term “servant leadership”, which is what’s been a real organizing principle and aspiration of my life. And I didn’t think of my dad as a leader or as a role model, but he had a profound impact on those things.

A second person [who was an influence] was my high school basketball coach. I went to a big high school outside Chicago called New Trier. It has a real powerhouse basketball program, great head coach. I learned so much from him by the impact he had on me, because he got so much out of me. He communicated really high expectations. And at the same time, he believed in me almost more than I believed in myself. He saw things in me that I didn’t even see in myself. And that motivated me.

And then he had this amazing ability to get our team to come together and buy into being a team – by the way, which included being really honest with each other, including having the tough conversation like, “Hey, you just got beat baseline. I covered for you this time. Next time don’t let your man beat your baseline.”

At that stage, I said, “I want to be a coach. I want to be a head coach.”

So early in my career, [I learned] the notion of servant leader. I heard that phrase, “You serve your purpose, you serve the consumer, you serve your employees, you serve the communities in which you operate.” And then ironically, my early role models were all head coaches, Phil Jackson in the 80s and 90s, Coach K, Coach Thompson, who was on the Nike board with me, Tara [VanDerveer] I got to know when I was at Stanford.

So I’ve always understood that what I like to do is be the head coach. I like getting players who are far better than I am and then getting them to buy into a direction and a goal. And then coaching, encouraging and helping them be better. I didn’t even think of it as, “Oh, I want to be a leader.” I wanted to be a coach.

Well, given that we’ve worked together in a variety of contexts, I’ve gotten to see that you bring out the best in people and aspire to amazing performance as part of how you interface with people, young entrepreneurs, stuff that you were setting up.

Let’s go in that context to the basis of some of the most important lessons that you’ve learned from mentors, coaches. Which of those do you kind of pass along? Which of those do you develop? What are the highlines of the coaching/mentoring playbook, both in your experience of interfacing people and then also how you’re playing?

Well, Reid, I feel like I’ve been blessed because I’ve had so many mentors and so many lessons I’ve learned. My dad was a mentor. My high school basketball coach was a mentor. And in a funny way, it never ends.

I’ll just pick an example with Coach K, who I’ve gotten to know and has been one of my real heroes. The first time I met Coach K was about five years ago when I was at ServiceNow. He was coming to give a talk at our top customer event, and he and I were going to do a fireside. And he said, “I want to meet you ahead of time so I get to know the audience.”

I’m in a conference room and he walks in and he’s texting on his phone. He looks up and he says, “Go figure,” he said. “Think about my life. I spend my time – I spend my life – recruiting 16 and 17 year old boys to come to Duke increasingly for one year. And then they leave. So I have to understand how that 15 year old boy thinks, what music they like, and how they communicate. I’ve had to reinvent myself 10 times in the last 20 years. I’m texting right now with the number one high school sophomore in the country. And the kid doesn’t use words. He only uses emojis.” He said, “I didn’t even know what an emoji was two weeks ago, but my granddaughter taught me, look at this. We’re just doing emojis.”

And I’m sitting here thinking, Here, this guy’s a five-time NCAA champion, four-time Olympic gold medal winner, three -time USA basketball champion, the greatest college basketball coach in history. And here he’s talking about himself, reinventing himself and staying vibrant and staying vital.

He said to me, “When I sit down with the recruit, they don’t care that I’ve won five NCAA titles, four Olympic gold medals, and three USA championships. They only care about one thing: the next one we’re going to win together. So I never talk about the past. I always look forward.”

In recent years, a common friend of ours, Satya [Nadella] talks about growth mindset. And Coach K, that sort of vitality that looks forward, continuous learning and growing – that’s one big lesson.

What are some of the key things that you think are about keeping that kind of transformative or reinventing – because that’s going to the future or the Wayne Gretzky (since we’re doing sport), skating to where the puck is going to? What are some of the key mental mindsets for that?

Well, I think curiosity has to be at the top of the list. The biggest danger of success is you stop being curious. And success, like the biggest risk, is rapid success. I think that’s true for any organization, any leader – it’s human nature.

[It’s] one of the things I learned earlier in my career, Reid, at Bain.

And what I learned there is “always be outside-in,” because I was never part of a client organization. I had to understand things through the eyes of the customer, through the eyes of competitors, through the eyes of other stakeholders. And those are the cues of where the puck’s going. The puck isn’t made up inside a company. The puck is defined by where the consumer’s going and wants to go, where competitors or disruptors are coming up and giving different offerings. What’s happening in the overall [picture].

So keeping a real outside-in mindset is, I think, essential. It’s also (to be honest), it’s what allowed me to come into four different companies (or, I guess I grew up in one and then came into three different companies). I’ve never been an expert on day one. That’s forced me to have a rich and sharp understanding of How’s the consumer thinking about us?

“The biggest danger of success is you stop being curious. And the biggest risk is rapid success. I think that’s true for any organization, any leader – it’s human nature.”

Yeah. 100%. Obviously part of the whole Bain and consulting background is a way of getting into the idea of servant leadership. I think it’s one of the things that has made you so repetitively successful at being tapped as the next great leader to help bring this firm into the future and take what’s great in it, but then continue to amplify and adjust to what’s new.

So, describe a little bit about that leadership in as much as it started with Bain, and then kind of a little bit through your jumping into these new organizations to help with the next leap forward, as it were.

Yeah. I think, again, some of the principles I learned that you have to learn in consulting, which is being outside and having a bias for change. You aren’t being hired to not change. So the status quo is not [enough], and so change is not threatening. It’s what you do. And no one likes to change. [We have this idea of] “change is this one wonderful concept, and change is great for someone else or from a distance. I think change is great, but don’t ask me to change my daily habits. Don’t ask me to change me.” None of us like to change ourselves.

I’ll give you an example of how I’ve tried to do it. I’ve done the same thing at Nike. I did, frankly, when I joined eBay and joined ServiceNow. I actually stood in this very room and did a video for the entire company my first day. I said, “I have one and only one priority my first 100 days. I’m going to do a 100-day listening and learning tour, because I have so much that I need to learn. So I want to listen to you. I want to learn. And I have three questions: One, what are two or three things we need to get right in the next 12 to 24 months? Two, what are a couple things that are our secret sauce and we need to preserve and maintain to be who we are? And three, what are two or three things we need to change so we can achieve what we need to get done? And please send me your thoughts on that?”

And then I had one-on-ones with 150 of our top leaders. I asked those three questions. I probably had 30 or 40 per group – small groups with high potential talent, small group sessions. During COVID even. I joined in January, 2020. So the first seven weeks were non-COVID and this is the next second.

And then, on my 100th day, I had 1,000 data points at the end. My 100th day, which was in April, I did a Zoom and I said, “Let me just play back to you what you told me. You said these were the most important things we need to get right as a company over the next couple of years. In fact, I’ve listed five here. I had a one-page Word doc. You know what? I agree. Let’s call those our priorities. Then you said, ‘Here’s a few things that we need to preserve and maintain, because they’re the secret sauce of who we are.’ You have my commitment.”

And by the way, I could then describe those things because I’ve heard 1,000 different people describe them. I could describe them with a vocabulary that was inside the culture, because I’d heard the culture describe it. I said, “You have my commitment to preserve those things.” And that, by the way, adds credibility. And I also said, “And here’s what we’re going to try to change together.”

And so, it was kind of outside-in. It was their agenda – our agenda, not my agenda. It acknowledged what was unique about the culture, but it was all about the change we were going to try to drive forward together. And that’s what we’ve been trying to do. I bring that one- page Word doc up quite frequently.

I think that’s an awesome process. That’s part of what makes you such a great leader and a coach of other leaders is that you’re not saying, “Hey, the new sheriff’s in town, this is the new thing.” It’s like, No, no, the amazing things are already within you. Let’s discover them together and then recommit to them together. And it’s that path forward. And I think that’s a super important lesson.

Where does that sometimes mix into the things that are the hard choices? The whole thing of change – even though you want change for other people, not yourself – so when you get to the friction points, what are the lenses, the ways of approaching some of the more gritty parts of it?

I think at the end of the day, that’s the other part about leadership: the hard decisions, the easy decisions. The easy decisions are 80-20. The hard ones are 51-49.

So there’s a small number of those things, but at the end of the day, you don’t get to be the head coach if you can’t make a few of those key decisions, lonely decisions on your own.

Yeah. The 51-49. And then as you were saying, bring the team along, explain it. Sometimes disagree but commit and play as a team going forward.

Reid, connecting one other thing that comes to mind: It’s a lesson I learned from a mentor of mine, Tom Tierney, who’s so good at this. And I try to emulate it particularly in hard decisions.

On a hard decision, I get my team around the room. We got to make this decision. And there are arguments for it, and there are arguments against it, or in some decisions there’s path A and there’s path B. Let’s talk about path A and path B. We’ll have a conversation. And then I always try to end by saying, “I want to go around and ask each one of you for your thoughts or your input.” And if you have a conversation where you legitimized both sides of the argument, it’s not an easy decision.

Go around the room and allow people to have different opinions, different perspectives, but everyone gets to be heard and then say, “Do we agree we’re better off going one way or another? Having heard everyone, we’re going to go path A. I want you to know, path B people, I heard you. And my job is to hear you and hear both sides. Now it’s our job to get behind the decision.”

It’s about going around [the room], allowing both sides of the equation, not trying to sell it, allowing them to voice their points of view, but then saying we’re going to move forward. And there’s a difference between having input in a decision and the authority to make the decision and being really clear about that. I learned that from Tom quite well.

No, and it’s super important. Too often, young, inexperienced or mis-framed leaders just think, “Oh, I made a decision, so we don’t need the communication.” No, no communication is part of the trust and the connection of it, because it’s like, “Look, you heard me, great. Now let’s play the game. Let’s do the play that you’re calling to elaborate.”

One of the things that I also think is interesting is that you’ve worked at all scales of teams. It’s not just like consulting practice at Bain, but also working with young startups, acquiring small startups and then integrating them into huge companies that are themselves like towns or cities. What are the principles of team building that apply regardless of company size or stage? And then how do the smaller tech companies also give some lens into interesting things at Nike?

“At the end of the day, you don’t get to be the head coach if you can’t make a few of those key, lonely decisions on your own.”

Again, I think of the team building, I think of these coaches behind me. I think of what coaches do. And I always try to ask myself the why, what and how. There’s why questions or what questions or how questions.

‘Why’ questions are, Why are we here? Why are we on this team? That’s the purpose. And I think it’s always important to get a team aligned around why we are here, and there’s usually some pretty strong commonality around that. Even if you have different personalities, backgrounds, different beliefs, even.

So what should happen is to get commonality on the why: “We’re here to win a championship,” or, “We’re here to make our purpose come to life. We’re here.” And share that. That’s (again), that human connection I talked about earlier.

The ‘What’ is our strategy: What’s our goal? What are our plays or strategies to get it done? And you can have debates around those. And by the way, strategies change based on the circumstance, based on the time horizon, the competition, the whatever. And you can have different points of view on the What, but once we agree to the play, we’re going to run, we run it.

The ‘How’ is culture. That’s the hardest part. It’s, How are we going to behave with one another? We may be aligned on why we’re here, our purpose. We may more or less agree on our strategy or our direction, but how are we going to make that strategy come to life? How are we going to behave with one another? And that’s culture. That’s the hardest part, and that’s required of great teams, great sports teams, great business teams. You’ve done this throughout your career: establish a culture.

One of the things I’m talking a lot about at Nike right now is what are the conversations great teams have in the locker room before the game and at halftime, because we have a culture of consensus here. Everyone’s polite with one another. And I’m like, “Actually, no, we’re in the locker room right now. It’s before the game. We got to be in each other’s face if that’s needed, we got to be saying what we think, we got to be getting to the heart of the issue. What are the adjustments we need to make?” Then when we go back out the court, we’re one team. We’re highly aligned. And when we come back in half time, we’re going to assess how we’re doing, really honestly and directly with one another, even if that’s a little messy. And then we’re going to go back on the court and play as one team.

I’m sure many people in the audience saw The Last Dance. I thought The Last Dance, with Michael Jordan and Phil Jackson, was one of the greatest lessons in leadership and in the importance of teamwork ever, because you remember the beginning: [Scottie] Pippin’s feeling under-appreciated. Rodman’s just going and spinning sideways, going crazy. Steve Kerr just punched MJ in the mouth. MJ is pissed at all of them. And they’re losing, even though they’d won five rings already, they’re losing.

And that whole series about that season of how they had formed their culture that year and what that took and how messy that was. You remember that? My favorite scene was Phil Jackson coming into practice one day and saying to Rodman, “Damn it Dennis, you’re late for practice. This team, we have standards. You’re late for practice. I’m fining you. And, by the way, I talked to MJ and Scottie and we all agreed you can miss practice on Saturday and go to Vegas this weekend.”

And what that was saying is, “You know what, Dennis, we know who you are, how it’s going to allow you to play the best, we’re going to have standards, but also understand you.” And you remember Rodman went to Vegas that weekend. When he came back, the team started gelling. The culture came together and then the Bulls started winning because they were able to be together and they won their sixth ring.

And so, this culture piece is messy. It’s always messy. It’s human. It’s engaging. And you got to understand that that’s part of the fun part. Someone said to me once, “Business would be easy if they weren’t for consumers and employees.” Well, you got to flip that and say, “The reason we get to do this is because we’ve got consumers and employees and that’s a messy process.”

Another lens onto that question that I think will be super interesting to the group is for you to talk a little bit about Nike as a tech company. You know all companies either are tech companies or are becoming tech companies and there’s a whole bunch of stuff that Nike does. I’ve learned this from you. I think from your lens of teaching me about the way of as a tech person, looking at these other things. Say some about Nike as a tech company.

Well, I will say when I was at ServiceNow or at PayPal or at eBay, you could talk about digital transformation and it’s a big word and it sounds so great. I have a newfound respect about how hard it is, trying to actually do one in a physical product and a footwear apparel company.

One thing that’s true is you need (and these things are where some of the subtlety is) is that you need great tech talent. We need great engineers. We need great digital product people. We need great digital designers. And that’s a different skillset in a different talent pool than a place like Nike has historically had. And initially we tried to make them all move to Portland to be in headquarters. You’re not going to get that. Some love to do that. Some have to be here, but an awful lot don’t, so we have to run a little more of a distributed labor model and have different centers of excellence and things that a tech company does in its sleep.

That’s a talent piece. So we’re continuously investing in that. We’re blessed because it’s a kind of company where being cool helps. People want to work for Nike, and they can relate to the product. We’ve been reasonably fortunate in attracting good talent.

That said, the key to becoming a digital company is not having to be the tech and non-tech people. It’s understanding that digital is wound through everything we do. And you don’t have to learn how to code. You don’t have to know how to code to understand it. And that’s where seeing it through the eyes of the consumer – the consumer doesn’t really care. The consumer didn’t say,” “Oh, that was a great tech transaction with Nike.”

In fact, when we talk to our consumers and ask them to tell us the last five things you bought from Nike, they’ll say, “I bought a pair of shoes. I think I got that on the mobile app. No, no. I remember I was doing research on the mobile app, but I wanted to try them on, so I went into a physical store. And then I got that running top when I was in the physical store. I saw it, but they didn’t have the size or color I wanted. So I ordered in the store and I got shipped home.”

Point being, they don’t remember if it was a digital transaction or a physical transaction. They just knew it was an interaction with the company and technology was one piece of a blended equation. And so part of our message here is that we’re all part of this digital economy. We’re all part of this digital world. And it’s not physical or digital. It’s digitally enabled to provide a better consumer experience and allow us to serve that consumer in a more effective and efficient way, and not have it’s the engineers over there and the shoe designers over there and the marketer, the big brand people that do the iconic Nike campaigns, over here, and then the digital marketing people over there. Actually, no, we all have to work together and understand each other and respect, appreciate and almost value and worship what each other can do.

So the engineer has to worship the shoe designer, who’s very artistic. The shoe designer has to worship the engineer.

Yeah. And because you have to stay on one team, the technology now becomes part of the entire team, even when you have a diversity of skills and people who are playing in this team together. And just like The Last Dance – you’ve got to bring the team together.

And then another lens is, in addition to seeing, being the coach for the team, being the coach for leaders, getting the team play together, another one that’s specific that I’ve seen you do great work in is boards. How do you take the servant leadership approach, the coaching approach and the lens to what good play on a board is?

The person I’ve learned the most about the boards from was Meg Whitman. It was before I actually had served on a board. It was when Meg was CEO, I was running a marketplace business and she’d allowed me to come into the board and watch how Meg used her board, the eBay board. She’d start the meeting and she’d say, “We’ve got a bunch of just tough stuff in the agenda, but here’s what’s keeping me up at night and here’s where I’m going to want your input at the end of this meeting. So we’ll talk about A, B and C and there’ll be teams coming and presenting about it. But I want you to be thinking about these two issues as you listen to that, and at the end, I’m going to come back and ask you.”

And so, she would start that way. And then the different presentations and the teams, it may have had nothing to do with those two issues directly, but it gave the board pattern recognition. And then at the end of the board meeting, Meg would do the same thing I described that Tom Tierney would do. Meg was always great because she always took notes, which connoted, I’m listening and I’m being respectful. That’s by the way, different from holding your phone up when someone thinks you’re texting. And I use this [tactic] to this day. Meg would go around and ask each board member,, “I’m not sure we are being bold enough in this area. Having heard what you have, what thoughts do you have?” And what was just stunning is you’d go around the room and you’d say, How do these diverse eight or 10 people that come from different places who listened to the same set of stuff the last two days have such a rich, complementary and additive perspective on it?

And so, I do the same thing. I did the same thing at eBay, ServiceNow, I do it at Nike, starting every board meeting saying, “Here’s what’s keeping me up at night. Here’s where I want you focusing your attention. And I want to hear from you, I’ll go around and hear from you at the end. And when you listen to it, half the stuff, you already know a third of it doesn’t apply to you, but there’s always some nuggets. And it’s offered from pattern recognition.”

To the CEOs in the audience, to the founders in the audience: use your board. Boards want to help. If you don’t guide them where you need the help, they’re going to help in areas you don’t want.

So part of it, it’s got to be authentic. But part of it is to focus them on the hard things, focus them on where you want the help. Being a board member then, it’s like, don’t get on a board where the CEO doesn’t want help. You can spend your time better elsewhere. I’m not talking down boards, but just be really selective before you go on a board.

Well, a board is a team. Just like we’ve been as a straight line through this [conversation]: make sure the team is a well-composed team that wants to play together, and that you add a valuable team member element to it as part of what you’re doing.

Yes. And appreciate each other’s differences, draw each other out. Yes. Very much.

Yeah. And play to it, how do you harness the strengths of each versus the weaknesses? This is one of the classic English sayings, whenever someone says “best of both worlds,” also think, Well, by the way, whenever the best of both worlds is possible, the worst of both worlds is possible. So you’re always part of that leadership and team play is to make sure it’s best, playing off each other’s strengths, not off each other’s weaknesses.

One of the other things I think is really great that adds to the picture of your kind of servant leadership and coaching and so forth, is being very intensely purposeful. Part of that service is being of service to the mission. We are all here together of service to the world, of service to our customers, of service to each other, as part of doing that. And part of that’s because we share a mission and purposefulness. Talk a little bit about that in your leadership style at Nike.

Well, Reid, here’s where I’m going to go on that. It’s something, maybe it’s the inner journey of leadership, the inner journey of being a founder. It’s got to start with our own personal sense of purpose. I’ve been blessed to do some meditation retreats at the house you’re sitting in right now. And I actually think so much is written about being the public facing. There are all these TV shows right now about famous companies, and there’s so much written about the external part of being a CEO, a founder. The inner journey is a really important part.

And the inner journey is all about understanding Why am I here? What animates me inside? How am I in service to others? This dilemma of ego and service. And when your ego’s controlling, almost never do you make good, wise, long-term decisions. And yet service, we know, is one of the most enduring and powerful sources of motivation, inspiration, and resilience possible.

So, creating room – and you and I have spent a fair amount of time sharing our experiences on this, having some shared experiences on our inner sense of purpose – that then allows a connection to the purpose of an organization. I actually think the purpose of the organization’s easier than doing the inner purpose, because the inner purpose is a moving target. As we grow and evolve at different stages of our lives, our careers, your inner purpose at PayPal and then evolved into LinkedIn and now evolving into what you’re doing in the political world and with founders and entrepreneurs and the scaling and blitzscaling, and making that legitimate and okay to have that inner purpose journey be part of who we are. And doesn’t get talked about as much, but I think it’s as, or more important, than the organizational purpose stuff.

100%. I think it’s pretty clear why I treasure every hour that I spend with you. We’ve sadly come to the end of our time, John. Thank you so much for joining us today and thank you to our audience.

Reid, thank you. And thank you everyone.



Reid Hoffman

Reid builds networks to grow iconic global businesses, as an entrepreneur and as an investor.

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