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Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert

Kathryn Kolbert, a public-interest attorney and journalist, is the Director of the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College, an interdisciplinary center devoted to the theory and practice of women's leadership.

Facebook's human pyramid

Q: The ongoing privacy controversy at Facebook raises the familiar dilemma of what to do when fast-growing startups threaten to outgrow the management abilities of creative young founders. The Google guys got kudos for bringing in industry veteran Eric Schmidt as CEO, but things didn't work out as well when Pepsi's John Sculley took the reins from a young Steve Jobs at Apple. What's the leadership wisdom here?

While football teams are often cited as the perfect training ground for business leaders, perhaps cheerleading teaches us more about what needs to be done to turn a start-up into a successful business.

Consider the human pyramid -- a favorite of the pep squad. They work well with 10 people. Those on the bottom do the hard work and provide the most support. The person on top has the best vision. Communication from level to level is key particularly when any one link is wobbly. But try building a pyramid with 100 people and the fragility of the enterprise is immediately apparent.

To go from small to large, founders need to focus on finding ways for employees at all levels to stabilize the venture.

At the top, if founders bring in an "experienced" advisor to runs things, he or she must be someone that the founder trusts and respects. The wise voice of experience is only useful if the founder (and board) will listen and act on it. Understanding the culture of the organization and what the founder is trying to build is equally, if not more, crucial.

But the founder also needs to focus on those at the bottom and middle of their pyramid to ensure stability and growth. Create internal programs to ensure that the organization's way of doing things -- it's mission and culture -- reaches the newbies. And invest in professional development of the middle managers.

Good advice not only comes from those at the top. Middle managers, particularly those who are closer to customers and clients have a lot to add. As we've learned from the cheerleaders -- it's the people at the bottom and middle that do the heavy lifting.

By Kathryn Kolbert

 |  June 8, 2010; 6:33 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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