When you are given the opportunity of an hour with the CEO of the world’s largest professional network, i.e. the 313 million people who are part of the global LinkedIn network, you know it is a significant moment in your career.
Instantly my mind started racing – What did I want to know? His journey to leadership? His vision for the future? How he aligns the team to the company’s mission? Or even how he comes up with ideas for his LinkedIn posts? (The last one, which I will call the “Venn diagram,” went viral and has attracted more than 600,000 views as at September 15, 2014.) So many questions – so little time.
I was to have 20 minutes with him alone, to get to know him, before our 40 minutes together on stage in front of 450 selected guests. (As it turns out, it was literally standing room only.)
As he walked towards me, his smile greeted me first – he seemed so genuinely interested to meet me (despite his grueling traveling schedule and the 100s of people he meets each week). After initial pleasantries he started to enquire of me: how I was enjoying my experience as an Influencer and commenting on the number of followers I have – we discovered I’m currently the third most followed Influencer outside of the US. His questions kept coming, interested and curious. (I was thinking “hang on, I’m supposed to be asking the questions here!”) As I found myself trying to explain the difference between Melbourne and Sydney, and that Australia Rules Football is unique to Australia, I heard our introductions being read out on stage. I wondered if I had discovered enough…
I told myself as I walked on stage that this conversation was going to be a refreshing 40-minute journey… We settled on the stage and out came my first question – perhaps a little too hurriedly since I was keen to get the conversation started…
“Where on earth did that Venn diagram Influencer post come from – did someone walk into your office one day that you just didn’t like so you began to think about who you do like working with?” I asked.
His answer was deep and thoughtful: “Nothing of the kind, in fact quite the opposite. It was inspired by a meeting with the clever, innovative people working on strategy…” He did admit he was doodling at the time – but only to emphasize his thoughts.
I was curious about his journey to leadership – he said he had never thought about being a CEO – in fact it was his father that he debated the point with…

I wanted to know about his experience working with LinkedIn’s founder Reid Hoffman, what the transition was like six years ago when he took the helm. The RedBalloon CEO, Kristie Buchanan, was in the audience – I acknowledged I was asking for selfish reasons. His answer was eloquent and succinct: he was given a clear mandate and Hoffman went travelling for many weeks and left him to it so he was the guy in the hot seat – no options.
I progressed the conversation to areas close to my heart – I knew Jeff had spoken extensively on compassionate leadership. “What does this really mean?” I enquired, and Jeff is well-quoted.
At some point I blurted out, “How do you do it all?” This is a question every woman leader seems to be asked, but this question is relevant for all busy people. Here is the leader of a massive global business, but he is also a family man. I include the clip below… his words resonated with me. It is not about work life balance – it is about harmony. It is about the choices we make moment by moment, because after all that is what our life is – a collection of choices.
Lessons learned:

  1. Great leadership is about listening, curiosity and a deep sense of compassion
  2. A clear sense of purpose, and a few well-chosen words can inspire ‘our world’ to action
  3. It is okay to be a ‘nice guy’ – have fun – and still get a lot done
  4. Make great choices, and be 100% committed to them
  5. Be truly present in the moment, no matter who you are with, and particularly if you are spending time with your family or loved ones

I completely enjoyed the experience of being on the other side of the interview couch. But then again my job was made so very easy by having such a wonderfully eloquent humble interviewee.
No wonder LinkedIn is having such success at connecting the world’s professionals – and with such big plans coming, I so appreciated my wee part in the journey.
For more insights on my interview with Jeff Weiner – see my NaomiSimson Influencer post on LinkedIn and LinkedIn blog

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