Silicon Valley godmother Esther Wojcicki believes leaders are made, not born.
Courtesy of Esther Wojcicki
By Aaron Pressman and Adam Lashinsky
April 19, 2019

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Let’s end the week with something uplifting, a story about a tremendous teacher, mom, and author who knows a thing or two about the tech industry.

I’m talking about the estimable Esther Wojcicki, a high school journalism teacher in Palo Alto, Calif., mother of the talented Wojcicki sisters—YouTube CEO Susan, pediatrics professor Janet, and 23andMe CEO Anne—and author of the new book How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results.

Wojcicki talked to Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram in the current issue of the magazine. Her suggestions combine common sense with some old-school correctives to contemporary sensibilities. The business hook here is that Wojcicki, who figured out how to inspire and motivate three extraordinary offspring, thinks her life lessons apply to employers, as well. She thinks managers favor rule followers when they should be advancing risk takers. The always outspoken Wojcicki tells Lev-Ram we’re raising a “nation of sheep.” She also thinks employers need to learn the art of kindness. It seems simple, but it’s good to have her reminding us.

I paused and thought about one last Wojcicki suggestion: Stop haranguing kids to get off their phones. She thinks instead we need to teach media literacy and media education, in other words, “how to use your phone ethically, how to use technology for information.” Says Wojcicki: “The only thing we do now is confiscate kids’ phones, which is ridiculous. They don’t learn anything; they just learn that the phone is forbidden fruit.”


In my quick review Thursday of tech types on Fortune’s just-published list of World’s Greatest Leaders, I neglected a few, whose write-ups merit your review: Pony Ma, CEO of Tencent and overlord of behavior-changing WeChat; Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, who has shown backbone by balancing employee concerns and his company’s business imperatives; StitchFix CEO Katrina Lake; and Tristan Walker, founder of Code 2040.

Adam Lashinsky


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