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WeWork CEO: 'Do Not Demand Respect'

May 29, 2017 00:00 AM UTC
- Updated September 02, 2020 11:32 AM UTC

Cofounders Rebekah and Adam Neumann talk lessons in leadership.

Rebekah, when you think about leadership, what is the single most important trait that you think makes a great leader? A great leader, first and foremost, is a great person and a great human being, someone that has a lot of morals, integrity, someone that values their family, that's loyal, that's truthful, and that approaches life with a deep respect for these sorts of things. You have to bring that to the office first. And then, you can get into everything else that's happening in the workplace. To be a great leader, you first have to be a great follower. To be a great leader, after you know how to be a great follower, you have to lead by example. And then, if that example is a meaningful one, people will follow. Adam, how did you learn about how to lead other people? I mean, you didn't even really have much business experience when you started your company. Serving in the army teaches you leadership. I was an officer in the Israeli Navy. I learned-- by the time I was 19, I had 20 soldiers and sometimes I would manage a boat that cost more than half a billion dollars. A lot of responsibility at a very young age. So I did have that experience. Business wise, I truly only started understanding what it is to run a business after I met Rebekah. I genuinely thought it was about making money, and if I could lead my team to all make money, they will be happy and their investors will be happy. Rebekah met me and said, Adam, I'm sorry, you're confused. It's about bringing meaning and intention to the world. It's about doing what you love, bringing intention, connecting the two. And she said, I promise you, the rest will follow, money will follow, and everything will work itself out. So Rebekah, where did you learn that wisdom about leadership? My brother passed when I was 11 years old and I very quickly came to understand what is meaningful in life. And I just don't think you can separate life from work. I think what's meaningful in life is what's meaningful in the workplace. And what we're seeing now with the We generation is everybody wants to live a more meaningful life, be more happy and fulfilled. So it sounds like some of it, in your case, Adam, was trial by error. A lot. OK. So what was the biggest mistake that you made along the way and what was the leadership lesson that you learned from it? I make mistakes all the time. Being open minded to them, giving your team, your fellow members, your husbands, your wife the opportunity to point them out to you. And being open minded enough to not taking it personally, but growing from it, is the best way that I've dealt with mistakes. And you have a lot of millennials working inside the WeWork organization and how do you teach them about leadership? How do you mentor them? It's really about setting an example and doing it but mainly every time I make a mistake, admitting it in front of a large group of people, learning from it, and, then, doing something different next time. Showing that there's always room to grow. Another part of leadership is also encouraging people to try new and innovative things, to be innovators. How are you getting that message across that people are willing to take risks, willing to fail, rather than just sticking with the safe way of doing things? It's only OK to fail if the reasons you did it to begin with was not to grow your own ego but actually to elevate the organization. If, after you failed, you learn from it, and you'll teach others, then it's OK. Rebekah, as you look back on your life, both personal and professional, what would you say was the best leadership advice that you ever received? And why did it shape you as a leader? We all know Gandhi's quote, "Be the change you wish to see in the world." I really think that's the best thing I can bring forth as a leader is to be as authentically on brand-- and when I say on brand for WeWork that means a really good person who really cares about people who's really tenacious about my work and who's super grateful for all of our blessings-- to actually try to everyday be those things. And I think that's the best way that I can help them. How about you, Adam? Don't demand respect. Respect is earned based on actions. If you don't feel that people are listening to you, look inside. You don't have a bad team, you don't have bad people around you, you're being a bad leader. Grow. Every time something doesn't work my way, instead of pointing fingers, I try to look inside. Sometimes I still make the mistake and point fingers and at night before I go to sleep, I think of it then and say, ah, I missed on that one. Tomorrow, I'll go back to that person, apologize that I got upset, and actually look inside and find a better way to be a better leader.