As part of the 30 Disruptive Leaders in 30 Days Challenge that I set myself here, today I provide some insight around one of the best examples of a disruptive leader in Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix.
If there was one word to describe how he demonstrated disruptive leadership, it would be this: Courage
- the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.
“she called on all her courage to face the ordeal”
For almost a quarter of a century, Netflix and Reed Hastings have been in a constant stream of business wars, technology paradigm shifts, business model innovations, consumer habit changes, and multiple economic crashes. Despite this, Netflix has not only survived this chaos with Reed at the helm, but on multiple occasions, come out on top (as at April 2020).
A few examples of courageous (or, audacious, bold, daring, fearless) decisions made by Reed and Netflix during this time include:
- Decision to bid $100M (at the time a significant chunk of revenue) to win House of Cards from cable rival HBO in 2011, and launch a risky backwards integration strategy into original content production;
- Decision (2007) to open up its recommendation algorithm to the public and offer $1M to anyone who can improve it by more than 10%
However, it was the game-changing decision in the mid-2000s to pivot the company to invest and scale a streaming model which I believe was the most significant. To execute, the company split into two business units and the management team of the DVD business – at the time representing 95% of revenue – were allegedly told by Reed to stop attending Netflix senior management meetings (see CNET article here).
Reed explains his thinking below:
“For the past five years, my greatest fear at Netflix has been that we wouldn’t make the leap from success in DVDs to success in streaming,” Hastings wrote. “Most companies that are great at something – like AOL dialup or Borders bookstores — do not become great at new things people want (streaming for us) because they are afraid to hurt their initial business.
“Eventually these companies realise their error of not focusing enough on the new thing, and then the company fights desperately and hopelessly to recover,” Hastings continued. “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly.”
4 Resources to Learn More About Reed’s Leadership:
CNET article (2012) – A brilliant inside look at what happened during Netflix’s 2011 price-hike crisis which cost it 800k subscribers and stock to crash 77% in 4 months. A few leadership learnings from Reed are below:
- Do not underestimate the need to manage different businesses separately;
- Be forthright and transparent with customers at all times
- Take responsibility, quickly.
TED Interview with Chris Anderson (2018) – A great interview which goes deep into Reed’s leadership style, decision-making, and ethos. According to Reed:
‘…courage is a value which must permeate the organisation. employees to have the courage to speak their mind as otherwise ‘to disagree silently is disloyal. You need the debate but it is not intense; it is more curiosity, to draw people out…’
Netflix Culture and Philosophy – This has been codified on its careers site. Once you read this, you are not left to any doubt as to why Reed – and Netflix – has been able to successfully lead the firm through disruption. More than once.
Reed’s Top 10 Rules for Success (see below). This is a compilation of advice from various interviews Reed has conducted. It is nicely put together. Key themes are :
- Be Authentic
- Edge of Chaos
- Create Joy
- Known Your Mission
- Be Honest
- Keep Improving
- Think Long Term
- Strong Values