Seth Godin on Leadership

7 principles to scale your startup

Hello to every unicorn in the galaxy.

I’ve worked at the same “startup” for over eight years.

Even though we’ve grown to $100M+ in revenue, I still think of it as a startup.

And that’s because my job mostly consists of figuring out:

  • How to do stuff I’ve never done before, or

  • How to do something better than the current way we’re doing it

Every stage requires figuring out the next step gain to improve and grow our business.

The challenge is there is no proven path.

Your job as a leader is simply to win.

But learning how to lead may not come easily.

I recently saw a talk by Seth Godin, the marketing guru.

I always dismissed him outright because of his gimmicky eyewear and guru-like status.

In any case, the dude is onto something in this lecture.

He lays out several differences between leadership and management that I found uncommonly insightful.

Here are 7 of Seth Godin’s leadership principles for startups.

  1. Be willing to be wrong

  2. Take responsibility

  3. Develop a process

  4. Aim for excellence

  5. Choices vs decisions

  6. Quit at the right times

  7. Possibility is fuel

Scroll to the end for Seth’s talk about Leadership vs Management.

Today’s growth strategy is Startup Leadership Principles.

Growth stage: Any

Difficulty level: Hard

Be Willing to Be Wrong

“Lean methodology just means a willingness to be wrong.”

Godin on startup execution

This principle is apt because doing something new often means you’ll get a lot of stuff wrong.

If you can’t stand being wrong then you will naturally avoid situations with uncertain outcomes.

The proven paths are known to everyone and will rarely yield a competitive advantage or differentiating feature.

Embrace making probability-weighted bets and just keep moving.

Take Responsibility

“Be the designer of what happens next. Not a pawn.”

Godin on taking responsibility

A true leader owns the outcome.

It’s on you whether the team wins or fails.

Taking responsibility means accepting that your ability to harness your team’s ideas, energy and talents will determine your level of success.

I now schedule time to reflect on our goals and whether the things we’re spending time on are the actions most likely to bring us closer to our goals.

If they’re not, it’s on you to admit that maybe you were wrong!

And then propose a new set of activities better suited to your goals.

Develop a Process

“The right answer for a leader is a process. If you turn it enough times, it will work.”

Godin on iterative improvements

Great ideas don’t just happen.

Sometimes they do, but you don’t want to rely on lightning striking.

Instead, design a way of working that regularly creates the conditions for lightning to strike.

My process looks like this:

  • Write down each team’s mission, strategy and goals

  • Reflect on how effectively we’re accomplishing each of these

  • Review what I think our highest points of leverage are

  • Get feedback from the team

  • Reassess whether everyone is working on the right things

Aim for Excellence

“If a human who cared were here, what would they do?“

Godin on excellence in leadership

There’s a quote I love on startup Twitter about how culture is what you tolerate.

Don’t let your people set a bar lower than you yourself think is possible.

Aiming for excellence means you have a responsibility to yourself, the team and the world to do something great.

That’s right.

You have a responsibility to the WORLD to do great things.

If you truly believe this, it will invigorate all of your activities, fuel an unshakeable optimism and lead you to a self-fulfilling series of behaviors that move you forward.

Choices vs Decisions

“Choices don’t matter. Don’t spend your time on choices. Decisions around effort, time, money, brand and trust matter.”

Godin on decision making

Some people get lost in the weeds like it’s a damn jungle.

They do the same depth of analysis on something that would max out at X revenue per month when they should be working on something 10x or 100x.

Choices are insignificant.

Leadership is a great opportunity to let people waste your time.

Don’t let them.

Spend 90% of your time on the few important decisions or problems. Everything else is trivial.

Quit at the Right Times

“Quitting is for winners. The best times to quit are before you start or at the end if you realize it wasn’t worth it.”

Godin on quitting

I used to chase every new idea and lose enthusiasm for them days later.

In retrospect I would often wonder, “What the f*ck was I thinking?"!”

One of the most valuable exercises for impulsive people is to seriously consider the consequences each time you decide to do something.

  • How much time, effort and money will I have to invest before I know if it will work?

  • What would I be unable to do if I focus on this?

  • Are there any secondary consequences that might occur as a result?

Now I wait out my impulsivity and let ideas ferment.

After a few days I usually know if it’s worth pursuing or was just a shiny object passing by.

Possibility is Fuel

“If we can see in our head that it’s possible, it’s easier to take responsibility.”

Godin on belief

This sounds hokey - but believing things are possible is NECESSARY for great leadership.

As I’ve said, leadership is about finding the uncharted path for your company.

You have to believe that there are new things to be made, new discoveries await and a better version of reality exists.

Without this belief you will lack the conviction to succeed.

And people can tell when you lack conviction.

If you aren’t convinced, why should anyone else be?

I’m not one to recommend guru-type BS…

But this talk inspired me.

Godin is outspoken in his belief that marketing can be good for the world because it can change people.

That’s an idea I can get behind.

I’m totally okay admitting that I was wrong about this guy.

You should check it out too:

✨ That’s it for today!

I hope this helps you in your growth journey.


PS - what leader inspires you? I’m looking to broaden my inputs.

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