“DECIDE & CONQUER” by David Siegel – a Book review

"DECIDE & CONQUER" by David Siegel - a book review

Book review

Coincidentally, I stumbled over the book “DECIDE & CONQUER” by David Siegel. I was attracted by the fact that the CEO of meetup.com would report on his experience as being the CEO of a very community focused organisation in a heavy change situation. David got me because he describes his bumpy ride during various transition phases (onboarding, changing vision / strategy, being sold and eventually COVID). And even better – he summarises his key learnings in 44 challenges directly reflecting from these situations – and describing en detail how he decided and why so.

The book is a great read for people who want to understand the mindset of a CEO. The CEO, who some people see as god-like in their own organisation, is a real human being – in this case David Siegel.
The whole book is easy to read, brings back many memories, and gives a lot of advice on how to make decisions in similar situations. Sometimes while reading a paragraph I had to pause and let the words sink in. David really makes you think and reflect on the situation described. If you are in a leadership position, there is a good chance that you have experienced this situation as well. Usually David gives a completely different perspective on what you would have done in similar situations. He makes you think.
The “ground rules” – David’s personal decision-making framework – are impressive. He introduces these 11 principles at the very beginning of the book. And he refers to them constantly.
The entire book is divided into 44 challenges. The challenges are essentially on a timeline that describes David’s journey to becoming CEO of meetup.com, to onboarding, and to various other situations. Some of the challenges may not be 100% relevant (have you ever had to sell your business?), but still David shows a new perspective in each situation. This different thinking, the change in perspective, is also valuable for other people in leadership positions.
I would really recommend this book to anyone who wants to expand their decision-making capabilities in different situations. It’s a great read – a mix of learning and entertainment.

The ground rules – David’s personal decision framework

Right in the beginning of his book, David names his ground rules – his personal decision framework. He uses these principles during the whole book and reminds the reader on what principle he wanted to emphasise with the just described situation / behaviour. I wanted to bring the principles up here again and give an example that describes what David had in mind with the principle. They show up during the entire book and a lot more examples are given.

Be kind

David talks about situations where he needed to lay-off people. He suggested to name the lay-off “lay-off” and adapt the whole procedure to the company culture and communicate the whole process transparently (be kind to your employees). Same applies if people don’t longer fit the company expectation – show them a kind way out of the organisation. Also, in situations where people need your help or access to your personal network – be kind and support them.

Be confident

David describes himself as a very people oriented person with a strong willingness to empower people. Therefore, the following cite is good to remember if you’re also a people focused person:

You’re not paid to manage by democracy. You’re paid to decide.

David talks about huge numbers of people leaving the company and asks what to do when this happens. Very good advice from him: Let them go and start rebuilding. In your communication in public be honest about so many leaving,

Be bold

As a leader you need to act. Especially in crisis – they present a huge opportunity for change: be confident, be bold.

If in wartime mode – be bold and enforce significant change if needed to change for the better.

Expand your options

The “expand your options” principle was a special one. I’ve never thought about actions you naturally wouldn’t do from that perspective. If looking with that angle on e.g. “smart talk at a party” or “reaching out to hundreds of contacts to get the one job” the activity becomes really meaningful. It supports you to expand your options now – or in future.

David recommends to hire team members – especially executives – via the personal network instead of limiting it to the options presented by head hunters. He really has a point here – but you better have a vivid personal network.

Also, the hint “if empowering is not working, it’s time to micromanage” made me think. My nature is to believe in the power of self-organising teams and to empower people. So is David’s. However, he has a passage in the book where he clearly identified the limitations of the empowering approach. He changed his leadership style towards commanding to expand his options.

Be long-term focused

In cases where you need to prioritise activities or projects, always try to focus on the long-term impact. Short-term decisions usually result in quick changes in direction, activism. Long-term brings in stability. Same applies for your investors. If being able to select your investors – select them according to their long-term goals.

And – back to networking – in networking there is no “bad” conversation, you never know.

Be honest

Honesty is a big influence in the book, in David being a CEO. He suggests to be honest in the relation with your investors, in negotiations and especially in employee communication. If you have to announce a lay-off, name it “lay-off” – a lay-off is a lay-off is a lay-off. Give people details about news – bad or good ones. The trust in your communication style will support them to better understand the news.

Be speedy

David gives multiple examples where speed actually really matters – especially in communication. If bad news need to be announced (e.g. the company is being sold) – do it as quickly as possible – don’t wait. Waiting means news will find its way through different channels resulting in irritation and eroding trust in you as a leader. This is especially critical if a press-announcement is on its way – you need to be faster than the press. People deserve to get the information first hand from a trusted source.

During onboarding, build your executive team as quick as possible. Don’t waste time on endless interviews looking for the perfect candidate. There will always be pros and cons with people.

Also, when announcing your new strategy for the company – better to have a half-baked strategy in place than nothing to give guidance for people. If new learnings appear, correct and adapt the vision and strategy on the way.

Be pragmatic

David also talks about dogmatic vs. pragmatic decisions. When meetup actually got at risk with the COVID pandemic he needed to be very pragmatic. He purposefully decided to break with the years-old conviction that meetup was all about in-person events.

“I needed to make a decision on my own and I needed to be pragmatic. I decided that we needed to embrace online events.”

Do what’s right for the business

That was an interesting pillar for me as well. David had multiple examples where I needed to think twice until I got the point. “Remove parts of the business if it helps saving the remainder part” or “if needed, prioritise company success over employee morale” sounded logical right from the beginning.

More interesting was “do what’s right for you, but make sure you also do what’s right for the business”. Don’t loose your personal interest – combine your personal well-being with the company well-being.

Work for your employees

When meetup experienced people leaving the organisation in masses, they started to work for the employees. They focused on positive experiences (e.g. parties on positive reasons – instead of exit parties, started community lunches, summer BBQs, …) and offered critical employees retention bonuses during this critical period. Slowly, they were able to keep critical people and turned around the ship.

With the new meetup organisation he focused on processes and systems to support the team’s decisions, enable creative approaches and reward extraordinary performance

Be surprised only about being surprised

This was the most outstanding one – and in parallel a really valuable hint. Expect all and nothing. David described many really strange situations with his investors and owners. And not being surprised by the fact but still be able to work them is really a great advice. Two examples he gave are volatile leaders where you need to expect everything, every minute and COVID.

Some aspects to keep in mind from “DECIDE & CONQUER” by David Siegel

In the beginning of his book, David describes his “ground rules” – a set of principles he’s rooting his decisions on. They support him to define his interpretation of the role of the CEO. I’ve listed the ground rules below and give some examples to make it more memorisable (at least for me).

A great example in his book is on good vs. bad leaders is this:

“A good CEO realizes that their job is to hire the right people and build an organization’s capability to make smart decisions. A bad CEO often doesn’t realize how little influence they should have on certain decisions and pushes forward, only to micromanage, disenable, and ultimately force the exit of good people, whose responsibility it should have been to make those decisions. In other words, a good CEO delegates power and works for their employees, while a bad one clings to power and makes their employees work for them.”

Another one on the importance of financing:

“When it comes to finances, one must be pragmatic, when it comes to priorities, one must be long-term focused.”

Being in interview situations yourself:

“Interviewing is dating – don’t marry your first date, and if there are red flags during the dating process, those red flags will only become stronger during marriage.”

If you left your job with a specific reason:

“Be retrospective after leaving a job. If you left for specific reasons, make sure you don’t go back to the same problematic situation”

Don’t forget if thinking about big numbers, hard conditions, and unthinkable demands:

“You are always negotiating and everything is negotiable.”

Not to forget when you start into your new role as CxO:

  • Build trust from day 0
  • Communication and transparency are king and queen
  • Don’t be afraid of bad hires – don’t expand the hiring process endlessly
  • Write the strategy of the company as a future press release
  • If you have to cut down costs – and impact the organisation – do it deep and act quickly and transparent – make cuts needed to set you up for long-term success

Hiring your executive team:

  • Hiring leaders is a CEO job
  • Hire for complementary skill sets
  • Executive Hiring with the four-step framework (page 85)
  • Never ask for references, do background research

Working with your investors or your superior:

  • Volatile leaders – swinging their opinion to A the one day, to B the other day – avoid them
  • Working with board – don’t ever trust any direction that lacks financioal accountability and solely prioritizes short-term imperatives.

Creating an impact on culture as a CxO – what you should focus on / emphasise:

10) EQ is more important than IQ

9) Transparency

8) Focus

7) Revenue

6) Performance-driven culture

5) Accountability

4) Diverse and inclusive culture

3) Analytics wins

2) Learning

1) Support and push team

If being acquired, keep your company stand-alone – don’t adopt the buyers culture

Find this book as well on my Agile Bookshelf.

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