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How Red Hat’s CEO creates the context for success

The MIT Leadership Center, in partnership with MIT Sloan School of Management, invites distinctive individuals who are making a difference in the world to participate in The Innovative Leadership (iLead) Series. These leaders include Jim Whitehurst, President and CEO of open source software company Red Hat, who spoke to a live audience on campus about cultivating passionate employees in today’s disruption-driven business environment.

According to Whitehurst, who is also the author of The Open Organization: Igniting Passion and Performance, the former hierarchy of Leaders, Managers, and Followers no longer applies in today’s business world. He explained that today’s leaders are more like guides and facilitators, "or synapses connecting the neurons.” In his iLead talk, Whitehurst shared some of his secrets for bringing out the best in his people:

Including people in strategy: The CEO remarked that his employees have extraordinary passion for and commitment to Red Hat—some even have tattoos of the company logo. In order to foster that level of commitment, Whitehurst says he shares the company’s strategies and goals with his employees and makes sure they understand their role in fulfilling the company mission. Whitehurst also asks for feedback and insight from his employees, adding that “people want to feel like they have a part in creating their future.”

Promoting creative abrasion: While Whitehurst welcomes good ideas from his employees, he doesn’t back down from challenging those ideas when necessary, or having his own ideas taken to the mat. He shared that “creative abrasion” is something his employees embrace. “Nobody should be insulted by being criticized. You should be insulted by being ignored.”

Creating context: No one person has all of the answers. According to Whitehurst, a leader’s job today is to “create the context for people to do their best work,” adding that context is really 90% culture. “It’s not about figuring out where you want to go and then telling people you want to go there ... if I create the context where people are passionate about what we’re doing ... and have the right organization and dialogue ... we will get to the right solution.”

You can view his talk in its entirety here:

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