The Heartbeat Podcast #33 Interview with Wade Foster, CEO and Co-Founder of Zapier

What’s one thing you wish you would have learned earlier as a leader? I think I’ve found throughout the years that people really just enjoy working with leaders who have a little more intellectual honesty. Leaders that are real when they don’t know the answers. But also confident when they do. When you do this well, the organization just gets better at solving problems, because they’re able to be more honest with each other. If you as a leader are willing to say, “I don’t know the answer. There’s going to be times in the future where I continue to not know the answer. I’m not the best in the world at this job. That’s just how it is.” [2:06] 


Get rid of this façade of we’re all going to be great, and just get to the reality of the situation. We’re all flawed people, our skill sets are all imperfect in some way. It just cuts out a lot of this theater around working and gets straight to the heart of the problem. How are we going to fix this? [3:15] 


For founders, in particular, I think we tend to be wired in a certain way where we feel like we can just figure things out. We feel like we don’t need a manager to coach us. And so you start to say, our organization doesn’t need management, or we don’t need these types of things. I didn’t need it. I figured it out on my own. Why does anyone else in our company need this? So you start to tell yourself that story. And I think it takes a little while to just unwrap that belief. Not all managers are bad. It took me a while to make that transition. [7:55]


Something that helped Wade learn how to become a better manager: There’s a really great podcast called Manager Tools. It’s two West Point grads who worked at PNG for a long time. They have this very no-nonsense, sort of practical approach to management. [9:32] 


It took me a while to figure out that management is a skill I have to work at just like any other skill you might have to develop in running a company. [11:34] 


Your initial instincts about management may be wrong: Someone comes to you and says, “I have a problem.” And you’re like, I’m the manager, I’m the boss. My job is to solve the problem. So you jump in and solve the problem. But when you do that, you’re actually mistaking your roles. You’ve hired this person to solve problems. . .You’re missing out on an opportunity to help them level up and be better. [13:26]


I do not want all decisions to run through me, and all problems to be solved through me. [14:25] 


How does one’s leadership style have to adjust to running a remote company versus in person? I think the core psychology of management is the same, no matter if you’re in an office or if you’re remote. The principles still apply.You’re still trying to empower people to solve problems. You’re still there to provide feedback. You’re still there trying to help the organization hit its goals. All those things are the same. There are just no differences. [16:30] 


I occasionally will freak the team out because my communication style is short and direct. I don’t flower up my messages. When I onboard people into the team, I have a whole guide for how my communication style is. Here’s how to understand when I say certain things. [21:38] 


How Wade improved how he gave feedback to employees: I think the realization for me that made it stick was, if you care about this person, and if you understand what their ambitions are, what their dreams are, what their goals are – if you notice something that you think would help them achieve those things, and you hold that back, that’s actually not a very nice thing to do. [26:36] 


One of the things we’re trying to do is we’re just trying to be faster in our go-to-market, and faster in how we respond to our customers. I think a lot of orgs are trying to just generally be faster. [29:42] 


Full podcast here: The Heartbeat Podcast #33 Interview with Wade Foster, CEO and Co-Founder of Zapier.