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11 Leadership Lessons Learned From 20 Years Experience

It’s been 20 years since I started my first leadership role. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be a successful leader. I’ve also made plenty of mistakes along the way.

Through it all, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about leadership. If you’re looking to improve your own leadership skills, here are 11 lessons I’ve learned over the past 20 years:

1. All Rules Are Made Up

I worked at a hedge fund at age 21.

The efficient market hypothesis is a total lie.

I’ve seen the same in tech.

Tech enables you to bend the world to your will.

If the status quo doesn’t make sense, know that someone no smarter than you made it up.

2. Wealth Doesn’t Come From Consensus

Before Archer, nobody believed an electric VTOL aircraft was possible.

1st order reasoning showed it was.

In 2021, we went public at $2.7B

Wealth comes from contrarian views, not consensus

Don’t let the masses deter your internal belief.

3. Small Teams Are Better

Big companies are 2-5x overstaffed.

Leaders should be able to dive deep into details and also instill a common vision.

Smaller teams make quicker decisions, move faster, communicate easier, and are more fun.

4. Remove Pessimistic People

I’ve built two highly successful companies (and am working on my third).

Pessimistic people are poison for a company.

They breed doubt into the team.

Startups are hard enough with optimistic people.

Move on from pessimists as fast as possible.

5. Everything Can Be Learned

At Archer, I learned:

• battery design
• electric motor design
• aircraft aerodynamics

I taught myself how to build an electric VTOL aircraft.

At Figure, I’m learning AI and ML topics every week.

What you learn is limited only by your desire.

6. There’s No Easy Road To Success

Stop reading the 4 HOUR WORK WEEK.

Want to change the world with useful products?

Dedicate yourself completely.

It’ll take more focus and effort than you can imagine.

Embrace it – that’s the fun part!

7. Compound Yourself

Compounding is magic.

Get leverage through:

• capital
• technology
• building teams
• network effects

The goal is to generate recurring results from each unit of work.

Think long-term and challenge yourself to keep up the pace of growth.

8. Make Risks a Habit

High-rewards require high perceived risk.

Don’t just take any risk.

Look for problems you’re positioned to solve that carry big rewards.

The top 1% are great at this.

e.g. At Figure, we’re aiming to solve labor shortages with humanoid robots

9. Work On Hard Problems That Help The World

We don’t need another photo sharing app.

We do need smart people solving the hardest problems on earth.

Optimize your time for the greatest impact.

We have a moral duty to positively improve the world.

And it’s more fulfilling.

10. Move Fast

Time is the denominator of startups.

Move slow, and you’ll run out of money while killing morale.

Move fast, and you’ll learn quicker, have more runway and make more impact.

Most people want to work at high-impact startups.

You can’t do that if you move slow.

11. Obsess Over Your Product

Most leaders get distracted by inputs:

• legal
• sales
• marketing
• etc

But what truly matters is building a useful product.

Startups generally have < 2 years of runway.

Your only long-term advantage is your pace of product innovation.

Conclusion

Let’s recap:

• Move fast
• No easy roads
• Take good risks
• Compound yourself
• Obsess over product
• All rules are made up
• Small teams are better
• Work on hard problems
• Everything can be learned
• Remove pessimistic people
• Wealth comes from contrarian views

After 20 years of experience, I have learned a lot of leadership lessons. Some of the most important lessons I have learned include the importance of communication, remaining positive, and being decisive.

I have also learned that it is important to listen to others, delegate responsibility, and give people the opportunity to grow.

If you have any leadership experience, I would love to hear about the best lesson you have learned in the comments below.

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