Operate at all levels
Oct 20, 2023, 3 min read
Oct 20, 2023
3 min read
This week I sent the following message to Brex managers and recruiters. As we continue to grow, I wanted to reiterate our expectations for what makes an exceptional leader at Brex. It’s rare to find such a simple model for what successful leadership is, so we wanted to share it more broadly.
We’ve hired and grown hundreds of leaders since we started Brex, and by far the single biggest predictor of leadership success can be summarized in 6 words: ability to operate at all levels.
Our best leaders can context-switch from vision/strategy to designing an API, closing a deal, or writing marketing copy in short spans of time, keeping track of all the details in between. While it’s okay in most companies to hire someone that builds a team and delegates work, we don’t have space for pure people managers at Brex.
That’s a high bar, and you may be wondering why insist on it, especially in a company with 1,000+ people. First, ability to operate at all levels doesn’t mean operating at all levels all the time — the best leaders know when to switch from macro to micro. But merely being capable of writing code, closing a deal, writing marketing copy, or building a financial model — and occasionally doing it — means you’re familiar with the nuances of doing great work at the ground level, which is where all real work happens.
Management alone creates no value. Selling, writing code and supporting customers creates real value. And not just any selling, or any code. Exceptional sales skills, and exceptional systems design is where outsized value gets created. Management is just a tool to coordinate a large number of people to do it cohesively. We want Brex to be the place where people create the best work of their lives, but if a leader has no clue what great work is, they can’t lead someone towards it. It’s like a cavalry captain who can't ride a horse.
Today we celebrated James Reggio in our All Hands for one simple reason: James operates at all levels, day in and day out. He’s a Director leading the AI team, but at the same time finding time to write tools that help engineers improve the performance of our dashboard. James knows the nuance of what it takes to build a great product, from setting the product vision, down to how a React component renders in the browser. And that’s what he expects and coaches his team towards. It’s no accident that anyone who worked closely with James would describe it as one of the best experiences in their careers.
A leader that operates at all levels earns respect from their team. They lead from the frontlines, and have compassion towards the people actually doing the work. They understand what’s uniquely hard about it, so they’re better coaches. They value craftsmanship, and inspire everyone around them to understand, respect and appreciate the nuances of great execution.
Let’s set the bar high, and continue to hire a team of stars that can all do the same.