This interview with John Duffy, chief executive of 3C Interactive, a mobile technology company, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant.
Librado Romero/The New York Times
Q. Tell me about your leadership approach.
A. Consistency is important to me. I think my partners and employees appreciate the fact that you get the same John Duffy every day, regardless of the circumstances. You don’t have to think about how to approach me. If one of my employees told me that they had to think about what my mood was on a particular day — “How is he? Can we talk?” — I’d quit. I never want to be that person.
Q. Why is that so important to you?
A. I had a boss who was consistent, pragmatic and disciplined, and he had a big impact on my career. I liked being able to do what I was doing and go back to him for stability and consistency. That helped me be more successful. So I don’t let the things that are bothering me affect how I communicate with people. I try not to, anyway.
Q. What else is important about your approach to leadership?
A. I want to be somebody who not only inspires people, but also helps them learn to aspire. I think there’s a pretty big difference.
Q. Parse that for me.
A. Well, I’m a pretty good salesperson, and I think I’m a fun guy. And if we go out and spend some time and have lunch or a couple of beers, I think you’ll go away being happy that you spent time with me. You’ll feel good, and hopefully inspired by my adventures and stories.
You can also be working with someone regularly and teaching them to aspire for their own development, and helping them understand that there’s a path, a trail of bread crumbs that they can follow that will make a difference in their life. It might be experiences they get, exposure to new things, the questions they ask themselves or the skills associated with planning, problem solving and decision making.
When I work with younger people in our company and talk to them about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and how it fits into their life plan, hopefully that has a more powerful and longer-term effect than just inspiring them temporarily. I don’t want to be like the guy on the stage who makes you feel great. It’s about taking someone and helping them understand that they can have an impact.
Q. What are some other important leadership lessons you’ve learned?
A. One thing that is critical for me, and critical for the people in our business to be successful, is being coachable. I had a lot of experience with coaches in environments where I was the least successful person in the group. I was on a great wrestling team in college. I was not that great of a wrestler. I didn’t necessarily win a lot of matches, but I had an impact on the team. That has to do with having the attitude that I’m there because I want to get better. I could have gone to a team where I could have been the best player. That has zero appeal for me. I want to be the dumbest, poorest, least successful guy in the room so I can learn what I have to do. I’ve always felt that way.
Q. What are some things that are important to you in terms of culture?
A. We have absolutely clear discussions with everyone about how respect is the thing that cannot be messed with in our culture. We will not allow a cancer. When we have problems with somebody gossiping, or someone being disrespectful to a superior or a subordinate, or a peer, it is swarmed on and dealt with. We don’t always throw that person out, though there are times when you have to do that. But we make everyone understand that the reason the culture works is that we have that respect. And there is a comfort level and a feeling of safety inside our business.
We recently did an employee survey that was really intense. It wasn’t just, “Are you happy?” It was 11 questions about your happiness, answered on a scale of one to seven. The question that kept me up for a week was, “Do you trust John Duffy?” Not the company, not the mission. I was asking them about me. How do you feel about me? I got more than 90 percent extraordinarily positive responses. So that’s where it starts. I have to set the example for treating all of our employees properly, respectfully and appropriately.
When they’re awesome, I tell them they’re awesome. When they mess it up, they hear about it. But do it the right way. Do it consistently. Do it with respect. No yelling and screaming, but here’s our expectation, and here’s where you missed. What do you think you need to do to get better so this doesn’t happen again? That’s what creates the positive culture. That’s what attracts amazingly talented people.
Q. How do you hire?
A. If we’re going to bring someone into the company, especially in a leadership capacity, they have to be additive to the culture, so the process is going to take a while to make sure we’re going to enjoy working with them. And we have to make sure that what they’re going to do in our business helps them meet their long-term objectives. Before we hire people, we also ask them to write a plan. How are you going to be successful here in your first 100 days? Everyone has to do that.
Q. How many words do you typically want or expect?
A. That’s actually the best part. There’s no guidance. I’m asking you, what will you do? And there’s no wrong answer.
By the time a prospect is writing a plan to make a presentation on how they’ll be successful at our company, we’ve decided we want them. The plan is as much about understanding what they will do once they get here. What is their perspective of us? Where do they think they’ll add value? How will they get started? It’s as much about us learning what their expectations are, and where they think we’re at, so we can make that integration happen a little more seamlessly. It’s a very telling process. We lose some candidates when we ask for a plan. Somebody once said, “Are you going to pay me for that?”
Q. Really? They asked that?
A. That was my favorite: “Well, if you hire me as a consultant, I’ll write a plan.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.