6 Leadership Qualities that Set LivingSocial’s CEO Apart from the Rest

by Tara Rethore on April 21, 2011

Ethan on the Balance Beam
Entrepreneurs who make big, public splashes quickly, get press, attention, and accolades. Yet the reality of small business and entrepreneurship is that many of these ventures don’t yield splashy results.

Most business owners we know experience more measured growth, with plenty of learning opportunities along the way. Thus, becoming agile is critical to their success. LivingSocial’s engaging CEO, Tim O’Shaughnessy, recently shared his experience and the LivingSocial story at an event hosted by Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC).

What I heard was a refreshing treatise on what makes a CEO smart – and most importantly, what other founders and CEOs can do to succeed long after sparking the “big idea.” (You can read the insights as they occurred via my Twitter feed during Tim’s presentation.)

Six insights to be a smart CEO:

  • Live your culture – LivingSocial will be the first to admit: “Yes, we have a ball pit.” But O’Shaughnessy also stresses that culture is much more than toys. First, define your culture, then be specific and deliberate about the things you do to live it.

Not every organization needs a ball pit. But every highly effective team must easily integrate new members to remain collaborative and productive. And that’s even more critical for businesses that are growing rapidly and scaling operations.

  • Decide core competences early – You can only make so many things a “core competence.” Decide what those are at the outset and act accordingly. It’s tempting to believe that you should do it all yourself or in-house, particularly when you are pedaling as fast as you can to meet customer expectations and balance working capital.

While true “non-essential” tasks are easier to identify and outsource, core competence is what really distinguishes you, is hard to replicate, and helps create competitive advantage. Defining it means taking hard decisions to ensure you’ve chosen the select few that do this.

  • Reframe the questions – LivingSocial started as a product and technology company. It saw an opportunity and created a product that leveraged technology to meet it. As O’Shaughnessy looks ahead, he sees “local commerce” and rethinking what product means in that market. Moving beyond product and technology, LivingSocial now incorporates interactions and experiences.
  • Lay the track as you go – Small business in particular recognizes the need to implement on the fly. That agility starts with solid leadership that stays focused on the end game and monitors the everyday.

Oddly, as organizations grow, the “everyday” often swamps the strategic imperatives. Leadership means staying on track as you lay that track.

  • Get help – Naturally, smart CEOs know their strengths. The best CEOs also acknowledge weaknesses and get help to mitigate them. Local commerce requires local expertise; LivingSocial rethought its organizational model to deliver local products and services.
  • Let go! O’Shaughnessy looks for entrepreneurial people. Their success, even if that includes launching something on their own, means he’s succeeded.

He’s created a place where people learn, take risks, and keep growing. Doing so, he also ensures that LivingSocial lives its culture while remaining fresh, relevant, and healthy.

Whether your business is experiencing unprecedented growth, steady progress, or just getting off the ground, embracing these six insights can also help you to create an agile organization.

Agility lets you anticipate and capitalize on new opportunities or trends while also avoiding major disruptions. LivingSocial’s experience to date–and O’Shaughnessy’s outlook for the future–certainly attests to the value of agility.

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Image: BenA1974 via Flickr, Creative Commons

Tara Rethore is president, M Beacon Enterprises, and helps business leaders to do what they set out to do. She’s passionate about breaking down complex concepts into a few, critical themes that shift thinking and deliver results. Tara knows what it takes to succeed, to execute a strategy, and to transform vision into reality. Tara can also be found commenting on business strategy, execution, and results on Twitter.


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