May - 2007 - issue > Leadership
Sagan’s Leadership Lessons
Paul Sagan
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
I believe that the journey to be a leader involves learning to be honest in one’s interactions with people and relationships, because many of the same people keep coming around again and again. The world is a small place and we keep bumping into the same people, and the corporate best practice is to treat people the way you want them to treat you.

ON BECOMING A GOOD LEADER: I would say that if you want to be a good leader, then you need to be able to forgive most of the mistakes your employees make. Employees need to make some mistakes, because every wrong move is a lesson and without learning these lessons no one grows. Our company has grown rapidly and being a part of Akamai’s growth itself has been a great experience. I let people make their own decisions, because if they waited on my approval for everything, then things would grind to a halt.

ON HORSES FOR COURSES: I believe that the attributes of a good leader remain constant despite changes in the marketplace. However, changes are required in the nature of the skill sets during the different times of the company history. Somebody who has been the best choice for a company’s start up phase may not be as brilliant when it comes to its high growth phase. Sometimes what a company needs would be entirely different from what an individual would like to do. It’s not that any good manager can manage in any environment, but good managers have a good chance of making it in any environment.

BE THE SALT OF YOUR COMPANY: The key to success is to assemble a right team and not be afraid to change the team if the need arises. It is painful but I think good leaders do what’s best for the company and the individual. We have matured in our journey and separated different functions. For example, we have separate functions for engineering and network operations. We changed our structure and had to hire new people to fit into that structure, for example hiring a new CFO from outside who previously worked with a large organization. All this was done in an effort to build systems and scale the company to achieve our billion dollar revenue goal.

TO LEAD, SERVE FIRST:, One of the challenges I face while forming and reforming a team is to know how to motivate people and when to bring in fresh blood. Jim Collins, author of the management best seller ‘Good to Great’ talks about level five leadership being all about keeping the company’s success and the team effort above the individual. I look out for people who think ‘what does the company need?’ and ‘what can I do to help the company set itself on the right track?’ This is difficult as many individuals tend to think egoistically, and that is human nature. But then I am looking for long-term results. A quick fix approach gets you nowhere.

MOTIVATE THROUGH TALKING: Employees need to know whether they share in the company mission, do they like their team and respect their manager. Our mission at Akamai is changing the way the Internet works and making it work better. The internet is a transformative force and a ‘one in a hundred year’ economic opportunity. I want to inspire people to really take part in changing the course of internet history. We lead by example and try to demonstrate what it means to be a good manager, to be fair, clear and transparent. Make commitments and keep them; and when you can’t, explain why, and learn from your mistakes.

Paul Sagan has seen the troughs: Akamai’s near-bankrupt era and sudden demise of its founder in the 9/11 attacks. But today as an “Akamade” leader, he is riding the ups of his internet driven company. Two years since he occupied the CEO’s office in 2005, Sagan has doubled the revenue to $429 million and increased the earnings by 66 percent to hit the $55 million mark.

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