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Directive Leadership & Craigslists: The Innovation of Nothing

craig_newmarkLeadership is a non-dramatic act. You don’t need props and you don’t need a dramaturgical board room to get things done.

Just look at founded by Craig Newmark. The bare-bones classified site, run by roughly 30 employees, attracts more traffic then and What makes jaws drop is Craig Newmark’s leadership style that embraces molasses-like growth over expansion.

In a 2.0 industry where opportunities, new and tried, are everywhere Craig is happy to check emails, approve classified ads, and stick to what he knows.

Craig’s vision, expertly laid out by Gary Wolf at Weird, relies on a simple philosophy: most people are good most of the time. Scammers and spammers aside, Craigslist’s business model has been able to connect sellers with buyers, singles with dates, and renters with landlords without security hurdles….all for a low low price of $0.

Craig has purposely written himself a small role in the larger craigslist story. He doesn’t want to deal with the business side of craigslist, nor does he want to begin solving the problems marketers, new site designs, and modern applications eventually breed. This has created a microscopic organizational culture that leaves meetings, drama, and competing agendas behind.

In a sense, Craig is a directive leader. A leader who sticks to the program, follows instructions, and avoids uncertainties in order to sustain momentum. Craig expects that his 30-odd person staff help craigslist users, fight spammers, and maintain the site’s basic architecture. Clear orders with clear, measurable, results. Innovation need not apply.

Facilitative leadership, directive leadership’s antithesis, focuses on learning, adapting, innovation, and group work. It’s a leadership approach that can plunge companies into exciting markets and one that Craig has squarely rejected. Still, Craig’s staunchly directive leadership has created a site that is now a household name and a slayer of local newspapers. Although directive leadership sticks to the basics and relies on a do-it-by-the-numbers approach, it still has the power to sustain momentum without the blurred hierarchies inherent in facilitative leadership or the drama and fireworks of dramaturgical leadership.

On consideration, Craig’s leadership style is actually more innovative then we may think. To remain static in a 2.0 industry that thrives on minute-to-minute updates, trends, and ideas is insane or inspired. Craig just might be both, but in good way.



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