Last month, William Hockey announced that he is taking a step back at the end of the quarter from the company he helped to build, handing over the reins to others. Together with Zach Perret, he co-founded Plaid, a Fintech platform that connects various applications with users’ bank accounts. William also served as the company’s president and Chief Technology Officer, and he refers to his announcement as “transitioning from my day-to-day role… to a solely board position”.
William shared on Medium the internal message he sent his team, as well as his thoughts on his transition, and we’re keen to share them with you given the self-insight and emotional maturity they demonstrate, while highlighting the importance of succession planning.
Read more to see excerpts from William’s post, as well as suggestions from Lolly Daskal (executive leadership coach and author) on succession planning.
William explained on Medium that he is writing publicly about his transition as he hopes to establish a new trend in tech. “In tech, it has historically been taboo to talk about founders or executives transitioning to different roles inside companies. Leadership transitions need to become a bedrock of any company that desires to endure across decades. I’ve simply decided to be more public about my own transition than perhaps other founders have in the past, and in doing so I hope to set a precedent that leaders too should have the space to evolve in the ways in which they deliver the most impact.”
For an industry that takes pride in both individuals with multiple skills who can straddle different disciplines and pivoting quickly, it is perhaps incongruous that there is such a reluctance for leaders to move to different roles… This is possibly because pivoting is acceptable (and expected) until a winning formula is found, but once it has been found, don’t disrupt the success? At Protagion we’ve seen this reluctance to build a sustainable team pipeline in other industries too, especially where there is a sense of stars who have an enormous individual impact on results. One example is in some areas of the investment management industry, where star fund managers become the brand, and they find it difficult to build their success into a team effort, including a sustainable investment process.
William’s view on the job of a founder is particularly refreshing, and is also applicable to other leadership positions: “As a founder, I believe it is my job to empower everyone who works at the company — sometimes this means holding multiple roles throughout the lifecycle of one’s company. For the first seven years of Plaid, I found the most effective way to add value was as a hands on builder and manager. Today, I think Plaid is mature enough that I’ll be most effective providing strategic guidance and mentorship vis-a-vis a board role.”
There are also echoes of the personal emotional impact of William’s role change in his article, including where he describes the company as “the central guiding force for what has now been the entirety of my adult life”. See Lolly Daskal’s suggestions at the end for more on the emotional elements.
Understanding himself and growing as a leader
William speaks of his own personal development since founding the company: “...I, too, have had the immense privilege of growing and maturing as an adult, manager, and leader. With this growth has come introspection — introspection as to what brings me joy, and where I believe I can create the most value and ultimately have the most significant impact. I am now at a place where I have a personal desire to take a step back and breathe, taking comfort in the fact that we have hired leaders at Plaid that can and are currently doing that which I’ve historically been responsible for, just now in a more scalable way!”
Planning in advance
William also explains how succession planning has been a conscious activity for him, and that he spent time preparing his company for his future change, including testing out how his team would cope with less involvement from him. In my experience of building sustainable teams, this strategy works well, and allows time for the team members to learn and develop, while you are close by to step back in if needed. In his words to his team: “Over the past couple of years I have known that there would come a point at which I would choose to move to a purely strategic and advisorial role. And during the past year, I have started to work towards this goal. As many of you may have noticed, I have been working up to my transition by slowly removing myself from day-to-day projects and teams where I was the responsible party, seeing how it fared, and stepping in when necessary to guide and level up. I’ve decided to announce my transition to a new role now because I finally feel that this passage is complete. At the end of the quarter I will officially transition to a solely board role. However, if I’ve done my job well, the following weeks, months, and quarters shouldn’t feel any different for anyone.”
Another excellent quote from William which demonstrates his leadership stance is: “I am regularly asked what has been my proudest moment at Plaid. My new answer is Now. It is a testament to what we’ve all built together that I’m able to transition out of direct management without doubting for a moment the certainty of Plaid’s future. I believe it is every leader’s job to constantly focus on hiring people better than his or herself, empowering them to constantly push above their current role. I have the opportunity to do so now.”
William’s full Medium post can be found here:
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