Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Cindy Holland, vice president for original content at Netflix. To read the complete interview, check out other articles, and obtain subscription information, please click here.
Photo credit: J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times
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Tell me about your early years.
I grew up outside a small town near Omaha. Both of my parents were pretty accomplished by the time I came around. My dad was a lawyer, but he had been an Army helicopter pilot and a Rhodes Scholar. My mother stopped her career to raise kids, but she had the higher I.Q. My motto as a kid was that I had to think fast and move faster.
Any favorite family expressions that would get repeated around the kitchen table?
I remember my father said to me, on more than one occasion when I was upset about something or depressed, “Well, if you live long enough, you’ll feel better.” It was completely logical. It didn’t necessarily salve my wounds in the moment, but it gave me perspective.
My sister and I were also raised to believe that we could accomplish anything we set our minds to and that there were no rules about gender. It was all sort of irrelevant. If you set your mind to something, you could achieve it, and I take that with me wherever I go.
Did you know what you wanted to do for a career when you went to college?
I was always interested in technology but I majored in political science. And for a year after college, I was a competitive water skier full-time. I worked at a ski school, teaching students and driving a boat when I wasn’t competing myself.
And what lessons do you still draw on from that experience?
It’s such an all-consuming sport. You have to be completely focused on your body mechanics and what you’re doing. It’s almost like the outside world doesn’t exist for those moments. It also teaches you not to panic if things are going wrong — either personally or professionally — and to really just take stock of the situation and act pretty quickly.
What were some early insights about managing people?
My experience was probably similar to what a lot of Type A individuals go through when they become managers, and you shift from doing to delegating and enabling the doing.
You figure out that dictating the answer or micromanaging not only is not welcome, it’s just not helpful. You can’t scale yourself and grow your organization, and you might as well have no employees if that’s the approach you’re going to take. It took a couple of fits and starts to really understand that.
Once I did, I was able to use what I learned from coaching water skiers — you have to figure out how to best help someone do something because you can’t go out to the end of the rope and do it for them.
It’s a little bit of psychology. How do they need to hear the input to get the best results out of them? In management, it’s about understanding how the person thinks and even figuring out the right choice of words that will help unlock their creativity and desire to do something. I didn’t know that I would enjoy that part of the job so much, but I do.
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To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.
Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times’ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews of hundreds of business leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.