B2U v1.5


I've spent 25 years helping people build innovative organizations that do hard things. Along the way, I’ve been curating a collection of practical tools for leaders of fast-growing teams.

I keep these frameworks, links to research they’re based on, and examples from my work and from my peers in a compact toolkit (less than 10 pages if you print it). I've come up with exactly zero of these tools on my own, and I’ve misused every one. I fine-tune the list based on what works, and what doesn’t anymore. I share it with everyone I coach, and most folks leave our toolkit conversations prepped to up their leadership game immediately.

1. Lead with succession in mind.

These are the six most important tools I know, they’d live on my tool belt if I was Batman. Most of my toughest decisions and dumbest mistakes can be better understood when studied in the context of these six tools. If you’ve got limited time, this is the place to start.

1 starting point - succession

I keep coming back to succession as a starting point because it puts us in the right time frame, the longterm. When we think about defining each leader’s tour of duty as a chapter in an organization’s story - hopefully of making a useful impact in people’s lives - we better our odds. Focusing on what my successor needs from keeps me really, really honest about the long-game, and can provide perspective on whatever dumpster fire I’m putting out today.

If you’re a founder, this idea of working yourself out of job after job as you grow probably resonates; this framework clarifies and builds strong culture regardless of how close to leaving your current role you are.

Succession Sprint - A toolkit for folks actively planning a transition of leadership

Here are the tools I grab from the rest of the kit to kickstart work on this topic.

  • Org chart - in survey
  • Sketch the current version on paper, include 1-2 things about each teammate; upload. You can change names if you like, but I’ll keep confidential.

  • Storytime - in survey
  • Write one-three sentences for each chapter of the org to date, plus at least two versions of the next chapter.

  • Board org chart - READ CHAIT (3 duties of a board)
  • Sketch the current version on paper, include 1-2 things about each teammate; upload. You can change names if you like, but I’ll keep confidential.

  • 4 duties of a CEO pie chart (now vs ideal) - in survey
  • Draw a simple pie chart of how you spend your time right now based on the 4 duties.

  • Mini tours of duty to share leadership
  • We can explore ways to craft and then add to existing teammates’ roles a series of small $1-5K, one-two business cycle tours of duty.

2 sources of informal power

I think studying power's important. It's easily abused, but properly understood, it can be built, shared and redistributed in ways that make your tech work better and improve the world.

French and Raven's 1959 framework has been edited and improved over the years, but their original framework still resonates. Understanding and building informal power is important.

  • Formal, positional power: These sources of power can, but don't have to, discourage teamwork and new ideas.
    • Legitimate - power based in belief that this person has formal right to make demands
    • Reward - power based on ability to compensate others for complying
    • Coercive - power based in belief that this person can punish others for non-compliance
  • Informal, personal power: Investing here creates strong culture and can increase resiliency.
    • Expert - power based on skill and knowledge
    • Referent - power based on other's respect and attraction
Go-to Tool: Power Mapping - visualizing a landscape of informal power....

Of all the tools I've used to help leaders of new organizations break through the uncertainty of navigating this part of leadership, the simple tools introduced in this old-school HBR case have made the most impact. I encourage you to read through this and try to build your own maps of referent and expert power around you.

3 duties of a board

This is a simple framework for board governance from Dick Chait and his colleagues at Harvard. Their book on governance is my go to for board design: Governance as Leadership. Here's a handy pdf summary from Pew Trusts.

  • Fiduciary - what do we need to survive right now?
  • Strategic - what's next, usually 1-3 business cycles ahead?
  • Generative - why do we exist? what impact are we trying to make in our community/world?

4 duties of a CEO

This is a simple framework I use when I'm in the CEO role. I don't know where the academic research is on this one, but it's one of the most powerful real-world tools I've ever used.

  • Run existing strategy
  • Create the next strategy
  • Secure resources
  • Lead people

A great tool for keeping conversations with investors and board members tight and organized, it's actually more powerful used internally, with employees, vendors and customers; it comes in really handy when I'm working with team members on who's doing what and on modeling a deeper understanding of what mindset I'm in in a given setting.

Go-to tool: Pie charting - reflect on where you’re spending your time

Here's a simple way to start using 4 duties in your day-to-day:

  1. Memorize the list.
  2. Draw a pie chart of what your week looked like. Is this the right mix for where the organization is? Does it need to shift now? Do you need to get ready for a new mix based on where things are headed?
  3. Ask people which mode they think you're in during a live conversation. Just introducing this into the vocab of the org - letting people know you’re thinking about this stuff - can be really powerful.

5 types of decisions

There are tons of frameworks on decision making out there. Many seem to focus on the leader, how they're wired, how they prefer to work. I like this framework better because it focuses on the situation, specifically where the information lives and who the people are that are involved in the decision. As far as I can tell, this particular framework has evolved from the work of Victor Vroom's work on situational leadership.

  • Autocratic - Leader makes the decision based on data they possess or collect.
  • Consultative - Leader shares problem with others on team, collects input, and then decides.
  • Democratic - Leader facilitates a group decision: w 100% consensus, super or simple majority.
  • Delegated - Leader gives a person or group responsibility to make the decision, using one of the above decision-making frameworks
Go-to Tool: Decision log - a simple journaling exercise on key strategic calls

One of my favorite tools, the decision log serves as long-term storage for decisions and lessons I want to remember, based loosely on this example.

  • Here are 2 examples from my CEO log at 4.0 (super simple entries, just enough for me to recall context. I can walk through each of these if you want to, just let me know.)
  • image
  • Here’s an framework my successor at 4.0, Hassan Hassan uses
    1. This is a tool used by 4.0 CEO, Hassan Hassan, to steer our conversations when I served as board chair. I really like how it balances reflection and preparation with a focus on building long-term investment in others.

    2. What happened this week: This provides a place to process decisions made or avoided, moments worth remembering, difficult conversations and anything else. We use basic debrief questions like these:
      • What were we trying to achieve?
      • What happened?
      • What can we learn?
    3. Next week: This provides a place to role play one critical decision/moment/conversation that needs to/might happen in the coming week.

6 leadership styles

Hay McBer’s research on Dan Goleman's Emotional Intelligence theory has produced some of the most useful tooling for leadership I’ve ever used. Choosing the right style here depends on the strategic or tactical factors and how the humans involved are doing. One of many versions of Goleman's framework explores the research behind these six styles.

  • Commanding - demands immediate compliance
  • Visionary - mobilizes people towards a vision
  • Affiliative - creates harmony and builds emotional bonds
  • Democratic - forges consensus through participation
  • Pacesetting - sets high standards for performance
  • Coaching - develops people for the future

This Harvard Business Review article, Leadership that Gets Results, does a great job summarizing the research and how to put it to work.

Korn Ferry, which bought the Hay Group in 2015 continues to study and publish on the topic and certifies coaches on their assessment tools. Here’s an interesting series on how the leadership styles impact climate (page 6: 12 Emotionally Intelligent Leadership Competencies, page 7: 6 measures of strong organizational climate)

2. Experiment, together.

Adoption lifecycles

There’s lots out there on how to build lean and iterate. Here are some of my go-tos:

Lean Startup

While these tools have come to define the often too-shallow, software-centric definition of innovation in Silicon Valley, the core design elements built by Steve Blank are compelling tools to use when thinking about what you're building and for whom.


This fun toolkit allows for rapid, low-cost experimentation. I really like this framework because it gives me few excuses for trying something really, really fast. And it forces me to iterate and throw out bad ideas early.

Exponential Thinking

I’m doing more and more reading on this topic. It resonates: See Norway EV’s vs US.

Crossing the Chasm/Adoption Lifecycles

I come back frequently to Geoffrey Moore’s work on Crossing the Chasm and focusing on early adopters before building for the early and late majority.

Hire well

This is a monster topic, and it’s hard to measure, but most folks do it haphazardly. Goeffrey Smart’s book, Who: The A Method for Hiring is a great read, but the technique can be a little over-engineered in practice. Here’s a simple summary from Acton MBA that simplifies it:

Behavioral Interviewing 8.5.17.pdf265.5KB

Conflict resolution

Get to curious before you try and resolve any conflict.

Design Thinking

Design thinking centers the human in the process of problem-solving and product or service design. Stanford's D-School, and the bay-area's IDEO popularized this approach to problem-solving and innovation and disciplined creativity.

Integrative negotiations

Often misunderstood as transactional exercises in power, negotiations is really all about humans and communication and as elegant as jazz or improv comedy when done well. Integrative bargaining, where two or more people are trying to work out sharing more than one thing at a time, is my favorite area of study in leadership.

3. Be human.

Invest in the 20-year version of people

Your tech, your strategy, your org chart, your business model - all of these are expendable and will likely go through massive pivots. And if you don't set a distinctly different frame for how you're thinking about the humans in your mix, they'll (even you'll) get sucked into the cadence and turbulence of the things that should in fact be getting swapped out for something better. This is one reason focusing on your successor is a powerful tool - it makes it easier to think about setting up the organization for the long haul, to be more resilient and more anti-fragile than the stereotypical charismatic founder with the hot software that needs piles of money to grab first mover advantage and race to monopoly domination.

I've learned am a better coach, dad, life partner and teammate when I think more about whether what I'm saying or doing will matter to the person each of us will be in 20 years vs. who we are and what we're doing right now.

I'm trying to define my own success/impact/legacy as how healthy and strong my professional family tree is instead of how big an impact I'm having on any institution I'm working for or with at the moment. Decoupling the metaphor from the verticality of the institution, allows me to think of it as wider, more like a shrub. As it transcends that boundary, the tree shrub becomes more about all the people I've coached, those who've coach me, peers I've worked beside, and whoever I'm working alongside at any one moment. I find I am more present, and I'm a better teammate, when I'm thinking about that framework - the wide shrub, instead of the tall tree.

Practice Self-compassion

I'm trying to show myself and others more compassion. A few resources:

Diverse teams do better

As Dolly Parton told Billboard magazine, "Of course Black lives matter. Do we think our little white asses are the only ones that matter? No!" I'm seeking to understand and combat my own complicity, especially when it comes to gender and racial diversity. Some tools I've used:

Be aware of cognitive bias

Our brains are prone to shortcuts that aren't so rational. Step one towards better decision making is understanding what they are.

Electrify your personal stuff

I’m not sure how this will play out, but I’m increasingly convinced that people in leadership should be moving forward on their own personal infrastructure and investing in their employees pursuit of the same. I’m learning a lot about this process in this project:

Improv comedy

I'm a super fan of improv comedy, a rare team-based art form. It makes me a better listener and a happier human. Find a local class and up your leadership game.

If you want to keep working on your leadership practice, you can find me at mattcandler.io or matt@mattcandler.io! Onward, Matt Candler