Ryan Roslansky’s LinkedIn page lists 46 skills, from product management to problem solving.
But none fully groomed him to lead the networking site for professionals when he took over as chief executive three years ago.
“I fundamentally believe that you can only learn to be a CEO by being a CEO,” he says. “On your first day in a role like this, you enter a world where you’re about to face a long list of unexpected challenges that you don’t know how to overcome. The problem is, the world whole expects you to know how to do it.
Sitting behind his tidy desk on the 16th floor of LinkedIn’s headquarters in San Francisco, with a bookshelf behind him with a photo of a Baby Yoda girl and a sign reading “hard things are hard,” Roslansky points to his screen computer icon. He’ll turn it back on after our hour-long conversation and find he’s been mentioned 500 times on LinkedIn, he predicts. With 20,000 employees and over 930 million users, something will have gone wrong. Customers, whose complaints range from routine problems to fake commenters and abuse by fraudsterswill turn to him to fix it.
“It’s probably not on my LinkedIn profilebut I think the most important skill I had to learn early on was learning to manage my psychology,” Roslansky says.
“Product strategy, business strategy, people, operations: those things you can easily understand, but you have to learn to quickly focus on the right place.”
To do that, says the 45-year-old, you first have to build the right team around you – both direct reports and mentors (among whom he diplomatically highlights Satya Nadella, the chief executive of Microsoft which led the software group’s 2016 acquisition). LinkedIn). Second, “you can’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. . . You have to maintain some sort of stable group in the midst of it all. And finally, he says, you can’t get so caught up in the day-to-day details that you lose sight of the bigger picture of the business.
Roslansky delivers such insights in a clear, pointed style worthy of a leader who launched the “influencer” programs and content which transformed LinkedIn from a site for recruiters and job seekers into a haven where people can disperse their opinions on how to get to the top and what to do once you get there.
The resumes LinkedIn members have shared since its inception two decades ago total 10 billion years of experience, he says. One of the challenges of her role was figuring out how to “get all that knowledge out of people’s heads”.
The new sharing tools, news feeds, newsletters and video series he and his team have created are designed to keep users coming back more often. “Problem solving is a much more common use case than finding a job,” he observes.
Roslansky’s own LinkedIn profile details his 14 years with the company, beginning as Chief Product Officer in 2009, and his previous jobs at Glam Media, Yahoo and the real estate-themed dotcom startup Quest. left college to direct in 1997.
But that doesn’t capture the experience that he says shaped him the most as a chief — an episode of his childhood. Roslansky grew up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Lake Tahoe. His parents were hippies turned real estate entrepreneurs who taught him to take control of his career.
When he was 13, they put him on a plane to Florida, where he enrolled in the highly competitive Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy alongside Maria Sharapova and Andre Agassi. The only American in his dorm, “I learned to survive by understanding other people very well,” he recalls, developing an empathy later in life for what motivates people and how they think. “As a product, it’s probably the most important skill one can have.”
A day in the life of Ryan Roslansky
There’s a set of (meetings) that we use to effectively run the business that are very important to me. Every Tuesday we have our management team meeting. It’s half day and that’s where we talk about everything that’s going on in the business.
Every two weeks, I bring the whole company together for what is called a “company connects”. It’s in a format where we go over the top priorities for the business, we have an ‘open mic’, as we call it, for anyone’s questions. It’s a meeting moment every two weeks, no matter what. . . You know, trust is consistency over time and you can’t replace either of those things.
Ironically, what’s most important to me is having a good work-life balance. I have three daughters and it’s extremely important to me to be there for them as much as I am there for LinkedIn. So I will always take my daughters to school. I will always be home for dinner. These things are non-negotiable. And I think more than anything, it keeps me grounded and balanced. Because if I hadn’t put them in place, it’s very easy to get caught up in responding to what’s been going on here all day.
Roslansky describes himself as an “adaptive” leader. “You can pretty much decide that you’re going to adapt as a leader, or you can stay who you are,” he explains. But when challenges arise, he prefers to make “small pivots” rather than “whiplashes” – going too far in a new direction, only to have to back down later.
This is one of the reasons he avoided proclaiming when people should return to his offices. (LinkedIn still hasn’t laid down the law on how often it expects staff to show up, saying it trusts them to decide whether to choose in-person, remote, or hybrid work.) Otherwise , he says, “you just beat these people in these companies around”.
There is one place where adaptation and pivots seem not to have paid off. In May, LinkedIn closed his job application for Chinese users and cut more than 700 jobs, in the face of fierce competition and regulatory scrutiny. The Financial Times dubbed the first stage of its withdrawal from China – the close of its localized social media site in 2021 – the end of a unsustainable compromise between profit and ethics.
“I constantly tried to find ways for us to make LinkedIn work in China,” admits Roslansky. He says he’s still optimistic about the opportunity presented by the country’s vast working population, even if he hasn’t yet found a sustainable business case.
LinkedIn is keeping its options open by allowing Chinese companies to hire through its global platform, he notes, but “one of the worst things you can do. . . is to maintain something that somehow works and think that next year will be the year that it actually works. We tried this for about 10 years.
Roslansky’s definition of adaptive leadership also means trying to “play up” rather than down, or seeking out the opportunities a situation presents rather than succumbing to fear that the worst will happen.
He had been appointed to LinkedIn’s top job in February 2020, weeks before Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, and took the reins in June when a sudden hiring and advertising freeze strangled the two top sources of business income. He made a big early bet that LinkedIn could find new growth by rolling out tools for out-of-work users, pushing skill-building content to engaged swingers in what he dubbed “the big shakeup,” and helping employees previously tied to the office. navigate the shift to remote work.
“I put all my eggs in the basket of we’re going to transform LinkedIn to help the world learn when they can’t meet in person, sell when you can’t go meet a client, and recruit when you can’t. interview someone in person.As companies resumed hiring and advertising, revenue fell from $8 billion to $10.3 billion in the year to June 2021. They are expected to exceed $15 billion for the year to June 2023.
Along the way, Roslansky worked to master the platform he helped create. With more than 725,000 followers, he has become one of LinkedIn’s “Top Voices,” part of a pantheon of corporate influencers that includes Bill Gates, Arianna Huffington and Nadella. His regular videos on the site, in which he interviews other executives on their career paths, also make him something of a rival to journalists writing about leadership, I observe.
“I’m excited to talk to you because I’m excited to hear how you do this,” he replies disarmingly. He has 46 skills, in other words, but is always looking to add them.