The CEO of Nasdaq uses a two-part meeting strategy to avoid falling into a common management trap

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderAdena Friedman was named Nasdaq CEO in 2017.
  • Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman uses a meeting tactic to encourage brainstorming.
  • Friedman said Nasdaq used to operate on a “command-and-control” decision style, meaning that once a leader said something, it happened.
  • But Friedman told Business Insider that she likes brainstorming ideas with her team before they act on her words – she calls it “lightbulb versus mandate.”

As CEO, Adena Friedman‘s word holds a lot of weight at Nasdaq.

But Friedman often prefers brainstorming ideas with her team before they act on her words, she told Business Insider on an episode of our podcast “This Is Success.”

Friedman has a tactic in meetings she dubs “lightbulb versus mandate.” She explains: “So a lightbulb, it’s just running an idea on the table – let’s debate it, discuss it, let’s get other opinions in the room.”

Friedman said when she presents a lightbulb, she wants the room to view her as a peer, collectively brainstorming. After an idea has proper time to marinate in a meeting, it turns into a mandate.

“But then in those times it becomes a mandate, meaning, ‘OK, it’s decision time’ – or there are certain things where I just say, ‘Look, we have to do it this way,’ then I say, ‘This is a mandate,'” Friedman said. “And I use that pretty rarely.”

Friedman said the “lightbulb versus mandate” idea came from a colleague before Friedman was named CEO in 2017, after two decades at Nasdaq. She said the former decision style at Nasdaq was “command-and-control” – once a leader said something, it happened.

“And so it was before I became CEO, and I started realising that every time I said something, everything just happened, even if it was just an idea, right?” Friedman said.

Robert Sutton, professor of management at Stanford University and author of “The No Arsehole Rule,” wrote about this phenomenon in a leadership column in The Wall Street Journal, calling it a common management mistake. He said managers will make an off-handed comment or float an idea by their team, and the team takes it as a directive. He suggests leaders be clear about what they’re assigning as a task, and what is simply a verbal thought.

That’s what Friedman does; before a lightbulb is turned into a mandate, it has been discussed and agreed upon. She said this tactic has helped the leader-team dynamic.

“I do think that it makes it so it’s a more open environment. So there’s a collaboration element to it, and that’s the lightbulb phase, and then there’s the command element to it, meaning, ‘OK, now it’s time to act. Let’s go the road. Let’s make decisions based on facts, based on analysis,'”Friedman said. “But once the decision is made, we all have to march down the road the right way.”

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