Leading the Band

It started with our Leadership Criteria

Back in the day, when we were still less than 1000 employees, we decided to create our Manager SLA, our service level agreement, defining what a great people manager is at Spotify. 

We wanted to do it the way we usually do things around here. In collaboration and with involvement. In workshops with 60+ senior leaders in the company, we gathered stories about what makes great leaders at Spotify; what they do, how they act, what the result of their behaviour is. Our next step was to involve everyone in the company. We collected even more examples of ‘Spotify leaders at their best’ via surveys and focus group discussions, making sure the groups reflected the organization, globally. It was important to create our leadership criteria with both the past and the future in mind. We wanted to build on our current strengths while thinking about what is needed to keep us winning in the long run.

The result was our Spotify Leadership Criteria. Throughout the years the five leadership criteria have been tweaked, clarified and turned into seven criteria and a number of behaviours connected to each criterium. An important part of our culture is that we always think things can be done better, especially in the constant change we live in, we need to adjust and tweak the way we do things. At the end of last year, we realized that we needed to go back and simplify our Manager SLA. It had turned into something wordy and complicated that leaders did not easily remember. If you don’t remember it, it’s of no use. 

We asked ourselves, how do we simplify without losing the essence of the Leadership Criteria? Two things came to mind:

  1. Less is more – we should keep the criteria or beliefs to be no more than three or four tops
  2. Use storytelling instead of a list of competencies and behaviours

We know that stories stick, and three to four statements is ok for our brains to remember. 

Said and done – Introducing the Manager Manifesto

When evaluating the Manager SLA it was obvious that we should also align it with the newly launched Spotify Band Manifesto. The Band Manifesto is our mission statement of the Spotify way –  an attempt to give a clear and common understanding of our culture, our values, defining what it means to be a Spotifier. We turned our Leadership Criteria into a Manager Manifesto, keeping the same underlying values as before.

The Manager Manifesto sets expectations all around on what we think is the dynamo of the vehicle named Spotify. By being clear on what we expect; how we recruit, develop, evaluate and sometimes even deploy managers at Spotify we hope that all people signing up for the manager role know that this is not a title or a privilege. It is a profession by itself.

The Manager Manifesto

We believe

  • In purpose-driven leadership.
  • In managers who have the willingness and courage to lead.
  • In managers who build and run healthy teams.
  • That leadership is a group sport

We believe in purpose-driven leadership

In our managers, we look for strong managerial skills as well as the ability and desire to be a true leader. We expect managers to inspire and drive vision — that is how our teams are motivated to willingly engage and contribute to our purpose.

Managers lead by example, always taking into consideration our company values and mission. Growth is our mantra and our managers are right on the frontlines, cultivating a growth mindset and encouraging innovation within their teams. Managers empower growth by providing frequent feedback and coaching to unlock band members’ potential and opportunities to learn. In short, leadership at Spotify means guiding great teams that grow the business as well as grow themselves.

We believe in managers who have the willingness and courage to lead.

Managing at Spotify isn’t for the faint of heart. Here, controlled chaos is the norm. Managers need to be authentic, strong, and open to vulnerability to instill trust and stability while surrounded by constant change. Managers at Spotify make an active choice to lead, growing the business as well as other band members.

Our managers bring clarity to their teams, translating complexity into actionable insights and removing any roadblocks. They embrace polarities, identifying issues not as either/or but both/and. Most importantly, they stay flexible — able to adjust quickly to new circumstances, prioritizing ruthlessly for the right impact.

Managers are courageous enough to make bets. They dare to let go of control and empower autonomy (within guardrails, of course). To enable their team to make informed decisions, managers share information transparently. And, most importantly, they give their teams the freedom to fail, recognizing that it’s an inevitable outcome when pursuing innovation.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t assume accountability or hold their teams accountable to their goals. Managers also are courageous enough to set clear expectations and deliver honest feedback to drive results.

We believe in managers who build and run healthy teams.

When it comes to team building, we strongly believe that a diversity of experience, perspectives, and backgrounds leads to a better working environment for everyone and better business outcomes. Inclusive teams are more innovative and effective, promoting creativity and unique thinking.

Spotify leaders are instrumental in ensuring our everyday reality reflects those values. They guarantee all voices are heard and know how to navigate divergent opinions within their team. They lead with empathy and act to minimize politics. They promote clear and sincere communication, focused on building trust in the team. They build an inclusive culture where everyone feels empowered to be themselves, where everyone feels like they belong.

And at Spotify, things move fast — speed is everything. So managers need to be resilient, knowing how to cultivate a sustainable mindset for their team and working environment. 

We believe that leadership is a group sport.

Working fast means acting with consent, not consensus. 
Even if the majority can’t come to an agreement, it’s important to keep moving, take a chance, and execute. A good manager encourages debate and discussion, acknowledging that innovation can come from any direction. That listening is everything.

Our managers know that ideas drive us, not bureaucracy. We believe that leadership takes place alongside teams, and we truly believe leadership is a group sport. We’re all in it together — we don’t have room for entitled egos. 

By operating with the business’ best interest at heart, managers recognize that the talent they nurture and grow on their teams isn’t necessarily theirs – it’s Spotify’s. We get things done by collaborating across teams, sharing talent, prioritizing mutual long-term goals and always operating in interest of the greater good.

How do we live it

Just like with our former Leadership Criteria, the Manager Manifesto is being embedded in our day-to-day, it’s used to design all of our leadership/manager development initiatives. The manifesto is being used when recruiting managers, appointing managers from within, identifying development areas in onboarding, and for ongoing development during their entire growth journey. 

Does this mean that all our managers are living up to all our Manager Manifesto all the time? No, we are not looking for an übermench. We believe in growth also in our managers and if you are a manager, you know that you are never ever done in trying to become a great manager. But if Spotify managers keep the four beliefs from our Manager Manifesto in their minds, and let them guide their decisions, they’ll certainly be on the right path.